A Better Way for School Librarians to Teach Media Literacy

When School Librarians use a positive approach for teaching media literacy, students are more engaged and will more deeply apply the concepts to any media message. Here’s a unit based on Key Questions & Core Concepts of media lit that incorporates persuasive appeals and a technology option for assessment. | No Sweat LibrarySchool Librarians know that literacy is more than just reading and writing. It includes disciplinary, information, digital, and media literacies. Media Literacy is especially important because it incorporates all other literacies and directly impacts us through news, films, television shows, websites, music, and social media.

My concern about media literacy lessons is that so many focus on the negative side of media and communication. It leads students to believe they must be suspicious of everything, and perform intricate analyses of every media message. Such stress can result in the opposite reaction than we want—students turn off and ignore caution completely!

I believe students learn far more—and better—when we focus on conceptual understandings and give them a positive activity to demonstrate those concepts. When they use their learning to create something original, concepts become deeply embedded into their knowledge base and they will then automatically gauge the intent of any media message. Such is the thinking behind my Library Lesson Unit for teaching Media Literacy.


The Center for Media Literacy, which has 25 years of experience in this field, puts forward key questions students can ask when viewing a media message, and core concepts that emerge from those questions:

Categories Key Questions Core Concepts
Authorship Who created this message? All media messages are ‘constructed.’
Purpose Why is this message being sent? Most media messages are organized to gain profit and/or power.
Format What creative techniques are used to attract my attention? Media messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules.
Audience How might different people understand this message differently? Different people experience the same media message differently.
Content What values, lifestyles, and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message? Media have embedded values and points of view.

For my middle school media literacy units I plan my lessons based on age appropriateness and topical content of the grade level. For 6th grade lessons I introduce, what I consider to be, the three foundation questions and concepts—on Authorship, Purpose, and Format. I add Audience for 7th grade because that age/grade is consumed with identity, and add Content for 8th grade because it embodies power & influence, a focus of 8g ELA. In this way we cover all 5 questions & concepts during a student’s time in our middle school.


One thing I’ve discovered about middle schoolers is that they will watch a video of a slideshow more attentively than listen to me show it. So, to introduce Media Literacy and the first 3 Key Questions & Core Concepts to 6th graders, I created a short, 3-minute video.

(If you like this, feel free to use it with your students to begin their exploration of media lit.)


Students engage and achieve more when School Librarians give them choices for a project performance task, especially if we include an assessment option using technology. Learn more about 3 different forms of booktalks I offer for a media literacy unit... | No Sweat LibrarySince media literacy has fairly complex concepts, I choose a performance task related to something students are already familiar with, one that extends their prior knowledge. My first two 6th grade units (fiction books and informational resources) are closely aligned with English Language Arts content, and focus on reading and summarization (a low-performing area on state reading tests) through graduated forms of booktalks. The media literacy performance task builds on those previous units by having students create a media message in the form of a visual booktalk, which aligns with their ELA study of persuasive text.

It’s important for each library visit to have a hands-on activity that practices what students are learning. So, I use the questions & concepts from the video to introduce students to the visual booktalk project. A Combination Notes activity helps them visualize their library book’s story through a summary, descriptive words and image sketches, and a persuasive appeal.

I also believe students need to have choices for assessment products, so I offer 3 options for the product: an 11×17 Book Preview Poster, a letter-sized trifold Graphic Booktalk Brochure, and a Timed Slideshow Booktalk that utilizes technology.


The simplicity of the PACE 4-step problem solving model lends itself to any topical set of Library Lessons. Here’s how I used it to develop a media literacy unit. | No Sweat LibrarySince my media literacy unit is project/product oriented, I introduce students to a very simple problem solving model (incorporating information literacy) called PACE: Plan, Acquire, Create, Evaluate. It provides a structure for the unit lessons, with each step of PACE as a library visit that advances the project’s development from start to finish.

This unit also conforms to my personal strategy for all Library Lessons: “teach only the information or skill they need for the task at hand.” Consequently each lesson’s instruction is short enough to give students plenty of time to work on each step of their chosen project during the class periods. This consideration assures equity, in that no student is disadvantaged by a home situation or economics, and I (and the teacher, if a collaboration) can assist individuals throughout.

I weave the questions & concepts vocabulary into instruction, and directly revisit them in the fourth “Evaluate” visit. This quick review helps students apply their conceptual understanding by evaluating two media message booktalks that are a different type than the one they chose.


