Teaching Media Literacy: Its Importance and 10 Engaging Activities [+ Downloadable List]
They learn from it every day, but most young students don’t understand its inner-workings nor the effects it has on them.
That’s why educating them about mass media is an important, albeit challenging, task. The challenge lies in the fact that each distinct medium is complex and many curricula don’t dedicate fleshed-out units to teaching media literacy.
Instead, many teachers deliver lessons when opportunities present themselves or if there’s a clear link with existing curriculum content.
Whether this situation sounds familiar or you’re able to dedicate a unit to it, below are 10 engaging activities that teach media literacy.
Complemented by a thorough explanation of why media literacy matters, use the activities that best apply to you and keep the downloadable list at your desk for quick reference.
Why Is Teaching Media Literacy Important?
The benefits of educating students about media include:
- Recognizing Point-of-View — Those who create any given piece of media have a goal and perspective. Whether this point-of-view is clear or debatable, recognizing it allows students to question and contextualize the information they receive.
- Improving Critical Thinking Skills — Evaluating media through in-class or take-home exercises encourages students to determine if the messages are accurate, using examples to justify their thoughts.
- Learning How to Create Different Products — Many media literacy activities allow students to “learn by doing,” studying and creating a range of products from print ads to television scripts.
- Breathing Relevancy into Different Subjects — Media literacy lessons can be a catalyst for interdisciplinary teaching, highlighting the relevance of different subjects. For example, your students could investigate the power of certain colours in advertisements, applying key takeaways to art class as they make their own logos.
- Linking Existing Content with Student Interests — You can make curriculum content more engaging by linking it with students’ favourite media. For example, if they aren’t receptive to learning about plot devices, examine them through the lense of a popular movie. Then, explore how effectively the movie uses the devices.
You can deliver these benefits to your students by trying some of the activities explored below.
10 Examples of Media Literacy Activities
1. Dissecting Logos
Teach students to recognize the basic effects and intricacies of brand logos with this simple, discussion-driven exercise.
Prepare by asking students to share logos that pop into their heads, such as Apple and Taco Bell. The next day, print and bring in the logos. Gather the class in a circle, holding each logo up one at a time. Ask open questions as you do so. “How did you know this logo is Taco Bell?” “Would you still recognize it if it were green instead of purple?” “How important is using the same colours?” You can ask impromptu follow-up questions based on answers, and use the call-and-response method to encourage participation.
You may be surprised to see which logos resonate most with your students.
Age: 1st to 3rd Grade
2. Describing Characters
Use visual media — such as a movie or television show — to help young students learn about character traits.
A lesson you can use in language arts classes, tell each student to pay attention to a particular character before playing the show or movie. After it’s done, pair students who focused on different characters together. Instruct each partner to describe three traits that his or her character demonstrated. The other partner should ask “why?” if the description was vague, prompting an example that supports the characteristics. For example, if a student says “I think Jenny is smart,” the partner should encourage more detail.
After, the class can work together to thoroughly describe each character.
Age: 2nd to 3rd Grade
3. Building a Cereal Brand
Bring in different cereal boxes to launch an activity that spans across classes.
It starts by putting students into small groups, giving each its own cereal box. Group members must analyze it, noting attributes such as font size, style and placement as well as elements such as mascot use and facial expression. To smoothen this process, provide a sheet of questions to consider. This initial exercise opens the door to range of activities. For example, students could watch a commercial for the cereal, analyzing it in a similar way. They could then script their own ad, recording it using school or personal devices.
Student creativity will shine, so don’t be surprised if they ask to make ads in other classes.
Age: 3rd to 5th Grade
4. Dissecting Logos, Part II
Expand the first exercise on this list for older students by analyzing logos more thoroughly.
A basic homework task launches this activity: Get students to identify and bring up to four pictures of logos to class. Start the lesson by having them identify each other’s logos, starting a discussion about how a company would benefit from being easily-recognizable. You can even ask if they’ve ever bought something just because they knew the logo. To turn the exercise into an engaging math activity, allow students to find as many logos as they can across the classroom — including on apparel they’re wearing. Then, work to make a chart that visualizes the popularity of the different logos.
Who knew a company’s trademark picture makes for good lesson material?
If you want to reimagine how to arrange your classroom for activities like this, consider a flexible seating arrangement.
Age: 3rd to 5th Grade
5. Finding Movie Messages
Teach students to find the theme and key points of any content piece — be it academic or part of popular media — by watching and reflecting on movies.
Depending on students’ existing knowledge, start by explaining that most media have underlying messages they communicate. For example, many adventure shows and movies highlight the importance of courage. To help students solidify understanding, sort them into groups and present a list of about 10 movies they would likely know. Groups should write a key message of each movie before reviewing responses as a class. To wrap up the activity, watch a short film. Ask questions throughout it to help your students pinpoint the underlying messages.
They’ll likely see their favourite movies in new lights afterwards.
Age: 4th to 6th Grade
6. Differentiating Media
Allow students to create a range of media, exercising their analysis skills afterward, by holding this multi-class activity.
It is based on you sharing an overarching idea or story. For example, a hypothetical news piece about a new sports arena opening in your area. After students note what you say, divide them into groups. Distribute templates and instructions about creating distinct media — such as print ads, mock radio interviews and storyboarded news hits — to each group. Over the course of a week, they must craft different media pieces about the idea or story you shared. After students submit their products, hold a class-wide discussion to analyze how the content changed or was told differently depending on the medium.
An exercise in differentiation, you should see distinct learning styles shine.
Age: 5th to 6th Grade
7. Deconstructing Advertising Language
Help your class understand — and see through — advertising language, including how advertisers can influence them to make decisions through word choice and writing techniques.
Launch this exercise by delivering a brief lesson about advertising claims. Explored in many online and offline marketing resources, these 10 kinds of claims typically highlight a product’s superiority over competitors. For example, “our cola has more taste” is an unfinished claim. After hearing or reading it, your students should ask: “More taste than what?” Once they grasp the concept, hand out stacks of magazines and online ads you’ve printed to groups of students. Each group should explore the resources they’ve received, identifying two to four ads that use specific claims. After, groups can share their findings with the class.
Ideally, out of curiosity after completing this exercise, students will begin to analyze ads they see.
Age: 6th to 8th Grade
8. Making a Newspaper
Use media literacy education to bridge gaps between subjects, as your students work together to publish a class newspaper.
The newspaper can focus on a fictional setting — such as a town in a novel your class is reading — and each student should deliver a specific product. For example, one student can write a breaking news story for the front page, whereas another can write a report about a historically-significant event in the town. You can even involve math, as the paper could include a math challenge made up of word problems based on scenarios in the novel. Students should submit first drafts of their products to you, prompting you to make corrections and hand them back.
Once students have finished and submitted all revised products, put them together to create and display a class newspaper.
Age: 7th Grade and Up
9. Re-imagining the News
Have students critically evaluate, and improve, a news piece with this 30-minute activity.
It starts by watching a short news clip. At its conclusion, hold a minds-on exercise in the form of an informal quiz. Ask about the clip’s content, including the point of the story and who it affected. This allows you to hold a subsequent discussion about how students would improve the clip to better communicate its points. Then, let them. Dividing them into groups, they should write five ways they would change the clip. They can then storyboard the revamped news piece.
You can replicate this activity to analyze and create other media, too.
Age: 7th Grade and Up
10. Switching the Medium
Build your students’ writing skills in an engaging way — allowing them learn nuances between media — by morphing existing content into a different medium.
There are many chances to launch this activity throughout a given semester, as it works best to reinforce student understanding of media such as books and movies. As an in-class group exercise or take-home solo assessment, assign them different scenes from the specific book or movie. Then, match each scene with a specific medium. For example, a scene in which the protagonist argues with supporting characters could be re-imagined as an advertisement — the protagonist would “sell” his ideas to them. Students tackling this scene-medium combo would have to write the ad. They can act it out to the class, too.
This activity also prepares students for quizzes. To re-imagine a scene, they’ll have to study it closely.
Age: 8th Grade and Up
Downloadable List of the Media Literacy Activities
Click here to download and print a simplified list of the 10 exercises that teach media literacy, keeping it at your desk for easy reference.
Final Thoughts on Teaching Media Literacy
Students won’t stop improving their media literacy when your class or unit ends.
Many of these activities — like experiential learning or active learning strategies — put the students at the center of the learning process, helping them to grasp the tasks at hand more effectively.
The skills they build and knowledge the acquire will — ideally — continue to grow as they’re exposed to different media. They should be curious and skeptical about what they see and hear, recognizing tactics and approaches used by media makers.
It’s an ongoing critical thinking exercise.
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