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Reading Media Texts

Media do not simply present the world, but re-present it: they construct versions of reality. -David Buckingham





The language of media discourse includes features or conventions such as the slow fade in a television show or the eerie music in a horror film. And, just as a story has a structure, so too does a commercial. By reading and analyzing media texts, students are involved in breaking the code for the way languages of different media work.

There is such a wide diversity of media texts, such as videos, television programmes, films, books, newspapers, website pages, election campaigns, etc. that can be used to teach media literacy. Whenever a media product is being read, discussed, or produced, some aspects of the key media literacy concepts should be considered.

Adapted from Center for Media Literacy

Reading Media Texts

It is important to help students develop skills and strategies that will empower them to negotiate media texts critically. In order to do this students must come to understand that:

  • there is no one ’true’ meaning, but rather a range of possible meanings in a text
  • the reader plays an active role in the negotiation of meaning
  • this role involves conscious choices rather than the unconscious acceptance of "preferred" readings. 

Tips for Integrating Media Literacy in the Classroom

Here is some advice for making media education a meaningful and integrated part of your classroom practice:

  1. Start and end with the key concepts of media literacy.

  2. Exploit “teachable moments” with advertisements, newspapers, book covers...

  3. Create opportunities for students to produce media, not just analyze it.

  4. Recognize that teens – and adults – enjoy media

  5. It’s important not to take a negative approach to media education. Teach kids that critiquing is not necessarily the same thing as criticizing and that we can identify and talk about problematic issues in the media we love without losing our enjoyment of them. Don’t forget to look at positive examples when discussing things like gender, stereotyping and so on.

  6. Look for media education opportunities in different contexts. For example, have students analyze the difference between a film and book version of a story using the key concepts. How are the commercial considerations of a movie different from those of a book or a play? What technical differences change how the story is told? How are the expectations of a movie audience different from those of a play or a book? How are the filmmakers’ values and assumptions similar to, or different from, the original author’s? How do all of these differences affect the explicit or implicit meaning?.

  7. Students often try to avoid talking about the implications of media products by saying “it’s only a TV show” – or a video game, or a music video. Remind them that media can have meaning even if the creators didn’t plan it, and that we rely as much on the media as on anything else to tell us about the world. For instance, research has shown persuasively that media consumption can affect how we see others and how we see ourselves, even if we don’t realize it – a condition known as implicit or unconscious bias – and the presence or absence of different groups in media has been shown to affect how people feel about those groups.

  8. You don’t have to be a media expert to teach media literacy, but it helps to be current about what kids are watching, playing, reading, wearing and listening to, not to mention what they’re doing online. This is a great opportunity to let students be the experts.

Adapted from Media Smarts

Reading Photographs

Photography is one example of a visual text that can be used to teach media literacy and critical thinking. When students interpret or create photographs they better understand how visual language works and the constructed nature of all texts. Even the youngest students can easily make their own visual texts through photography.

Visually literate students understand that:

  • photographs are produced and used for different purposes, for example, the purpose of an advertising photo is very different from a photo in a nonfiction picture book or from a snapshot of your best friend
  • photographers make choices about the way the photo is constructed (camera angles, framing etc.), that impact the message conveyed to the intended audience
  • readers draw on their experience and their understanding of visual language to come up with an interpretation
  • not all people interpret photographs in the same way.

Additional Resources

MedienABC provides an introduction into media education for teachers. On this site you will find information and practical classroom suggestions taken from a range of well-known media education experts. It is worth a visit. 

MediaSmarts has a wealth of resources and information for teachers on digial and media literacy topics. They also offer a series of videos and accompanying lesson plans on each of the key concepts. 

The New York Times, in conjunction with The Learning Network posts a new photograph every Monday with the question, "What’s Going On in This Picture?"

The Cinematheque in Vancouver, British Columbia offers media literacy lesson plans that consider gender equality, consumerism and violence in film and television.

Quebec Reading Connection offers nonficiton titles that discuss different aspects of media literacy.



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