My positive approach to media literacy lessons has the same effect on students as my Academic Honesty unit. Students are more relaxed about learning and eager to work on their assignment; they don’t exhibit the anxiety induced from emphasizing negative aspects of concepts, principles, and practices.

I’m confident that when School Librarians use an affirmative method for teaching the 5 essential literacies, they will build better relationships with students and with teachers. That surely fosters more collaborative opportunities with teachers and higher achievement for students.

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Excite 6th grade students to read a variety of Fiction books with this 3-visit Library Lesson unit focused on Reading Literacy and aligned to National School Library Standards & ELA Common Core. Can be used with fixed library classes or as a flex-schedule collaborative unit with ELA study of narrative literature. | No Sweat Library This ELA Common Core- and National School Library Standards-aligned unit of Library Lessons introduces media literacy and is coordinated with the study of Persuasive Text in the 6th grade ELA classroom. Each of 4 lesson visits follows the PACE problem-solving model, helping students to create one of 3 options for a Visual Persuasive Booktalk. | No Sweat Library Engage 6th grade students with informational books, print magazines, and online information services using this 3-visit Library Lesson Unit focused on Reading & Information Literacies. Aligned to National School Library Standards & ELA Common Core, this can be used with fixed library classes or as a flex-schedule collaborative unit with ELA study of expository text or with another Subject area on a chosen topic. | No Sweat Library

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5 Essential Literacies for Students: Part 5 Media Literacy

5 Essential Literacies for Students: Part 5 Media Literacy - Our students need to be proficient in 5 Essential Literacies and School Librarians can integrate a Library Literacy component into any class visit. In Part 5 we look at ways to incorporate Media Literacy—which encompasses all other literacies—into library visits. #NoSweatLibraryIn our complex, information-rich, culturally diverse world, literacy is no longer just knowing how to read and write. Students need to understand and be proficient in Five Essential Literacies to be successful in our global society:

  1. Reading and Writing (the original literacy)
  2. Content/Disciplinary Literacy (content & thinking specific to a discipline)
  3. Information Literacy (the traditional library curriculum)
  4. Digital Literacy (how and when to use various technologies)
  5. Media Literacy (published works—encompasses all other literacies)

School Librarians can integrate at least one Library Literacy component into every class visit to the library, and I’m addressing each literacy in a separate blog post to offer examples and suggestions about how we might do that. Previous blog posts covered readingcontent/disciplinary literacy, information literacy, and digital literacy, so this final post of the series looks at Media Literacy.


Media literacy during the last half of the 20th century focused primarily on print and television advertising, but in the 1990s the growth of computers and the Internet spurred the appearance of organizations such as the Center for Media Literacy, which promoted an expanded view of media literacy, incorporating digital citizenship.

With introduction of the iPhone (in 2007) and Android phones (in 2008), teens and children gained ready access to social media, so media literacy became a major issue for educators. Then the “fake news” epidemic thrust media literacy into the spotlight and elevated its status. Here are some recent definitions:

  • Media literacy is the ability to identify different types of media and understand the messages they’re sending. Common Sense Media
  • Media literacy encompasses the practices that allow the media consumer to access, critically evaluate, and create media to improve their communication effectiveness. Wikipedia
  • Media Literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, communicate and create using all forms of communication. Natl. Assoc. for Media Literacy Education

Our National School Library Standards promote the Center for Media Literacy‘s definition:

  • A framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms—from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.

Media is one of 5 specific literacies defined by our new National School Library Standards. Along with information literacy and digital literacy, the NSLS includes:

  • Text literacy: ability to read, write, analyze, and evaluate textual works of literature and nonfiction as well as personal and professional documents. [related to reading literacy]
  • Visual literacy: ability to understand and use images, including the ability to think, learn, and express oneself in terms of images. [related to content literacy, i.e. charts, graphs, maps, etc.]
The United Nations 5 Laws of Media & Information Literacy

click to enlarge

Thus, we can build in students a broader understanding of Media Literacy by including civic responsibility and further, by embracing UNESCO’s 5 Laws of Literacy and its general definition of literacy: the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, and compute, using materials associated with various contexts. (UNESCO 2006)


School Librarians may wonder why the sudden pressure for media literacy, since our Info-Lit lessons on source evaluation presumably help students decipher ‘true’ from ‘not-true’ resources. Unfortunately, we rarely have an opportunity to deeply immerse students in skills like evaluation, plus, many students lack the command of subject matter that sifting for correct information requires. No form of website evaluation overrides a well-rounded knowledge of a topic or issue. A particularly interesting article explaining this is Yes, Digital Literacy. But Which One?

