On an average day, American teens spend more time consuming media than attending school. That's the shocking conclusion of a 2015 survey: Teens (ages 13–18) spend an average of 9 hours a day using media while tweens (ages 8–12) spend nearly 6 hours a day. What’s more, these estimates exclude time spent using media for school or homework!
So, how can we help students consume media wisely? How can we teach them to analyze media messages, test them for reliability, and search for bias? These three activities equip students with essential media-literacy skills.
Every media message is created, edited, packaged, and delivered by specific people with a specific purpose in mind. Because all media messages are constructed, they also can be deconstructed. To do so, students can analyze the parts of the communication situation—sender, message, medium, receiver, and context:
- Sender: Who created the message? Who is distributing the message?
- Message: What does the message say (subject and purpose)? What supports the message? What is missing?
- Medium: What form does the message take (ad, letter, article, speech)?
- Receiver: Who is the intended audience? Who else sees, reads, or listens to this message?
- Context: When and where is the message delivered? What comes before and after? What effect does it have?
Every message has a perspective. What point of view does the message have? What perspectives are excluded?
- A television ad promoting Monday Night Football will not mention recent research about concussions.
- A Taylor Swift song bemoaning a failed relationship will not present her ex's point of view.
Ask students how important these missing perspectives are. Football fans might not care about concussions, but young players should. Taylor Swift fans might not care about her ex's perspective, but her new boyfriend should. Students can identify missing perspectives by asking these questions:
- Who created this message and why?
- Who would disagree with this message and why?
- Does the message fairly represent everyone involved in the situation?
- Are any key perspectives excluded from this message?
Students encounter bias all the time in advertisements and political rhetoric. Biased messages unfairly represent an issue. Bias is revealed through overly emotional, fuzzy, one-sided, or inaccurate language. Students can ask these questions to recognize bias:
- Is the language extreme, characterized by all-or-nothing statements?
- Does the message appeal to emotion rather than reason or logic?
- Does the message simplify or generalize information?
- Does the message offer a one-sided or limited view?
- Does the logic of the message seem fuzzy or distorted?
For a deeper exploration of media literacy, check out the Inquire series.