5 Media Literacy Questions

Media literacy expands traditional literacy, of reading and writing, to include other forms of communicating: art, entertainment, movies, photographs, news reports, documentaries, adverstising, websites, soical media, and propaganda.

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”
“empowers people to be critical thinkers and makers, effective communicators, and active citizens.”

Media Literacy is just on of the skills that help us all learn to be critical media consumers and creators.

Media Literacty rooted in inquiry-based learning — asking questions about what we see, read, hear, and create.

The most powerful way to improve learning is to put these skills into practice through both critiquing media we consume and analyzing the media we create.

So, how should we 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?

“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. We need to understand how we should question both the messages we see, as well the platforms on which messages are shared.

2. Which techniques are used to attract my attention?

Whether it’s a billboard or a book, a TV show or movie, a mobile app, or an online ad, different forms of media have unique ways to get our attention and keep us engaged. Of course, digital media are changing all the time – constant updates and rapid innovations are the name of the game. This often comes in the form of new and innovative techniques to capture our attention – sometimes without us even realizing it.

3. How might different people interpret this message?

This question helps students consider how all of us bring our own individual backgrounds, values, and beliefs to how we interpret media messages. For any piece of media, there are often as many interpretations as there are viewers. Any time we are interpreting a media message it’s important for us to consider how someone from a different background might interpret the same message in a very different way. Ask questions like: What about your background might influence your interpretation? Or, Who might be the target audience for this message?

4. Which lifestyles, values, and points of view are represented — or missing?

Just as we all bring our own backgrounds and values to how we interpret what we see, media messages themselves are embedded with values and points of view. We need to question and consider how certain perspectives or voices might be missing from a particular message. If voices or perspectives are missing, how does that affect the message being sent? We need to consider the impact of certain voices being left out, and ask them: What points of view would you like to see included, and why?

5. Why is this message being sent?

With this question, we look at the purpose of the message. Is it to inform, entertain, or persuade, or could it be some combination of these? Also, we need to explore possible motives behind why certain messages have been sent. Was it to gain power, profit, or influence? For more advanced learners, examining the economic structures behind various media industries will come into play.

As communicators, we can think about how to weave these five questions into our instruction, helping learners to think critically about media. A few scenarios could include lessons where we consume news and current events. You could even use these questions to critique the textbooks and films you already use. Eventually, as we model this type of critical thinking, asking these questions themselves will become second nature.

For more information on media literacy:

4 Simple Media Literacy Rules

How to Be an Active Listener