10 Ways to Tackle Media Literacy With Your Students

Media literacy has always been tough in trying to figure out the difference between good, bad, and questionable sources, but now it’s an even bigger challenge than ever. 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.

It is no secret that students’ consumption of media is on the rise, and it probably won’t be slowing down anytime soon. 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.

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. You can use this media literacy lesson plan and activity available for free right here to help you get started. Created to be complete in 20 minutes or less, it’s a perfect way to talk about how students can become better media consumers.

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.

Model information gathering.

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.

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.