Library Insights - Media Literacy: Ideas to get school librarians started

Updated: Oct 21, 2019

School library media specialists are taking on the important role of teaching media literacy to students and teachers, helping teachers find ways to include media literacy skills into their packed curriculums. I am a school library media specialist and in my career I have worked with students and teachers from K-12. Media literacy is extremely important and exciting. However, THERE IS SO MUCH that media literacy encompasses it is absolutely daunting when thinking about how to teach it. I know the pressure we put on ourselves as educators teach it all! There are plenty of ideas and resources on the Internet and in books... how do you pull it all together?  I do not have the answer...sorry.   I do have some advice, especially for those just getting started:

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1. NOTICE:  Notice what teachers and students (I even get ideas from items teachers leave in the copier) are working on and think of how media literacy can be incorporated (and dare I say improve the lesson or assignment?) Example: 

"Write a newspaper article" or "Create a news broadcast" assignment are interesting assignments but how many of our students have actually read (or touched) an actual newspaper and how many have watched a news broadcast (or can identify news from commentary)? Offer to teach a lesson on news or provide resources to help them (see #6).

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2. LISTEN:  Each year choose one or two grade levels or departments and attend their planning meetings on a regular basis. Listen to what they are planning and offer to teach or provide resources to add media literacy.   Example: 

In elementary school students learn informative, argumentative and persuasive writing. Apply what they are learning to what they see in the media - advertising and commercials are great places to start with elementary kids. Our elementary students also tour the town and the grocery store. Media literacy could be analyzing food icons (the  Jolly Green Giant story), cereal boxes, the use of colors or fonts on products or maybe just the psychology of how the grocery store is organized. Use the NAMLE Key Questions** to help guide you

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3. JUMP: Do not wait until you have the perfect lesson. It will NEVER be perfect, but it will ALWAYS improve! Examples:

A teacher wanted her students to create videos documenting the animals they were training throughout the semester. I purchased WeVideo seats for the class and told them they were helping me assess the program for a school subscription. We learned it together and talked about all the cool ways we can manipulate video to communicate what we wanted audiences to know. In our conversations we talked about how learning how to use WeVideo was making all of us think more critically about how videos we see in the media are manipulated to influence us. It was not a formal lesson, but a meaningful conversation. In Civics classes, next year we will include a using social media as a tool to connect with and learn from organizations that support each students individual Civics in Action Projects...I have an idea of what I want to cover in the lesson leading up to this but it is not perfect and I know I will learn with my students! This is the first step in what I hope will allow students to use social media more as learning and a civics tool. 

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4. GROW: No matter what I teach, there is always room for improvement. Often the ideas come from students, I ALWAYS ask for their honest feedback  (usually in a Google form). Example:

An English teacher asked me to teach her class while she was chaperoning a field trip, I found out that their class was studying Romeo & Juliet and comparing two different movie versions. I used that opportunity to teach a lesson on Film Literacy (see blog post). Kids love movies and this lesson was a great way to engage students with current films, discussing cinematic techniques. These conversations carried over in to their English classes as they could now analyze films for more than just content. Next year I will grow this lesson and incorporate the discussions of camera angles, etc in to  my WeVideo lessons when classes are creating videos as assignments. 

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4. GET TO KNOW THEIR MEDIA: Students love their phones, music, movies, social media, etc. and will sense (and probably shut down)  if your lessons trashes the things they love. Find out what they are doing on the media - what games are popular or YouTube videos and design a critical thinking lesson about that.  Examples: 

A lesson about YouTube can be taught at any age. My 7 year old son is obsessed with the Dude Perfect and Turbo Toy Time channels. We talk about questions** like why do Ryden and his dad get so many toys for free? How does watching them open toys and play with them make you feel? Who makes money on this video? Find out what kids are watching and use them as example to teach.  Ralph Breaks the Internet is a great (and current) movie that I would suggest can be used at all levels to discuss Internet addiction, YouTube, gender roles in the media and social media status. I dare you to watch it and not be inspired to use in a lesson. 

-------- 5. SPREAD THE WORD: I have been asked by two administrators in the recent school year what I meant by "media literacy" and "close reading the media." Please invite your administrators in to see what media literacy is all about, showcase your work on social media and in parent newsletters...spread the word that media literacy is critical!  -------- 6. EMPOWER TEACHERS: When offering to collaborate and teach a lesson, you also want the teacher to be learning in case the following year you find yourself working with another teacher at the same time and unable to get to their class.  There also may be some teachers who like to stay in their own zone and do not want to co-teach. It takes time to figure out who those people may be. In those cases, I NOTICE & LISTEN and may create a LibGuide or simply email some resource ideas to help those teacher incorporate media literacy.  

-------- 7.  KEEP TRACK OF YOUR LESSONS - I do it through my blog. Find a way that works best for you and you will see your own media literacy scope and sequence evolve. 


Written by Kathleen Currie Smith

HS Library Media Specialist

Connecticut USA


Shared by kind permission from an original post that can be found here


Cover Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash