How to Discuss Media Literacy with Your Students

Mrs. Hilty’s Classroom, Fort Cherry School District Every “Tweeting Tuesday” students tweet about class content they found interesting. Tweets could be about a novel they’re reading, an article they analyzed, or a class discussion.

Mrs. Hilty’s Classroom, Fort Cherry School District
Every “Tweeting Tuesday” students tweet about class content they found interesting. Tweets could be about a novel they’re reading, an article they analyzed, or a class discussion.

How to Discuss Media Literacy with Your Students

Sarah Avery, Zulama Community Advocate, Educator

When preparing students to become 21st Century citizens, we know they need to be proficient in a wide range of skills. They need to be innovative communicators, collaborators, and individuals who harness their creative talents. They also need to possess critical thinking skills and the ability to determine the credibility of a source; differentiate between fact and opinion, right and wrong; form opinions on social justice and civic duty issues; and make connections while sifting through information, including information given to us by the media.

According to the President of the Marketing Firm Yanelovich, Jay Walker-Smith, “we’ve gone from being exposed to about 500 ads a day back in the 1970’s to as many as 5,000 a day today” (Johnson). An average child will see approximately 20,000 300-second commercials in one year and by the age of 65, they will have seen approximately 2 million, according to the A.C Nielsen Co. By the time children finish elementary school, they will have seen 8,000 murders on television and, by the age of 18, 200,000 violent media acts (Herr). The sheer amount of information we take in is startling. So, how do we prepare our students to work through these messages designed to manipulate them? By teaching them media literacy skills. Media literate youth and adults are better able to understand the messages sent by television, internet, magazines, advertisements, video games, music, and all other forms of media.

So we all know media literacy is important, but where is the time to fit it into our schedules? How can we teach another topic in addition to the required content for standardized tests? Should I just leave media literacy to the english classes? In my experience as a teacher, I have struggled with these questions and more. Some days we feel like we’re struggling to stay afloat with all the requirements, so why would we want to tackle another topic?

Seth Ashley, in his article, “The Need for Media Literacy in the Digital Age,” poses a few questions to consider when deciding to incorporate media literacy into your course. “What does media literacy look like in the classroom? How can teachers know when they have been effective? How can teachers help students become motivated and engaged rather than disaffected and cynical?” In my attempt to answer these questions, I have provided some suggestions below that you can implement in your classroom when discussing media literacy. If you have any ideas or suggestions on blending media literacy into your content area, please add them to the comment section following this article.

  1. Analyze Sources: How can you help your students understand the difference between sources? You probably already limit the types of sources your students can use for any research they do. What do they say about this restriction? Do they feel it improves their research or constricts it? Helping them to make these distinctions will foster stronger media literacy skills when they are surfing the “net” on their own time. Take a look at different domains with your students.  What differences will they find when comparing a .com site vs a .edu site?

  2. Use Social Media in Your Classes: We all know that the best way to learn is through experience.  If we as teachers are able to help students experience this form of media in a secure environment, we can monitor and instruct students’ use of social media as well as foster positive social media skills. We can become role models of the social media world by demonstrating a positive way to interact online. It is so easy to be dismissive of others over social media because consequences are not immediate, like in a face to face conversation.  We can help stem the flow of cyberbullying if we, as teachers, stand up as role models for our students in the use of social media.

    If your school has blocked various social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter, why not make an interactive bulletin board where students can collaborate on class discussion topics?  This allows students to take ownership of their education and environment.  Your students could “tweet” something interesting or a question about the class as a ticket out, post “Instagram” pictures as a character study, “pin” engineering project ideas to the wall, or update their “status” to respond to a teacher posed question. The interactive project ideas are endless.

