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MediaLit Moments

Your Date with Fossil Fuels?

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Energy industry public relations campaigns can be a hit-and-miss proposition.  An amateur journalist might be able to spot the stock photographs that the coal industry used to create the image that everyone in the region supports coal miners and mining.  But, other communications might be very sophisticated.  During the Beijing Olympics of 2008, GE aired a CG animation ad in its 'Ecomagination' series in which a crane takes flight along a beautiful Chinese coastline and transforms into a jumbo jet.  Others wait patiently in line for take-off while sea turtles (i.e., ground traffic) cross the pristine beach.  The narration prompts audiences to "imagine a way to fly that not only helps save millions of gallons of fuel, but actually reduces emissions." The metaphorical power of the images and the short duration of the ad make it likely that audiences will forget to ask how such technical advances might be achieved. In this MediaLit Moment, your middle level students will evaluate an energy industry ad which hinges on a single device:  the personification of the fossil fuels industry itself.     

Ask students to evaluate the effectiveness of an energy industry message

AHA!:  This video talks about an important environmental issue, but it's still trying to win me over to the advertiser's point of view.

Grade Level: 6-8

Key Question #2: What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?

Core Concept #2:  Media messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules

Key Question #5: Why is this message being sent?

Core Concept #5: Most media messages are organized to gain profit and/or power

Materials: Computer with high-speed internet connection, LCD projector and screen. Advertisement from the Environmental Policy Alliance, "Breaking Up with Fossil Fuels Is Hard to Do," at

Activity: Ask students if they can recall any energy industry ads they've seen in the recent past.  How did they react to them?  Why?  Screen the fossil fuels ad at least twice.  What did they like about the ad.  What didn't they like?  Did they find it persuasive?  Why or why not?  Discuss the corresponding relationship between the character of Joe and themselves as audiences for the ad.  What did it mean for them to be on a "date" with fossil fuels?  How did they react to that?  Did they find this use of personification persuasive?  Why or why not?

Extended Activity: Using this advertisement and any other examples as source materials for analysis and reflection, ask students to construct what they believe to be a persuasive pro-industry ad.  Note: the GE ad mentioned above ad can be found at

The Five Core Concepts and Five Key Questions of media literacy were developed as part of the Center for Media Literacy’s MediaLit Kit™ and Questions/TIPS (Q/TIPS)™ framework.  Used with permission, ©2002-2015.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 24 March 2015 13:03 )

Big Ads for the Big Game

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The Super Bowl is known for airing the most expensive commercials of the new season, often costing more than four million dollars per minute during the big game.  From cars to unused phone data, the advertisements try to appeal to the audience on an emotional basis – to pull at our heartstrings with puppies, children and celebrities.  And now that the statistics are available for review, let’s take a minute to ask what’s the big deal?

Explore the reasons why so much effort and expense go into this one day for advertisers.

AHA!: A huge audience means lots of eyeballs seeing the brands, and brand recognition means money!

Grade Level: 6-8

Key Question #5: Why is this message being sent? (Key Word: Purpose)

Core Concept #5: Most messages are sent to gain profit and/or power

Key Question #3: How might different people understand this message differently? (Key Word: Audience)

Core Concept #3: Different people understand the same message differently

Materials: Internet links to two or three Super Bowl ads and a projection screen.  We recommend the Advertising Age site as they have background information about most ads that ran during the Super Bowl: or for additional videos, try

Activity: View the ads as a class before revealing the costs for air time.  Ask your students why a company would spend 4 million dollars to show a one-minute ad.  Then tell them the size of the viewing audience (averaging 114.4 million viewers per minute on NBC’s Sunday night broadcast, becoming the most watched event in American TV history*).

Ask the class: Were the ads worth the money in their opinion?  Will lots of people go out and buy these products now?  Do they think the ads were designed specifically for the audience?  Who was the target audience? Were other viewers targeted besides traditional football fans?  Did the new commercials persuade them personally to buy a new product or like a brand?

*International Business Times Feb. 11, 2014

The Five Core Concepts and Five Key Questions of media literacy were developed as part of the Center for Media Literacy’s MediaLit Kit™ and Questions/TIPS (Q/TIPS)™ framework.  Used with permission, © 2002-2015, Center for Media Literacy,

Last Updated ( Thursday, 19 February 2015 15:43 )

Real Women Without Stereotypes?

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In more than one research survey conducted for the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, female characters in television and film frequently appeared as "eye candy" for the audience and for the lead male. What about female characters played by plus-sized actresses? How are they portrayed? They seem to run the gamut, from the Gabourey Sibideh's entirely serious portrayal of a young single mother in Precious, to Kirstie Alley's role in the pseudo-reality show Fat Actress, which practically makes Alley an object of audience ridicule.

In this MediaLit Moment, your high school students will have the chance to identify stereotypes of plus-sized actresses that they might have taken for granted, and a chance to develop their own criteria for roles which cast larger women in a realistic or positive light.

