Do your students love to take and edit photos to post on Instagram? Are they obsessed with watching (or maybe even becoming!) YouTube celebs? Do you want to help your students learn how to spot a stereotype on a TV show? Or how to identify bias in a news article? If you answered yes to any of these questions, consider integrating media literacy education into your lessons.

Digital and media literacy expand traditional literacy to include new forms of reading, writing, and communicating. The National Association for Media Literacy Education defines media literacy as “the ability to ACCESS, ANALYZE, EVALUATE, CREATE, and ACT using all forms of communication” and says it “empowers people to be critical thinkers and makers, effective communicators, and active citizens.” Though some believe media literacy and digital literacy are separate but complementary, I believe they’re really one and the same. They both focus on skills that help students be critical media consumers and creators. And both are rooted in inquiry-based learning—asking questions about what we see, read, hear, and create.

Think of it this way: Students learn print literacy—how to read and write. But they should also learn multimedia literacy—how to “read and write” media messages in different forms, whether it’s a photo, video, website, app, videogame, or anything else. The most powerful way for students to put these skills into practice is through both critiquing media they consume and analyzing media they create.

So, how should students learn to critique and analyze media? Most leaders in the digital and media literacy community use some version of the five key questions:

1. Who created this message?
Help your students “pull back the curtain” and recognize that all media have an author and an agenda. All of the media we encounter and consume was constructed by someone with a particular vision, background, and agenda. Help students understand how they should question both the messages they see, as well the platforms on which messages are shared.

About the Author:

Kelly Mendoza is senior director of professional development for Common Sense Education’s programs. She develops multimedia professional development resources, videos, and courses, helping teachers build skills and confidence harnessing technology for learning, teaching digital citizenship, and engaging parents to guide kids in a digital world. Mendoza also helped develop Common Sense’s K-12 Digital Literacy & Citizenship curriculum and iBooks textbooks. Prior to Common Sense, through her work at the Media Education Lab at Temple University, she produced education resources for PBS Frontline (Digital Nation and Growing Up Online), PBS Teachers, and taught undergraduate media studies courses. She is also a Leading Edge Certified Digital Educator (2014). You can follow her on Twitter at @kellymendoza.