    Another idea is to start a class blog. There are many platforms out there for free or for price blogs. Having a class blog is a great way to showcase student work and allow students to interact with content while outside of class. A few personal favorite platforms are Edublogs, Weebly for educators, Kidblog, and Glogster edu. This can also lead to lessons on civic responsibility when using the internet and internet safety. To learn more about creating a classroom blog, check out Michelle Lampinen’s article, “Blogging in the 21st-Century Classroom.”

  3. Don’t Isolate Media Literacy: How can we help students see the connections between the media and their lives? Media Literacy is integrated into our lives. Whenever we turn on the tv, surf the internet, drive down the road, or listen to the radio we must flex our literacy muscles. As adults, we understand the messages the media throws at us; but, our students who have grown up with more media exposure than we can possibly imagine need some extra help fending them off. Try working with cross-content teachers to address media literacy and create connections between different subjects. We know careers often cross content areas, so by blending content area instruction we can best prepare students for their futures.

According to Leslie Meredith, the TechNewsDaily Senior Writer, an AVG study found that “92 percent of youngsters under age 2 already have a digital footprint, meaning identifiable photos and other personal information has been posted of them online. Half of kids ages 6 to 9 regularly use social networks” (Meredith). Even if television and internet media was removed from students’ lives, they are still exposed to manipulative messages while riding public transportation or listening to the radio. The fact remains that no matter how we try to shield our students from the ugliness of the world, eventually we know they will have to step out and work through it on their own. Media literacy is as much a part of the 21st Century skills as collaboration and communication and we will be there to help our students develop the skills necessary to handle media discriminately and appropriately.

How to Discuss Literacy



Ashley, Seth. “The Need for Media Literacy in the Digital Age.” The Blue Review. Boise State University, 20 Feb. 2013. Web. 1 Apr. 2015.
Herr, Norman. “Television Statistics.” Tv & Health. California State University, 2007. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.
Johnson, Caitlin. “Cutting Through Advertising Clutter.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 17 Sept. 2006. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.
Meredith, Leslie. “Internet Safety For Kids: Almost All Children Under 2 Have A Digital Footprint.” The Huffington Post., 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.

Educating for Social and Media Literacy

Educating for Social and Media Literacy

Beverly Vaillancourt, M.Ed, Educator

1In 2012, the Pew Research Center studied Internet use by teens and adults. The project results indicate that “fully 95 percent of all teens ages 12 – 17 are now online.”1 As part of the same study, the Pew Research Center also concluded that “Facebook is a major center for teenage social interactions, both with the positives of friendship and support and the drama of negatives and social expectations.”2 Clearly, social literacy skills are an integral part of the lives of high school students. Understanding how to nurture positive communication and collaborate in online environments are fast becoming a critical skillset for teens and adults.

Social literacy is tightly bound with media literacy, defined as the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate information in both print and not print venues. Without a doubt, today’s students live in digital worlds that include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and many other online social media sites, sites that certainly enhance the definitions of “community” and “friend.”

Findings from the Pew Internet study underscore the power of digital media in the lives of teens: 1

  • 94% of teens have Facebook accounts
  • 91% post photos of themselves
  • 82% post about their personal preferences for books, music, and movies
  • 75% of all teens text
  • 62% percent post about their personal relationships
  • 46% of app users turned off location tracking features on their phones because of privacy concerns
  • 29% exchange messages daily on social networking sites

Social media sites, however, are not the only place teens are connecting online. Video games play a major role in online communication. A national study of teen game play by the Pew Research Center gleaned the following data:

“Fully 99% of boys and 94% of girls play video games. Younger teen boys are the most likely to play games, followed by younger girls and older boys. Older girls are the least “enthusiastic” players of video games, though more than half of them play. Some 65% of daily gamers are male; 35% are female…

For most teens, gaming is a social activity and a major component of their overall social experience. Teens play games in a variety of ways, including with others in person, with others online, and by themselves. Although most teens play games by themselves at least occasionally, just one-quarter (24%) of teens only play games alone, and the remaining three-quarters of teens play games with others at least some of the time.

