The 21st century is defined by a media-saturated culture. Today, anyone with an internet connection can create mediated messages – whether it be a cat meme or fake news. That’s why teaching media literacy is so important.
These messages are accessible to everyone, including adolescents, who spend so much time in front of screens.
Navigating the complex media environment requires adolescents to be media literate, and teaching media literacy in secondary schools will help.
Media literacy, information literacy and digital literacy can be used interchangeably, even though they have different meanings. We will focus on media literacy, which the Ministry of Education defines as:
In this blog, Essential Resources explores what research says about teaching media literacy in school. We then outline some fun media literacy activities for secondary school students.
What research says about teaching media literacy
Research suggests young people have difficulty evaluating media content.
While students are taught to conduct online information searches and verify sources of information, they:
- have limited knowledge about commercial aspects of the online sites and platforms
- struggle to make sense of the information they come across on the internet
- have difficulty analysing various types of media messages (McNelly & Harvey, 2021).
Teaching media literacy to students can help build these skills.
Studies have shown media literacy increases students’ awareness of media’s influence and helps them better understand and analyse media for accuracy and bias. Additionally, it can foster adolescents’ civic engagement and mitigate the harmful impact of media messages (McNelly & Harvey, 2021).
Greater media literacy also leads to an increase in the quality of the media consumed because individuals require “more realistic messages of a higher quality” (Geraee, Kaveh, Schojaeizadeh & Tabatabaee, 2015).
The research shows a clear value of media literacy in education. So, what are some engaging and thought-provoking activities for teaching media literacy?
How to teach media literacy
We have four fun activities to help secondary school teachers integrate media literacy into their classrooms …
1. Election campaign advertising
Teaching Media Literacy through Contemporary Issues is a series of media literacy resources for teachers written by Dale Sutherland. This activity is from the book that focuses on teaching democracy.
After students learn about common persuasive language techniques political figures use, they undertake a media project – creating an election campaign advert.
Working in pairs or small groups, the students develop an election advertisement for a political party. It can be a real or made-up political party.
They use the chart provided to outline their party name and what it stands for. Next, students brainstorm the images and language techniques they will use.
Students then use this information to write a script for their advertisement.
As an add-on, students can film their election campaign videos. They can finish by watching other groups’ videos and discussing what made them persuasive.
2. Applying to take part in a reality TV show
From the same series of media literacy books, the activity involves looking behind the scenes of a reality television show.
The aim is to give students the tools to recognise the techniques reality television producers use, plus an understanding of why they use them.
Students begin by finding the casting website for a reality television show of their choice. They look at information applicants need to include in their initial casting process.
Using the website, they answer the following questions:
- What TV show is the application for?
- Is there an age limit for participants? If so, what is it?
- Describe the requirements for the applicant’s online presence (eg, Facebook or YouTube). Why do you think the show’s producers would want these?
- Another requirement could include a short biography. If you were applying, what would you write here?
- Look at the requirements for a file upload. Describe what the file upload must contain. Why do you think the show’s producers would want this?
- What are the restrictions that are put on the application?
3. Produce a “user beware” guide
The ‘produce a “user beware” guide’ activity is from Exploring Fake News, a media literacy resource that shines a light on fake news, misinformation and conspiracy theories. It helps students overlook unreliable and inaccurate information available online.
The activity focuses on hoax websites. Hoax websites contain information that simply is not true. They are created for fun, to present an extreme or biased point of view or to make a profit.
As individuals, pairs or small groups, students produce a guide explaining how to avoid hoax websites and what to do if they come across one. They can choose how they would like to present their guide – as a booklet, poster or oral presentation.
The resource includes a template to help students plan their guide, including the title, an introduction explaining what the guide is for and instructions for checking a website.
4. Dig deeper into conspiracy theory
Our last fun media literacy activity is also from Exploring Fake News.
The activity encourages students to delve into the reasons why a particular conspiracy has come about and why people believe it. It helps students to think critically about the information they encounter.
The book outlines several reasonably well-known conspiracy theories, such as QAnon and Diana, Princess of Wales. From this list, students are to select one to investigate.
Students research their conspiracy theory to answer the following questions:
- What is the essence of the conspiracy theory?
- What are the different versions of the conspiracy theory?
- How and when did this conspiracy theory come about?
- What started the conspiracy theory and who were the main people to spread it?
- What “evidence” have the conspiracy theorists used to back up their theory?
- What is the effect of this conspiracy theory? How is it harmful?
- What is the reality check?
Then, they use the information they have gathered to create a presentation for the class.
Every day, students encounter media messages. Teaching media literacy helps them to make sense of these and sort out what is accurate and reliable.
The four activities, taken from our media literacy teaching resources, are a fun yet eye-opening way to educate students and prepare them for today’s media landscape.
Geraeen, N., Kaveh, M.H., Schojaeizadeh, D., & Tabatabaee, H.R. (2015). Impact of media literacy education on knowledge and behavioural intention of adolescents in dealing with media messages according to Stages of Change. Journal of Advances in Medical Education and Professionalism, 3(1), 9–14.
McNelly, T., & Harvey, J. (2021). Media literacy instruction in today’s classrooms: A study of teachers’ knowledge, confidence and integration. Journal of Media Literacy Education, 13(1), 108–130.