I believe media literacy encompasses all other literacies—either by type of material or skills needed:

  • reading skills for printed media,
  • content-area literacy to understand concepts and place them in context,
  • information literacy for analyzing information, and
  • digital literacy because so much media is now digitally presented.

Thus media literacy must be incorporated into all Library Lessons, because we always have students using or producing media products: print, audio, video, or graphic media presented through books, newspapers, magazines, social media, games, radio, television, videos or movies.

Media Literacy Is More Than Fake News! - School Librarians can integrate the 3 aspects of media literacy--media messages, media forms, and media footprint--into any library visit during a few minutes or with a whole unit. Here are some ideas... #NoSweatLibraryIntegrating media literacy can be a 5 minute “media moment” or an entire unit, depending on the purpose of the library visit. When creating these lessons, I focus on these 3 aspects of Media Literacy:

  • Media Messages – including celebrity endorsements and ads that persuade us to act or purchase
  • Media Forms – the media products listed above, along with signs on businesses and billboards on the highway
  • Media Footprint – personal communication & using social media

The breadth of media literacy makes it all the more important to integrate it with classroom content—with the standards and objectives the teacher is using for a unit—and to coordinate our Library Literacy Lessons with classroom activities. We need to not only teach students how to analyze media, but also how to effectively and ethically communicate their own narratives through various forms of media.

Media Literacy Through a Persuasive Book Talk

One simple way to integrate media literacy into a Library Lesson is through student-created booktalks. Whether written book reports, oral book summaries, podcast book reviews, or video booktrailers, these are all persuasive media forms.

Introduce Media Literacy With This Persuasive Booktalk Library Lesson Unit - This Library Lesson unit coordinates with the study of Persuasive Text in the 6th grade ELA classroom. Lessons introduce 3 Key Questions of Media Literacy, along with the PACE problem-solving model so students can create a Visual Persuasive Booktalk using 1 of 3 product options. #NoSweatLibraryWith 6th grade ELA students studying persuasion, I introduce 3 Key Questions about Media Messages:

  1. Who created this message?
    (Concept: All media messages are constructed.)
  2. Why is this message being sent?
    (Concept: Media messages are designed for influence or profit.)
  3. How does this message attract my attention?
    (Concept: Media messages use creative techniques to attract attention.)

Students begin to more deeply understand the 3 media questions and concepts as they create their own “media message”: a persuasive booktalk given as a graphic book preview poster, a graphic booktalk brochure, or a timed booktalk slideshow. I integrate the media literacy component with ELA concepts studied in the classroom: the tone & mood of their book will influence their choice of a persuasive appeal (logical, emotional, ethical) and guide their product choice.


I’m incorporating media literacy into more student lessons and to help me, I’m curating online resources. Here are a few that I recommend to help you construct your own Library Literacy Lessons.

Civic Online Reasoning or COR uses everyday digital content, the COR paper, and online assessments to engage learners in credibility decision-making around three COR Competencies: Who’s behind the information? What’s the evidence? What do other sources say? The free assessments include Google Docs assessments to copy and digital rubrics to download. These tasks are perfect for learning across the curriculum and especially for librarian-led learning.

Common Sense Education's News & Media Literacy Curriculum Resources Common Sense Media‘s News & Media Literacy Curriculum Resources equip students with the core skills they need to think critically about today’s media. Classroom-tested lessons and teaching materials help students become smart, savvy media consumers and creators. Lesson plans on everything from fact-checking to clickbait headlines to fake news.

Project Look Sharp is a media literacy initiative of Ithaca College that develops and provides lesson plans, media materials, training, and support for the effective integration of media literacy with critical thinking into classroom curricula at all education levels, including integration with the new Common Core standards.

Identifying Fake News: An Infographic and Educator Resources

In an EasyBib blog post 10 Ways to Spot a Fake News Article, Michelle Kirschenbaum states, “You want to be informed, but a good deal of the information out there is incorrect or biased. Here are some things to keep an eye out for when reading a news article.” The infographic at right was created from the article.

The National Association for Media Literacy Education sponsors a yearly Media Literacy Week in the U.S. and Canada during the first full week of November. They have events and resources that can help introduce media literacy to your students early in the school year.

Feel free to suggest other resources I can add to this list!

This concludes my series of blog posts on the 5 Essential Literacies for Students. I invite readers to offer comments and suggestions about any or all of these literacies.

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