Teaching Media Literacy
Updated: Jul 5, 2021
A lot of what we deal with in English language arts relates to strangers, people we don’t know. We read novels and non-fiction to immerse ourselves in the experiences of someone we have not met and know nothing about. We do it to go beyond our immediate surroundings – the people and places that shape who we are. We also do it so that when we watch the news, also stories about strangers, we don’t just read or watch for entertainment, we read or watch because we care. Even though we don’t know them, we care about what happens to them. It’s definitely easier to not care, because it takes effort to care. It means you have to do something about what you learn.
This is the kind of media consumer that we want out in the world. They should know how to determine what is fact and what is conspiracy, and how to work for a better world. Popular media has made information more accessible, but it has also changed how we talk about the news. We want our students to be smart about how they consume the news and be able to identify the ways the human mind crafts, curates, and presents reality to the public. They should know the art behind presenting the headline.
One way to do this is to have students, working in pairs, take a single headline from the previous week and compare how it’s presented in two different ways:
News vs. News
The first challenge is to compare how two different journals or newspapers deliver the same set of facts. Students can highlight phrases that impact how a reader might understand what happened. This includes comparing headlines.
The New York Times
The Wall Street Journal
New York Post
Op-Ed vs. Op-Ed
How can two different people present opposing interpretations of the news? What is the impact of their opinion and what words and rhetorical techniques do they use to convey their point of view? What information might they exclude to make their point? Students might also decide to compare the news to an op-ed. This might seem like the easiest task: identify opinionated language. But this is also about identifying literary techniques, figurative language, and rhetoric, and interpreting their purpose.
Text vs. Image
What story does an image tell that words can’t? How can a single image tell a different story than facts presented in an article? How can a single image alter the reality of the big picture? How is photojournalism an art?
Text vs. Video
How can words fall short of capturing the entire reality of an event? How can a live video stream not tell the entire story of an event or only capture a small part of the big story? How can video misrepresent reality? Information also comes in other ways than just news and documentaries, like Explained or 60 Minutes.
Image vs. Video
What is the difference between a single image and a live video? How can an image become symbolic of the larger reality or mispresent the larger reality? How can videos and images elicit a more intense emotional reaction than words alone? How can an image or video taken with a phone move the public to take action?
Transcript vs. Speech
What is the difference between a speech and the transcript? How can body language, facial expressions, attire, tone, pace, setting, volume, and vernacular impact how we react to the message? For this kind of comparison, it will also be worthwhile to compare a news article to how a politician uses facts to propose policy.
Broadcast vs. Text
There is a big difference between an op-ed online or in print and a television broadcast with a pundit that hosts a politician, writer, witness, or expert. A panel of guests in conversation is different than a one-on-one interview, or a long monologue from one host. Students could interpret the language, and the graphics that often enhance a broadcast.
Podcast vs. Text
Podcasts are often lengthier than articles and television shows and therefore go into greater depth. They will often provide the context of the news and cover academic subjects like history, science, and statistics. Students could talk about the advantages to listening to podcasts. But podcasts, like anything else, can contain bias.
This American Life
Podcast vs. Image/Video
Podcasts allow you to hear the emotion in someone’s voice. Even the pace and volume of a speaker can make it easier to understand the content. The audience can focus on the words without the distraction of images and videos. When we watch television or a movie, each image or video only lasts a few seconds before it zips away to another image or video. It can overwhelm the mind and the speed leaves little opportunity to comprehend the reality.
Social Media/You Tube vs. Text
At the bottom of the list (no mistake) is social media. In some ways social media is democratic and in other ways, it’s heavy on conspiracy. By handling this last, students will hopefully realize the many reasons not to consume news on social media. Students could not only look at the validity of information on social media, but also how it impacts how we talk about politics and exchange views. In my Media Studies course, I talk a lot about the differences between how we behave in reality, like walking on a street or hanging out at a family gathering, and how we behave online. We want students to live in a society (virtual or real) where people respect each other’s opinions and work toward a common goal, and most importantly, operate on the same set of facts.
Teachers Pay Teachers
Podcast, The Joys of Teaching Literature