Introducing Media Literacy | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves
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Lesson

Introducing Media Literacy

Students explore the importance of media literacy and of being critical consumers of the media. They also begin to consider how the media people consume impacts them and society.

Duration

Two 50-min class periods

Language

English — UK

Published

This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.

Overview

About This Lesson

This is the first lesson in a unit designed to help teachers have conversations with students about media literacy in a critical, reflective and constructive way. Use these lessons to help students reflect on the changing media and information landscape; understand how this landscape impacts individuals, communities and society; and consider how they can thoughtfully and responsibly engage with content they encounter online and in print. This learning can also help them become conscientious content creators. Supporting students to develop as critical consumers and creators of information is vital for their well-being, their relationships and our democracy.

This lesson, which frames the focus of the unit, explores the importance of media literacy and of being critical consumers of the media. In the first part of the lesson, students reflect on the right to expression and to access to information; are introduced to, and practise using, a method to critically assess media content they encounter; and consider why it is important for young people to be media literate. 

Then, in the second part of the lesson, students reflect on media consumption patterns, exploring different motivations for using and consuming media. They also begin to consider how the media people consume impacts them and society.

We recommend that you revisit your classroom contract before teaching this unit. If you do not have a class contract, you can use our contracting guidelines for creating a classroom contract or another procedure you have used in the past.

How can developing our media literacy support our well-being, our relationships and our democracy?

  • What is media literacy and why is it important?
  • What are people’s motivations for consuming different media? 
  • What impact can the media people consume have on them?
  • Students will understand what media literacy is and develop key skills in media literacy.
  • Students will reflect on the reasons why people consume media content and the impact that it can have on them.

This lesson is designed to fit into two 50-min class periods and includes the following student materials:

  • 1 PowerPoint
  • 3 handouts

In the present day, people have constant access to information; they can access it on phones, TVs, radios and computers, as well as in printed content and, in the case of advertising, in the street. The evolution of technology has democratised expression, making it much easier for different people and viewpoints to get a platform, and made it cheaper to produce and disseminate content. This has given more people a voice and challenged a previous pattern where the power to curate ‘news’ was concentrated into the hands of a few. However, it has also brought drawbacks. There is an overwhelming amount of information for people to sift through, and content that is not rooted in fact and/or is skewed by bias is able to be shared widely and incredibly quickly (false content can now easily ‘go viral’). This changing landscape means that now, more than ever, people need to develop the skills to engage with content they encounter critically and constructively, and become media literate. 

Media literacy skills can help people become responsible and critical information consumers and sharers, and assist them in determining what is true from what is not. Without them, people are more vulnerable to being manipulated by biased and false content. 

American Journalist Linda Ellerbee states,

Media literacy is not just important, it’s absolutely critical. It’s going to make the difference between whether kids are a tool of the mass media or whether the mass media is a tool for kids to use.

If people regularly consume false or biased information, this can shape their beliefs and their understanding of the world. Teaching people how to critically consume content can enable them to be free thinkers and effective decision makers, who better understand how the world functions and what roles they can play in shaping society for the better. Developing a media literate population is thus also vital for maintaining healthy democracies. 

In addition to developing skills in critically consuming content, media literacy also involves reflecting on what motivates people to consume different media products and what different needs they are seeking to satisfy, and on helping people realise that they do have some agency in what they consume.

The idea that media users play an active role in choosing and consuming media is an idea put forward by Blumler and Katz through their update to Uses and Gratifications theory. Uses and Gratifications theory was first introduced in the 1940s and initially focused on the gratification media users sought from media texts. In the 1970s, researchers then began exploring how media consumption fulfilled social and psychological needs. 1

According to Blumler and Katz’s Uses and Gratifications work from 1974, there are four main uses audiences have for the media: for diversion and entertainment, for surveillance (to understand what is going on), for the development of personal relationships and to assist their personal identity. 

Uses and Gratifications theory highlights how, on the whole, consuming media products is not a passive process. People often have agency to choose what they consume and to shape their relationship with media products.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this lesson, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

This lesson has two 50-minute parts. Part I encourages students to think about the importance of media literacy, while Part II focuses on Uses and Gratifications theory. While we encourage teachers to teach both parts, if you are pushed for time teaching this unit, then you might wish to teach only Part I.

Depending on your students’ prior knowledge, you may need to provide them with the following definitions before or during the lesson. Consider starting a Word Wall in your classroom, which you add key terms to over the course of the unit.

  • Mass media (noun): All of the methods used to communicate information to people. This includes books, the Internet, magazines, films, newspapers, radio, etc.
  • Uses and Gratifications theory (noun phrase): A theory that media users play an active role in choosing and consuming media in order to fulfil social and psychological needs.

Part II of this lesson uses the Four Corners teaching strategy to discuss media consumption motivations and habits. Before class begins, familiarise yourself with the strategy and set up the room in advance. To prepare your classroom space, create four signs that read ‘Strongly Agree’, ‘Agree’, ‘Disagree’, and ‘Strongly Disagree’, and hang them in different corners of the room. Consider printing the signs on coloured paper or card and, if your school has a machine, laminating them so you can reuse them for Four Corners and Barometer discussions.

