How to Use this Resource
Even the youngest person cannot escape the media. (Some companies market music for babies still in the womb!) Television programs are produced for audiences as young as age one. For harried parents, plopping the kids in front of the television makes for a tempting—and inexpensive—babysitting alternative, freeing them to do household chores and other work.
Younger audiences can benefit from some media. Many educational and informational television programs and videos are available. Child development experts have designed software that helps children to learn reading, math, and other developmental skills.
Despite parents' and teachers' best efforts to make good media available to children, youngsters are still exposed to much that could be harmful if they aren't given the proper tools for making sense of it. Teaching children some basic media literacy and critical thinking skills at an early age should be a part of every child's development.
This resource suggests numerous educational activities and ideas. Teachers are encouraged to select from among the suggested activities and incorporate as many as are practical into existing lesson plans for schools (grades K-12) or religious education programs. Many of the ideas can also be used in Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) activities and in youth group retreats and meetings.
Regardless of which activities are chosen, each should be adjusted to the unique classroom situation and can be expanded with creativity, time, and initiative.
For All Ages
- Discuss with the children the movies, TV programs, and songs that say something positive to them and those that don't. Ask them what it was about each that made them feel that way.
- Compile a list of television programs students watch, music they listen to, Internet sites they visit, and video games they play. Ask them to list three things they like or dislike about each one. Ask if anyone portrayed in those programs or games ever gets hurt or uses "bad language." If so, how do the other characters respond in those situations? Discuss how those situations make the students feel.
- Have students keep a "media diary" in which they write down their media activities. Then ask them to think about how much time they spend watching television, listening to music, playing video games, or surfing the Internet for fun (not for schoolwork). Encourage them to think of other ways to use this time that might be more enriching, such as reading a book, writing a letter to a friend or relative, helping someone, playing outside, or playing with a younger sibling.
- Try to determine a constructive way to register dissatisfaction with some things seen or heard in the media. Use the Internet together with students to find addresses or telephone numbers for media companies you wish to contact.
- Write letters to your congressional representatives (for addresses, visit www.senate.gov and www.house.gov) expressing concerns about the negative aspects of the media and praising the positive aspects. Send similar letters to the members of the Federal Communications Commission (www.fcc.gov).
- Ask students to do things the "old-fashioned" way. Instead of watching TV, listen to the radio; instead of surfing the Internet to do research, go to the library and use reference books; instead of e-mailing, actually write a letter.
- Ask if anyone is interested in a career in media. Discuss why and what values they would like to bring to such a career.
- Invite parents to a classroom seminar on media literacy, and have them participate in some way with the discussion or lesson plan in their children's class.
- Have students bring in an example or two of advertising they've seen in a newspaper, magazine, or on television. Discuss how the images and words used in the advertisement are related—or not—to the product being sold.
- Encourage students to suggest to their families that they have a "no media" night that they can spend playing games, planning family weekend activities, discussing current events, and so forth. Have the students write about their reactions to the experience.
- Ask the students to pick their top ten movies of the year and say why. Just for fun, check the choices of the USCCB Office of Film and Broadcasting (www.usccb.org/movies) and see how they compare.
- Ask about the students' favorite programs. If suitable, write the producer, network, or star and tell them about their "favored" sites.
- Invite someone from your local Catholic newspaper and the local secular newspaper to come and talk about how the paper is created each week or day. Ask how they decide which stories to include. Discuss the similarities and differences between the two publications' methods.
- Contact your local diocesan communications director. Ask if they produce a Mass. Go to the taping.
- Arrange a tour of your local television or radio station, cable company, or newspaper.
- Discuss the questions "What's news?" and "Why are some stories in the newspaper or on television and others aren't?" Invite a news producer or journalist to class to relate how they "get the story."
- Coordinate a special liturgy or devotional service on or around the feast day of one of communications' many patron saints, and pray for God's blessing on those who work in the media. Consider inviting local representatives of television and radio stations, cable companies, newspapers, and Internet service providers to participate. (See the resource "Ideas for Liturgists and Homilists" for a list of possible patron saints and a format for a devotional service.)
- Compare how different newspapers cover news on a given day. Did the same news get the same type of coverage, the same priority, across the papers? This could be especially interesting in cities with competing newspapers. A good place to find links to the online version of newspapers is www.newspapers.com.
- Discuss the difference between "media bias" and "media distortion." (See Insights and Answers on Media Bias at www.usccb.org/comm/bias) Look for examples of bias and distortion in newspapers, magazines, and television.
- Watch and compare two different evening network newscasts on the same night. What was the lead story on each? How many stories did each newscast feature? What products were advertised during each newscast? Ask students to guess the target audience for the newscasts based on the products advertised. How did the time and importance given to each story influence the students' opinions?
- Ask students to look at recent editions of a women's fashion magazine and a news magazine. How many pages of advertising does each magazine contain? Compare the percentage of advertising pages with its editorial pages. What types of products are advertised in each? Discuss the target audience based on the types of advertising accepted.
