Month by Month Activities to Teach Media Literacy
Reviewed by Stephanie Leary
While some media outlets produce materials of questionable authenticity, there is no question that this timely and engaging book is not “fake news.” Close Reading the Media by Frank W. Baker is an incredible resource for any middle or high school humanities teacher looking to teach students how to think critically about the media content they regularly consume.
As an English language arts teacher, I know the importance of literacy as it relates to novels, short stories, poetry, and articles. Unfortunately I sometimes neglect other ways that students need to know to process information: photos, images, infographics, television, speeches, and advertisements.
This resource guide has reminded me of the many ways that students read every day and how important it is for them to question, analyze, and evaluate the information they are constantly receiving.
Up your understanding of media literacy
This book is engaging and relevant, extremely user friendly, and packed with helpful resources for teaching media literacy. It starts by not only explaining what media literacy is, but also providing foundational lessons to support students’ understanding of this important skill set.
Author Frank Baker aims to teach how to analyze the media based on this time-tested definition written by the Ontario Ministry of Education in 1989:
Media literacy is concerned with helping students develop an informed and critical understanding of the nature of mass media, the techniques used by them and the impact of these techniques. More specifically, it is education that aims to increase students’ understanding and enjoyment of how the media work, how they produce meaning, how they are organized, and how they construct reality. Media literacy also aims to provide students with the ability to create media products. (Source)
Providing accurate and research-based information along with ways to teach the concept is something this book does incredibly well. While some teachers today grew up as “digital natives” just like the students they teach, many may be apprehensive to teach about an aspect of literacy that is perhaps new, unfamiliar, or intimidating. Thankfully, this book makes both understanding and teaching media literacy accessible and enjoyable.
Timely topics throughout the school year
I absolutely love the way this book is organized with lessons that are presented by months of the school year. Not only is it well constructed, but within each month the lessons correspond to timely topics, making it easy to connect with students’ interests and engagement. For example, in September students analyze the business behind TV advertising just in time for the new fall TV season. Later in February students study the language of film and the symbols of costume design as talk of Academy Award nominees abounds. In May, students consider the role of celebrities in advertising and their impact on raising awareness about a variety of social issues.
For each month, there are two to three lessons that support a more general topic. Teachers can choose whether to teach all of the lessons each month, or simply to focus on one lesson if they are more pressed for time. A teacher could also use this as a differentiation strategy based on how much knowledge students have about a given topic and use various lessons for different groups of students.
Additionally, teachers will quickly recognize the possibilities for interdisciplinary lessons related to math, art, history, and technology and might decide to share or recommend the book to colleagues.
Accessible resources for each lesson
The wealth of resources provided in this book make this an accessible guide for busy educators. Teachers will not have to spend hours looking for articles, examples, and credible data; the author provides all of those for each lesson. There are videos, articles, infographics, and more for students to analyze, along the suggestions for additional resources for each lesson.
While the organization and resources may appeal most to the teachers who use this book, there is no doubt that the relevant and timely material will captivate and engage students. It is exciting and useful to study the language of media through events and mediums that are relevant, such as considering the cost and techniques behind Super Bowl ads or understanding how photojournalism changed history, particularly during the Civil Rights Movements.
No longer will these events and ideas just be words students hear during a particular month of the year. Students will appreciate and, more importantly, enjoy learning about the power behind these media techniques.
Informative, fun, and thought-provoking
I am excited and empowered to teach many of these lessons throughout the next school year, thanks to the informative, fun, and thought-provoking ideas that Frank Baker provides in this book. As an English teacher, I am always looking for balance and variety in what and how students are reading, and this book is so helpful in incorporating media literacy into that balance.
Close Reading the Media is everything you need to teach the importance of analyzing and evaluating the media, and I highly recommend this resource to anyone who is intrigued by or already teaching media literacy skills!
Stephanie Leary (@sleary1023) is a middle school teacher in Owings Mills, Maryland and currently teaches English to sixth and eighth graders. She is passionate about fostering a love of reading in her students and helping them become confident writers.