To prepare for this activity, you will need to post large sheets of paper around the classroom for each use identified in Uses and Gratifications theory: Diversion, Surveillance, Personal relationships, and Personal identity (depending on class size, you may need A3 sheets per use). You will also need enough sticky notes for all students to have four each.

Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides. The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching each lesson. The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

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Lesson Plans

Part I Activities

Explain to students that they are going to study a unit exploring the importance of media literacy, and that in the first part of today’s lesson they will be considering some key media literacy skills.  

To begin the lesson, invite them to reflect on the following prompts:

Article 19 from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

  1. Why is freedom of expression important? 
    • What are some of the issues that can arise with/without freedom of expression?
  2. Why is it important that people have access to information? 
  3. Where do people get their information from in today’s world? 
    • How is this different to the past and what impact might this have? 
  4. There is a common phrase that states ‘with rights come responsibilities’. What responsibilities do you think relate to Article 19? 
  5. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was initially written in 1948. How, if at all, is Article 19 out of touch with modern society? 

Ask students to share their responses with their partners and then lead a short class discussion.

Next, explain to students that in the present day, people have constant access to information; they can access it on phones, TVs, radios and computers, as well as in printed content and, in the case of advertising, in the street. The evolution of technology has democratised expression, making it much easier for different people and viewpoints to get a platform, and made it cheaper to produce and disseminate content. This has given people a voice and challenged a previous pattern where the power to curate ‘news’ was concentrated into the hands of a few. However, it has also brought considerable drawbacks. There is an overwhelming amount of information for people to sift through, and content that is not rooted in fact and/or is skewed by bias is able to be shared widely and incredibly quickly (false content can now easily ‘go viral’). This changing landscape means that now, more than ever, people need to develop the skills to engage with content they encounter critically and constructively, and become media literate. 

Explain to students that they can critically consume information they encounter by using the 5A rating to reflect on the content’s Aim, Author, Approach, Audience and Accuracy. Give students the handout Media Literacy Questions – The 5A Rating and ask them to work through each of the question areas in pairs. Once students have responded to the questions, lead a short class discussion, inviting them to share their views. 

You might also wish to invite students to respond to the following questions: 

  1. Do you have a way of examining the ideas and news you encounter? 
    • Do you ask yourself any of the questions on the handout as you consume information?
  2. Which of the 5As do you think is the most/least important? Why? 
  3. What is media literacy? 

If there is time, you might also wish to show students the video Deconstructing Media Messages (2:28) by GCF Learn Free.

Then, as a class, create a definition for media literacy. Write it on the board and ask students to write it in their book.

Next, inform students that they will use these questions to help them assess different pieces of content. Divide students into small groups and give each group one of the samples from the handout Media Content Examples. Ask students to use the 5A rating questions to review and annotate their assigned sample, explaining that they might not be able to answer all of the questions. You might want to give them A3 paper so they can stick their sample in the middle and annotate around it. 

If desired, project the media literacy questions on the board:

  • What is the AIM of the content? 
  • Who/what is the AUTHOR of the content? 
  • How is the communication APPROACH used?
  • Who is the target AUDIENCE?
  • How would you rate the ACCURACY of the content?

Once students have finished annotating their sample, invite different groups to show the class their sample and summarise what they have learnt. Alternatively, you might invite the students to do a Gallery Walk to review their peers’ examples.

Then, discuss the following questions as a class:

  1. How did using the 5A rating help you assess the content? 
  2. Which of the questions, if any, couldn’t you answer? 
    • How, if at all, did this impact your ability to review the sample and/or your opinion about it? 
  3. How might the content you assessed impact different people? 
    • What might provoke different reactions? 
  4. Why is it important to critically engage with content you encounter?

To end the lesson, ask student to reflect on the following prompts:

American Journalist Linda Ellerbee states that,

Media literacy is not just important, it’s absolutely critical. It’s going to make the difference between whether kids are a tool of the mass media or whether the mass media is a tool for kids to use.

The term ‘mass media’ refers to all of the methods used to communicate information to people. This includes books, the Internet, magazines, films, newspapers, radio, etc.

  1. What might she mean by kids being ‘a tool of the mass media’?
    • If this occurred, what might be the consequences?
  2. What might she mean by ‘a tool for kids to use’?
    • Why is this preferable? 
  3. How far do you agree with her statement? 
  4. Note down in a couple of sentences about why you think media literacy is important. 

If there is time, you might have your students share their responses to question 4 in a Wraparound.

Part II Activities

Explain to students that in this part of the lesson, they will be reflecting on media consumption patterns, and people’s motivations for using and consuming media. 

Inform them that they will be engaging in a discussion using the Four Corners teaching strategy. In order to prepare for the discussion, they will have some time to think about how people consume and share information by completing an anticipation guide.

Distribute the handout Media Consumption: Anticipation Guide or project the following prompts on the board:

  1. Note down all the different types of media you consume.
  2. On a scale of 1–5, 1 being strongly agree and 5 strongly disagree, how far do you agree with the following statements?
    • The media people choose to consume is a form of self-expression. 
    • The main purpose of the media is to educate its audience. 
    • People would lose interest in the media if it stopped being entertaining. 
    • Consuming media content gives people opportunities to make connections with others. 
    • The media has the ability to affect people’s behaviour. 
    • People are able to influence the media they consume. 
  3. Choose one or two of the statements and explain your view.

Explain the Four Corners teaching strategy to students and then project and read aloud the statements one at a time. If you do not have time to discuss all of the statements, select the ones that you think will generate the most discussion.

To give everyone a chance to speak, consider having students quickly share ideas with others in their corners each round before opening the discussion to the class. Remind students that they can switch corners if they hear evidence that compels them to do so.

Debrief the activity with the class by facilitating a whole-group discussion based on the following questions:

  1. On which statements was there the most agreement/disagreement in the class?
  2. What did the responses suggest about people’s motivations for consuming media? 
  3. What did the responses suggest about the influence the media has on the behaviour of individuals?

To prepare for this activity, please ensure that you have sticky notes for the students and have placed sheets for each ‘use’ in different areas that are readily accessible around the room (see the second note in Notes to Teacher, above).

Explain to students that, due to the widespread options people have when it comes to choosing and interacting with media, people tend to make active decisions about what they engage with. This raises the questions: Why do we seek out specific media? And, what needs does the media satisfy? 

In order to understand what drives people’s choices, Jay Blumler, a communication theorist, and Elihu Katz, a sociologist and communication scientist, put forward Uses and Gratifications theory. This theory explains how the media people seek out satisfies specific needs they have. 

Explain that according to Uses and Gratifications theory, there are four main uses audiences have for the media: 

Diversion: Audiences consume media content to be entertained, relax or experience escapism. 

Surveillance: Audiences consume media content to gain knowledge and be provided with information about the world. 

Personal relationships: Audiences consume media content to develop a range of personal relationships with fictional characters, fictionalised versions of characters and/or real people. Additionally, interacting with media products can provide people with information that allows them to make connections with other individuals or groups. 

Personal identity: Media products provide audiences with the opportunity to make choices; the choices an individual makes about what they consume allows expression of identity. Additionally, media products can offer value reinforcement as audiences may choose to consume media that supports beliefs and ideas they hold. This can reinforce their sense of self and their place in the world.

Next, explain to students that they will be considering their own media consumption in relation to these uses. Hand out some sticky notes (four for each student) and share the following prompts:

  1. Which of these uses is the main reason why you consume media products? Why? 
  2. Which use do you think is the most important? Why?
    • The least important? Why?
  3. For each use, note down at least one type of media product that you consume on a sticky note. 
    • Be specific, naming examples, e.g. 
      • Diversion: ‘Love is Blind’ on Netflix 
      • Surveillance: Article about climate change on BBC News 
      • Personal relationships: ‘5 to 9’ videos on TikTok 
      • Personal identity: Climbing magazine 
    • You might find that some media products you consume overlap different uses, but try to select one example for each use. 

Ask students to share their responses in a pair. Then, invite them to go to the different ‘use’ posters in the classroom and stick down their relevant sticky note. 

After they have done this, give them some time to circulate and look at the ‘use’ sheets, taking note of any similarities/differences concerning the different products that people in the class consume. 

Next, divide students into small groups and ask them to discuss the following questions (if desired, you might ask students to focus on a specific ‘use’ and give them a specific ‘use’ sheet to study): 

  1. What are similarities/differences that you notice about what people in the class consume?
  2. Are there any media products that you are aware of that are not on the sheets? What are they? 
  3. How might the types of media products people consume be influenced by different features of their identity, by their geographical location and/or by their interests?
  4. What impact can the media products people consume have on their views and their identity? 
  5. What impact can it have on people’s relationships and society if people consume the same media products?
    • Different media products? 
  6. Which use do you think is the most/least important? Why?
  7. What might be the benefits/drawbacks of each of the uses outlined in Uses and Gratifications theory?  

Then, lead a short class discussion, inviting students to share their thoughts with the rest of the class.

To end the lesson, ask your students to reflect on the following question in pairs:

  • Why is it important for individuals to critically engage with how and why they consume media? 

Then, if there is time, ask students to independently reflect on the following questions:

  • How, if at all, has learning about Uses and Gratifications theory impacted your understanding of:
    • How you consume mass media? 
    • How others consume mass media? 
    • The impact people’s media consumption patterns can have on society?
  • How, if at all, will what you have learnt in this lesson change your media consumption habits?

Extension Activity

Outline the Importance of Media Literacy

Ask students to reflect on the content of the lesson and note down five things about the importance of media literacy. You might also wish to show them the video Deconstructing Media Messages (2:28) by GCF Learn Free, if you did not show it previously. Then, ask students to create something to teach others about what media literacy is and why it is important. They may, for example, choose to create a poster, to write a speech, a poem or an article. Give students choices so that they feel like they have agency over the outcome of the task.

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