Ask students to identify stereotypical roles for plus-sized actresses
The entertainment industry has its own definition of plus-size. See example of how the term can vary:

AHA!: Plus-sized actresses are typecast most of the time!
Grade Level: 9-12
Key Question #4: What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?
Core Concept #4: Media have embedded values and points of view

Materials: DVD player and/or computer with high-speed Internet connection

Activity: You may want to ask if any students have seen Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. If they have seen it, what impression did they have of Ms. Suggs (Jennifer Coolidge), the driving instructor? Did her weight or body size seem to have anything to do with her character?
Next, play clips of two or more television or film characters played by plus-sized actresses, and offer students a glimpse of a variety of roles. Here's a sample list: America Ferrara as Ana in Real Women Have Curves; Melissa McCarthy as Mullins in The Heat; Ricki Lake as Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray; Queen Latifah as Mama Morton in Chicago. You will need to be judicious with your choice of excerpts, as plus-sized actresses are cast in R-rated films with some frequency. What kinds of characters do they play? Make sure to ask, can they imagine this actress playing any other kind of character? If not, why not? Introduce students to the concept of typecasting/stereotyping. Draw students' attention to KQ#4 and keep asking questions to help them unravel the social assumptions embedded in these stereotypes.
If time permits, hold a discussion on the kinds of roles these actresses might play that are not based on stereotypes. What might be a serious, realistic or positive role for them?

The Five Core Concepts and Five Key Questions of media literacy were developed as part of the Center for Media Literacy’s MediaLit Kit™ and Questions/TIPS (Q/TIPS)™ framework. Used with permission, ©2002-2014

Last Updated ( Monday, 12 January 2015 14:24 )

My Hunger Games

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When people or institutions start to look oppressive, many reach for an analogy to George Orwell's 1984.  But The Hunger Games?  In fact, the latest installment from this teen fantasy franchise, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, has become much more than a conversation piece.  Released on November 21st, 2014, just four days before the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri decided not to issue an indictment in the case of Officer Darren Wilson's shooting of Michael Brown, Mockingjay has led to protests inspired by the film.  Overnight, graffiti appeared on a Saint Louis monument with the words "If we burn, you will burn with us."  In a video that has gone viral, a young woman sings the "Hanging Tree" song from the film, with an American flag in the background and lyrics altered to describe events in Missouri. In this MediaLit Moment, your middle and high school students will have the chance to develop a greater understanding of the power of social commentary in popular media, and greater awareness of different ways that audiences can be affected.

Ask students to discuss the emotional impact of Mockingjay, and how different audiences have reacted differently

AHA!:  A movie can emotionally stir and energize people to rally for a cause in real life!

Grade Level:  8-10

Key Question #4:  What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?

Core Concept #4: Media have embedded values and points of view.

Key Question #3: How might different people understand this message differently?

Core Concept #3: Different people experience the same media message differently.

Materials:  High-speed Internet access, LCD projector and screen.  Story from NPR Weekend Edition Saturday, November 29th, 2014, "Finding Ferguson and Other news Headlines in 'Mockingjay" Accessible at:

You may want to screen Laci Green's MTV video on the parallels between Mockingjay and events in Ferguson (readily available on YouTube).  Much of it is excellent.  You will need to be selective, however.  Not all of the content will be appropriate for students.  And, for discussion of audience differences, you'll find a ready supply of social media content--especially on Tumblr and the rest of the blogosphere--with differing interpretations of the political significance of the film.  Tweets with the hashtag #MyHungerGames may also be of interest.

Activity: Ask students whether they've seen the film.  For those who have, what events or conflicts in the film had the greatest emotional impact for them?  Why?

Do they see the government oppression in the film reflected in real life?  Make sure to reinforce classroom norms during this discussion, as students may well disagree with each other.  Have students listen to part or all of the NPR story.  Make sure to include the author's comment (in the final minute of the story) about political polarization in the U.S. and the tendency to "paint our enemies as larger than life."  Use the social media content to demonstrate the variety of audience reactions and responses to Mockingjay, and ask them to reflect on different responses among students in the room.


The Five Core Concepts and Five Key Questions of media literacy were developed as part of the Center for Media Literacy’s MediaLit Kit™ and Questions/TIPS (Q/TIPS)™ framework.  Used with permission, ©2002-2014, Center for Media Literacy,




Making News

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An important part of understanding the constructedness of media is recognizing that choices are made and that those choices can influence people and society. The decision of what to include and what to leave out is made all the time as media creators struggle to balance competing needs. By enacting the role of news producers and organizing a brief newscast, students experience the process of making the critical choices about what gets aired (or posted) and what is never seen.

Have students feature three top stories in a two minute broadcast.

AHA!: There’s not enough time to tell the whole story!

Grade Level: 6-9

Key Question #1 for Producers: What am I authoring?
Core Concept #1: All media is constructed
Key Question #4 for Consumers: What values, lifestyles and points of view are embedded in or omitted from this message?
Key Question #4 for Producers: Have I clearly and consistently framed values, lifestyles and points of view in my content?
Core Concept #4: Media have embedded values and points of view.

Materials: paper and pencils. Access to a stopwatch or timer.

Activity: Place students into small groups so they can work without overhearing the other groups.  Ask each group to generate a list of important stories and current events. The list can include local, national or international news, sports, school events, etc.  Then ask the team to select the three stories they want to cover in their 2 minute broadcast.  Tell them to choose the stories they think their audience will be most interested in (the audience is their classmates).  As they draft their scripts, they will need to keep in mind the time limit and should practice to be sure they are on target.  Each team can designate a news anchor(s) to broadcast the stories to the class.  Designate a class timer to call out “time” when the two minute limit is reached.

One student from each team should explain why their team selected certain stories and certain details and left out others for this particular audience.

Class Reflection: Did multiple teams report the same story?  Were there similarities and differences in how they were reported? How do you feel about the choices you made about what to include and what to drop? What insights does this give you about the news you see and hear everyday?

This activity is adapted from CML’s Five Key Questions That Can Change the World.

The Five Core Concepts and Five Key Questions of media literacy were developed as part of the Center for Media Literacy’s MediaLit Kit™ and Questions/TIPS (Q/TIPS)™ framework.  Used with permission, ©2002-2014, Center for Media Literacy,


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