    • 65% of game-playing teens play with other people who are in the room with them.
    • 27% play games with people who they connect with through the internet.
    • 82% play games alone, although 71% of this group also plays with others.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of teens who play games report seeing or hearing “people being mean and overly aggressive while playing,” and 49% report seeing or hearing “people being hateful, racist, or sexist” while playing. However, among these teens, nearly three-quarters report that another player responded by asking the aggressor to stop at least some of the time. Furthermore, 85% of teens who report seeing these behaviors also report seeing other players being generous or helpful while playing.” 3

Video games can be a powerful tool for helping individuals learn how to communicate in highly engaging environments and, importantly, to discern among communications that hold positive or negative messages. Video games tie the visual experience to the human experience to produce critical outcomes that impact the game, but also impact the individual as a gamer. Failure becomes opportunity for advancement with iteration and perseverance. Optimism abounds with success gained through newly acquired skills. Collaboration and opportunities for leadership are absolutes in any video game environment. These lifelong skills, seen as ideal student attributes by classroom teachers, clearly are sharpened by playing video games.

To say the least, social and media literacy skills have become as integral to individuals participating in online video game environments as when interacting on social media sites.

Today everyone who logs onto the Internet is an entrepreneur of some sort because our digital environments serve to promote civic, political, and social justice ideas. The Internet invents as it promotes thought. The study of game design fosters the Four Cs” of 21st century skills: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. With game design, students evaluate media tools used by others to communicate, and importantly evaluate tools used to promote ideas. In essence, through the study of game design, students learn to discern the social implications of how media is used to communicate and invent.

The interest driven quality inherent in the study of game design has far reaching educational benefits. Schools that employ both a study of games and game design, coupled with use of video games for content delivery and assessment of knowledge, bring together the best of what highly engaging social literacy and media literacy experiences have to offer students. These skills will remain essential as students as they move into adult lives where highly dynamic digital communications drive both personal and job-related decisions.

With vast qualities of information at one’s fingertips, perhaps social and media literacy will prove to be the most critical skills students must gain in high school, and with that drive a dynamic paradigm shift in high school curriculums and learning spaces. Schools must adjust, and quickly, to the dynamics and demands of the social and political impacts of the digital world. It just makes sense that the study of games and game design becomes central to that all-important paradigm shift.




“Get to Know” Zulama course author Gary MacKay

Recently we asked Gary to share his story—what inspired him to become a teacher?!

I’m not sure there was a particular experience that moved me toward the teaching profession. It was a progressive dissatisfaction with the way I was being taught. I remember, in fact, that was the subject of a speech I had to give in an English class one year, and my suggestions were all in the realm of what we now call experiential learning. I was not without good teachers but they were relatively few. I just felt there was a better way; a more practical and, at the same time, more creative way to connect students to the skills and content of a given course.

If I’ve had a sense of accomplishment it generally comes at the graduation ceremony each year when a few students seek me out to thank me for being “more than” just a teacher to them. In some cases, I was never their teacher; I was the coach who didn’t cut them or the ear to their troubles or the guy who talked them out of drug use rather than rat them out.

I begin the course by asking them how they know what they know and continue to challenge their knowledge base throughout the course by placing them in real life roles that deal with getting at the truth of something in which they have some personal stake. I would like to think that, by the end of the course, they will realize that the “way” they know is as important as “what” they know.”

Gary is author of the course Media Fluency—The New Standard for Media Fluency.

In the course, students expand their writing abilities, fine-tune their research skills, and explore the limits of media presentations.

With the exponential growth of information in the 21st century and the increasing call for the necessary skills to process the information we are bombarded with every day, it is no longer sufficient to achieve media literacy. This course helps students achieve media fluency through an experiential model that places them in the roles of survey and investigative journalists as well as documentarians.

Beyond literacy is fluency. Fluency is the ability to practice literacy at the advanced levels required for sophisticated communication within social and workplace environments.

Contact us for information on how to enroll!