- Have students compile a list of brand-name products they see used by movie characters—or simply displayed in the background of the movie set. These product placements can be subtle ways of advertising on screen without the viewer's being aware. A recent example can be seen in the movie Evolution. Dandruff shampoo was found to contain the chemicals needed to kill off the alien invasion. But a generic, fictional dandruff shampoo was not used; a known, brand-name shampoo was the clearly identifiable product.
- Read the following Scripture verses with students: Isaiah 61:1-3, Mark 16:14-16. Discuss how various media could respond to and implement the messages contained in these passages. Then ask the students for examples of how the media fulfill—or fail to fulfill—the Scriptures' call to "bring glad tidings to the lowly" and to "proclaim the gospel to every creature."
- Have students research the top ten media companies in the United States (see www.the nation.com/special/bigten.html). Examine the scope of these companies' holdings (broadcasting, production, Internet, publishing, cable, etc.) and discuss the pros and cons of "media consolidation." Ask questions like the following: How are the personal views and decisions of a few media executives influencing society? If only a handful of media executives are setting editorial policy for such a wide sweep of the news and entertainment world, is the full scope of local, national, and international news being reported? Examine alternative sources of news.
- Together, study reputable reports about media violence, bias in reporting, coverage of religious matters, and other media issues and discuss the reports' conclusions. Some good sources include the following: Parents Television Council (www.parentstv.org), National Institute on Media and the Family (www.mediafamily.org), and Rocky Mountain Media Watch (www.bigmedia.org).
- Familiarize yourself with the U.S. bishops' statement Renewing the Mind of the Media: A Statement on Overcoming the Exploitation of Sex and Violence in Communications. Decide what are realistic goals, in your unique situation, for weaving the statement's message into your educational programs.
- Make use of existing resources such as the Bible, materials from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Department of Communications, and publications and websites listed throughout the above activities and in the Resource Bibliography.
- Center for Media Literacy, 3101 Ocean Park Boulevard, Ste. 200, Santa Monica, CA 90405; phone: 800-228-4630 or 310-581-0260; fax 310-581-0270; website: www.medialit.org. The Center for Media Literacy is dedicated to literacy in all media forms, print and electronic. It offers a wide variety of books, videos, curricula, and other materials for teaching and learning about the media and their impact on our lives. Its website offers numerous online articles and readings in media issues and literacy, as well as a large resource catalog.
- Coalition for Quality Children's Media/KIDS FIRST!, 112 West San Francisco Street, Ste. 305A, Santa Fe, NM 87501; phone: 505-989-8076; fax: 505-986-8477; website: www.cqcm.org/kidsfirst/start.html. The Coalition for Quality Children's Media is guided by the principle that violent and biased media affect children profoundly. Its mission is first, to teach children critical viewing skills and enable them to make their own good media choices, and second, to increase the visibility and availability of quality children's programs. KIDS FIRST!, a program of the Coalition for Quality Children's Media, evaluates and rates children's films, videos, DVDs, audio recordings, software, and television. Its reviews are available online in a searchable database.
- KIDSNET, 6856 Eastern Avenue NW, Ste. 208, Washington, DC 20012; phone: 202-291-1400; fax 202-882-7315; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; website: www.kidsnet.org/index.html. KIDSNET helps children, families, and educators access the educational opportunities available from television, radio, and multimedia sources intelligently. They develop study guides to be used in conjunction with the programming for children and families listed in their monthly online media guide. KIDSNET also offers suggestions for related books, activities, and other additional resources.
- Media Awareness Network (MNet), 1500 Merivale Road, Third Floor, Ottawa, ON K2E 6Z5; phone: 613-224-7721 or 800-896-3342; fax: 613-224-1958; e-mail: info@media-aware ness.ca; website: www.media-awareness.ca. The Media Awareness Network is a Canadian non-profit media education organization that provides a wealth of online resources for parents and educators to support media education in the home, school, and community. MNet has chosen the Internet as its primary source of publishing, and its website is one of the largest educational sites in Canada. It provides curriculum-related media, web literacy teaching materials for schools, and media awareness resources for community organizations.
- Strategies for Integrating Media Literacy into the Social Studies Curriculum, The Media Education Foundation, 26 Center Street, Northampton, MA 01060; phone: 800-897-0089 or 413-584-8500; fax: 800-659-6882 or 413-586-8398; e-mail: email@example.com; website: www.mediaed.org/studyguides. The resource "Strategies for Integrating Media Literacy into the Social Studies Curriculum," which can be downloaded from this site, offers seven strategies that incorporate national and state standards for teaching social studies. The site also includes links to numerous additional resources for teachers.
- Ontario Media Literacy, website: www.angelfire.com/ms/MediaLiteracy/. Developed by teachers from Ontario, Canada, this website is a rich resource for teachers interested in incorporating media literacy strategies into classroom lessons. It offers monthly commentaries on media issues and strategies for the classroom, links to other media literacy sites, a media literacy book and resource center, and other materials. Its greatest value, however, is its well-developed lesson plans for all educational levels, K-12.