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21st Century Skills | Media Literacy | Critical Thinking

Top 5 Media Literacy Lesson Plans & Activities for Middle and High School

February 1st, 2022 | 6 min. read

Chris Zook

Chris Zook

Chris Zook is a contributing author to the AES blog. He enjoys everything about online marketing, data science, user experience, and corgis.

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As a career readiness curriculum developer, we hear from teachers like you that media literacy is one of the most difficult 21st Century skills to teach in middle and high school.

This is because media literacy isn’t just a single skill. Instead, media literacy includes a collection of skills requiring students to think critically about information to determine its validity.

Because it’s paramount that students can analyze information in the media to be informed citizens, they need to receive quality media literacy lessons.

To help you choose media literacy lessons that help your students develop critical thinking skills, we’ve brought together five of the best options available today:

  1. Facts vs. Opinions by Common Sense Education
  2. Fact Finder: Your Foolproof Guide to Media Literacy by NewseumED
  3. Media Literacy Lesson Ideas by BrainPop
  4. Media Literacy 101 by Media Smarts
  5. Critical Media Literacy: Commercial Advertising by International Literacy Association

After reading this article, you’ll have a better idea of the media literacy lessons available to teachers and which ones could be a good fit for your classroom.

1. Facts vs. Opinions by Common Sense Education

01-common-sense-educationCommon Sense Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping everyone learn about digital citizenship, professional development, privacy, and other hot-button issues.

One of their best lessons on media literacy is called Facts vs. Opinions.

This lesson takes about 45 minutes to teach, and it comes with free worksheets.

In this lesson, Common Sense takes the time to talk about journalistic integrity while explaining what makes an opinion article different from a fact-based article. Then, Facts v. Opinions explores web-based media sources such as blogs.

At the end of the exercise, students can talk about what they learned while discussing what makes something fact and what makes an opinion.

When they’re done, your students will have a firm grasp on how to read a journalistic outlet — or even a trusted online source — and understand the context of its articles.

This lesson provides important context and informs students about the hallmarks of opinion. So while the lesson may focus on journalistic qualities of media outlets, the underlying principles will help students read, contextualize, and understand future information they encounter.

As a result, you’re helping your students become media-literate in a way that’s engaging, fun, and relatable!

2. Fact Finder: Your Foolproof Guide to Media Literacy by NewseumED

02-newseum-edNewseumED is another non-profit that’s dedicated to spreading the good “news” of media literacy.

NewseumED’s Fact Finder is a collection of dozens of resources, including downloads, videos, and interactives.

Much like Common Sense, NewseumED approaches fact-finding in the lens of journalism. However, this lens isn’t just about journalism — it’s about information as a whole.

At times, this lesson plan actually delves deeper than information, too. It requires students to examine themselves and take a hard look at their own biases, the news that attracts them, and the information that repels them.

You’ll also get activity materials like the News or Noise? map that has students take a practical look at information they may find online. Still, that’s just part of what NewseumED has to offer.

All told, NewseumED offers 11 lesson plans that are packed with additional resources so you can teach an entire week or more about media literacy.

3. Media Literacy Lesson Ideas by BrainPop

03-brainpopBrainPOP is an online resource that considers media literacy to be a part of a full digital citizenship curriculum.

As a result, it includes more digital tools than the other options on this list.

This is because BrainPOP approaches media literacy from the angle of “decoding” — looking at any piece of media and discerning its motives, biases, and implications.

That “decoding” entails learning how companies and advertisers make money and market their products. Sometimes, that means talking about common methods of manipulation like image doctoring and celebrity endorsement.

Altogether, BrainPOP has 19 media literacy resources that you can use to teach your students. It even comes complete with supplemental lesson ideas that you can use to drive home certain points, like advertising strategies.

The end result is a more savvy and thoughtful student who learns a wide range of principles to live their lives.

The ideas presented in BrainPOP’s lessons may be focused on Internet media, but they’re true for television, billboards, newspapers, and other forms of media as well.

As a result, it’s an excellent way to prep your students for life in a world that’s saturated with advertising, especially when social media is concerned.

4. Media Literacy 101 by Media Smarts

04-media-smartsMedia Smarts is a Canadian education organization focused on bringing teachers, students, and parents together to learn about all things digital.

That includes media literacy, which they cover in their Media Literacy 101 lessons.

These lesson plans are aimed at a younger demographic than most — up to sixth grade — but they still spell out lots of helpful principles.

Each lesson comes with a grade level attached, and it credits the author before jumping into the lesson kit.

Each lesson kit features a one-page PDFs that lays out the resources for each lesson and how you can use them to teach.

At the end, it also gives you a list of resources you can include to emphasize different points. These resources aren’t included in the lesson, but they still make great supplements.

Still, if you don’t want to bother with supplements, you don’t have to go out of your way. The information, videos, and instructions are more than enough to teach your students what they need to succeed in media literacy.

5. Critical Media Literacy: Commercial Advertising by International Literacy Association

05-international-literacy-associationThe International Literacy Association (ILA) — published via Read Write Think — is dedicated to spreading literacy in all of its forms.

That could be someone’s literal ability to read, and it could also be a pragmatic approach to studying the effect of mass media on all of our lives.

In the case of this lesson, the ILA lays out four 45-minute lessons that you can use to fill a full week or two of class time.

The ILA looks at media literacy through the lens of influence from a global perspective. So while the previous lessons dealt with critical thinking, the ILA considers popular culture, marketing narratives, and even unspoken oppression.

That means you may trek into other territory by using this lesson plan verbatim. You might wind up discussing poverty, the disparity of technology available in different parts of the world, and other topics that aren’t really related to media literacy.

Still, it’s a holistic approach to teaching this topic. After all, if students are going to comprehend the full scope of media literacy, they should know everything they can!

If you’re only looking for lesson plans that are specific to media literacy, then this lesson plan probably isn’t for you.

Teach Media Literacy and Other Critical Thinking Skills

There’s little doubt that media literacy is one of the most essential skills today’s middle school and high school students need to develop. With so many sources of information available on the internet, your students must learn to discern media content for themselves.

If you’re just looking for new media literacy lesson plans, any one of these resources can provide the context your students need to understand the differences between fact and opinion and evaluate media in a changing world.

However, media literacy is just one of several different critical thinking skills. When teaching media literacy, it’s vital to help your students understand the value of critical thinking and how becoming adept thinkers will help them in school and in their future careers.

If you want to teach critical thinking alongside your media literacy lessons, download this free critical thinking skills lesson presentation. In this resource, you’ll find slides with graphics and speaker notes to help you discuss and develop critical thinking in your class.

Download your free lessons here:

Get My Free Lesson to Teach Critical Thinking Skills