How to Teach Media Literacy in an Engaging Way?

Spotting the difference between good, bad, and questionable sources has always been tough, but now it’s a bigger challenge than ever. Similarly, how to teach media literacy to students who grew up glued to a phone is now a burning question for schools and districts around the country. I’ve seen it in my own high school classroom. Many times, students don’t even realize the “news” they’re passing on is coming from some so-called social media influencer. Between the pandemic and the rise of TikTok, a lot more young people are getting their news in a quick-hit format, as this article from EdSurge highlights. As educators, we can help. If this is a topic you’re trying to tackle in your classroom or school, here are some things you can do to help students become more savvy media consumers.

10 Ways to Make Teaching Media Literacy More Engaging and Meaningful

Examine the fundamentals of the media students consume

One of the best ways to establish good media literacy skills is to talk about what it actually means. We’ve prepared a free media literacy lesson plan and activity to help you get started. Intended to be completed in 20 minutes or less, it’s a perfect way to talk about how students can become better media consumers.

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Remember media literacy is for every subject

One of the best ways to turn students into savvy media consumers is to talk about it across all disciplines. Whether students are writing research papers in English or lab reports in Chemistry, all teachers can reinforce the fundamentals of vetting sources to find the most valid information. By focusing on this in all academic classes, we can create more media-literate citizens.

Set high expectations for well-sourced information

Teachers are used to requiring works cited pages when students do research. We all know how to properly cite according to MLA format, but this only goes so far. Beyond that, we should be requiring students to present us with some sort of source validity analysis. Rather than simply presenting where their information comes from, let’s start asking them why it comes from there.

Try doing a Fact-Check Friday

Consider setting aside a few minutes of class time every Friday for Fact-Check Friday. Have students present things they have been hearing about pop culture events, politics, and the like. Then together do a little googling around to see what you can find. This is the perfect opportunity to emphasize and reiterate the CRAAP (Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose) components from the earlier mentioned media literacy lesson plan.

Praise Student Effort Instead of Results

It’s tempting to pile on encouragement for good grades and strong academic performances, but students are more likely to develop a growth mindset when they know that what matters most to those around them is their effort, not their end result. Try replacing exclamations of “Great job!” with comments like, “I can see how hard you worked on that!”

Add Emotional Check-Ins to Your Daily Routine

Social emotional curriculum is a practice, not a set of memorized facts, and adding elementsof it to the daily routine encourages students to engage in the practice throughout the school day. Emotional check-ins can be as simple as having students color a square in to symbolize their feelings or writing one word onto an index card. This social emotional learning activity not only provides students with a reminder to make space for their feelings; it also gives teachers valuable data about how their students are doing emotionally and might help teachers to identify any patterns of concern.

Create SEL Journals and Allow Access During Free Time

When students engage in SEL work, it’s helpful to keep it all in one place. This provides opportunities for reflection and allows students to review their progress throughout the year. Voluntary sharing of selected projects or entries through the year can be a valuable social skills activity for students. Allowing them access to these journals during free time also reinforces their personal practice of the skills they learned through more structured activities.

Engage Parents

No matter how much time our students spend with us at school, the number one influence in their lives is rarely in the classroom. Engaging parents in the SEL curriculum can help them to reinforce these skills at home using shared vocabulary and practices. Including an SEL Tip of the Month in parent newsletters, sending home an introductory letter with each new unit, or simply opening conversation with parents in other ways can help them to understand what their children are learning, build their own understanding of SEL skills, and reinforce these important practices outside the classroom.

Model information gathering

When thinking about how to teach media literacy in a more effective way, probably the best advice is to teach by example. Teachers do all kinds of research behind the scenes as they prepare their lessons. In doing so we search through source material to find the most valid information available to us. Rather than doing all of this work behind the scenes, we can bring some of it to the forefront. Trying to find a good first-person account of the Great Depression? Show the class. Looking for an article about plant-based foods for Cooking 101? Show the class how you select a valid source.

Use social media to introduce the idea of separating truth from fiction

Bring social media into the classroom rather than simply telling students why it is so dangerous. One place to start is looking at images of people and analyzing which images are digitally manipulated through filters and Photoshop. This is a great exercise for classes like Art, Health, Photography, Fashion, etc. It is a great way to introduce the concept of not believing everything you see and separating what is real from what is not.

Use social media again to examine the idea of falsehoods through omission

We all know the lives we see on people’s Instagram feeds are just carefully curated stories rather than the whole truth. By leaving out the bad pictures, the failures, the awful experiences, these feeds create a lie: there is such a thing as a perfect life. Looking at this critically can introduce the idea of bias through omission and help kids foster a more realistic sense of what they are looking at.

Let students know you understand the pressures of a digital world

Sometimes educators fall victim to shaming students for their media consumption. We reprimand students for having phones out in class, talk about their screen time totals, and in doing so, we separate ourselves from that part of their life. Instead, let’s try talking to students about our own struggles in using phones as an escape, feeling compelled to check each notification, and reading clickbait articles. Hopefully, this will get them to engage with us in discussing their media consumption.

Make mobile phone policies mimic the real world

People solve debates by turning to their phones all the time. When schools simply ban phones altogether, we separate the world of media consumption from the world of education. Instead, let’s consider allowing phones to be a useful tool in the learning process. Whenever possible, let’s have students engage with that technology in a way that’s meaningful and carefully thought out, by practicing healthy media literacy skills right there on their phones.

Reach out to families

As educators, we are much more aware of what students are consuming than many parents. Organize a media literacy night for parents to offer them some of the same information we offer our students.

How to Teach Media Literacy: Next Steps

We are unlikely to create citizens who delete all their social media accounts and start combing through the print edition of The New York Times. But we can help students think about media more thoughtfully while taking notice of where it comes from. By bringing media literacy to the forefront of our instruction, we can create a generation of students who enter the world looking at media with a critical eye. 

Teaching media literacy is a crucial component of building the life skills students need to tackle our often-frustrating modern reality. By helping them distinguish between false and real information online we can minimize the triggering effects of fake news. To further advance their social and emotional skills, consider implementing a more comprehensive SEL curriculum in your school or district.

With Ori Learning’s SEL solution, you benefit from student-driven lessons, adaptable resources, and comprehensive monitoring tools that foster curiosity and perseverance, empowering learners to thrive in today’s complex world. Want to see it in action? Schedule a brief demo and get 30-day access to our curriculum.

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Jon Izak

Jon Izak is the founder and CEO of Ori Learning.