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