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.

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