A Teacher’s Guide to Media and Information Literacy

What is Literacy?

Up until fairly recently, when we used the term ‘literacy’ in a discussion, it would most likely be in reference to the reading and writing of texts.

These days, however, the definition of literacy extends well beyond its once conventional use in reference to words on pages. Today, we commonly talk of various types of literacies, such as financial literacy, digital literacy, or even emotional literacy.

Rather than speak of literacy as exclusively referring to the ability to read and write, it is now more accurate to think of literacy as an ability in a specific area of knowledge.

It’s in this context that we will use the term here. In this article, we will explore media and information literacy, what they are, how they intersect, and how you can approach teaching them in your classroom – either as discrete subjects, or interwoven with other areas of the curriculum.

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The Importance of Media and Information Literacy

The importance of literacy has been well recognized by governments around the world for a for a considerable length of time. Literacy rates have long been used as an indicator of a nation’s development – such is the importance of being able to read and write for a citizen to fully engage as a functioning member of society.

Undoubtedly, we now live in an information age. Daily, we take in huge amounts of information through a vast array of largely digital media. It is essential that our students are empowered to access, organize, analyze, evaluate, and create in this context. To do this successfully, we must help them to become information and media literate.

Media and Information Literacy

If media literacy refers to the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media in all its forms, then information literacy refers to the ability to recognize when information is required, how to locate and evaluate it, as well as the ability to effectively communicate that information in all its forms, both traditional and modern.

We can see here that there is already a significant crossover between the two terms. Not surprisingly, for the sake of convenience, they are often used almost interchangeably.

To help disentangle the concepts, it can be useful to think of information as being the content, with media being the tools by which that content is delivered.

We can also combine these various aspects under the umbrella term Media and Information Literacy, or MIL, though they may also appear as separate disciplines in many syllabuses and curriculum.

Developing the essential abilities listed above, enables our students to engage fully as active citizens by developing their critical thinking and communication abilities. This process begins by grasping the basic concepts of the subject. Let’s take a look at some of the most important of these.


Media and Information Literacy: Basic Concepts

It’s true to say we live in an increasingly connected world and spend more time than ever before exposed to media in all its myriad shapes and forms.

From traditional media formats such as newspapers, printed books, TV, and radio to more recent developments such as email, ebooks, online games, and apps, we have never been more inundated by the media and its messages in our day-to-day lives.

Understanding the basic concepts of media and information literacy will help students to navigate the complexities of this ever-encroaching world.


1. Types of Media

For students to begin thinking seriously about media, they first need to be able to classify media into its various types. Broadly speaking, there are 3 types of media:

i. Print Media

ii. Broadcast Media

iii. New Media

i. Print Media refers, unsurprisingly, to the printed word, that is, media reproduced mechanically via the printing process which is then physically distributed.

ii. Broadcast Media refers to media that is distributed or transmitted to its audience via the airwaves, such as TV and radio.

iii. New Media refers to media that is organized and distributed via the various digital platforms.

A good explainer video on Information literacy for students and teachers


Types of Media: Reinforcement Activity

This is an effective exercise to help students learn to distinguish between these different forms of media. First, brainstorm with the class the different specific examples of media they can think of, for example, newspapers, radio, podcasts, etc. List these on the whiteboard. Then, have students sort the items listed on the whiteboard into one of 3 columns printed on a worksheet as follows:



Media Convergence

As well as understanding these 3 main types of media as defined above, it may arise during discussion that some examples don’t easily fit into one single category. The term media convergence refers to media that coexists in traditional and new media forms.

We can see this clearly in the existence of print and online versions of newspapers, for example, where content can exist in both paper and digital forms. The underlying concept of media convergence is that the various media platforms become more similar over time.


2. The Purpose of Information


Before students begin to do the deeper level work of evaluating information, they should learn to give some thought to the purpose of various forms of information. Drawing out the purpose of the information in the first place will help enormously when it comes to assessing its credibility at a later stage.

There are a number of legitimate reasons for information to be held by media and other information providers such as museums, archives, the internet, and libraries.

These reasons include to:


●     Inform

●     Educate

●     Entertain

●     Gather together

●     Provide access

●     Facilitate teaching and learning

●     Promote values and rights

●     Preserve cultural heritage


Purpose of Information: Reinforcement Activity

This exercise is best undertaken as a group project over a period of time such as a week or two.

Instruct students to gather together a broad range of information and media and perform a survey of each sample to assess the reason behind its creation and/or existence. The reasons listed above as bullet points will provide a good starting point, though also allow for the possibility the students may uncover reasons other than those listed above.

Opening each item to a whole class discussion can be a rewarding way to encourage the sharing of different perspectives on the purpose of each sample.

For higher-level students, on completion of this activity you may wish to engage in a discussion on what restrictions, if any, could justifiably be placed on media and information and in what contexts those would be.



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3. Mass Media and Critical Thinking

With video streaming sites, social platforms, digital billboards, and podcasts, electronic media infiltrates many of our waking hours. And, though we have benefited from this mass and instant communication in our personal and business lives, it poses many challenges for us as individuals.

With 4.2 billion people inhabiting the online world, all sending and receiving innumerable messages, our students need to develop specific strategies to navigate and filter this potentially overwhelming sea of information.


The 5 Filter Questions

Students need to exercise their critical faculties when engaging with media to avoid passively accepting the views and opinions embedded there.

They can begin this process by routinely examining new media in the light of 5 key filtering questions:

1. WHO created this message?

2. WHAT techniques were used to capture the attention?

3. HOW could this message be interpreted by different people?

4. WHY is this message being communicated?

5. WHAT values, views, lifestyles are being expressed or omitted in this message?

These 5 filter questions will help students develop a firm foundation for critically engaging with the various media they are exposed to. They will help students to distinguish between factual reporting and fake news and clickbait from measured critique.

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Mass Media and Critical Thinking: Reinforcement Activity

Be sure to offer students ample opportunities to use the 5 filter questions in the classroom. You can easily achieve this by asking one or more of these questions when discussing a text or viewing a film, for example.

You could also organize the students into small groups and assign them a media item to analyze in reference to the above 5 questions. With lots of practice, students will begin to consider all new information and media in light of these important questions, becoming in the process active rather than passive consumers of information.

4. Representation in the Media


In media and information literacy, the ways in which various groups, communities, thoughts, and ideas are portrayed form an important area of study within the subject.

Investigations into this area will quickly rid students of the idea that media merely reflects the reality of the world around them. Any examination of representation in media quickly reveals that the media re-presents the reality around us as much as reflects it. This examination reveals much about the media and ourselves in the process.

By examining what is presented, what is omitted, and how things are framed, students delve deeper into the attitudes, values, politics, and psychology of the media-makers. They will also shine a spotlight on some of their own perceptions, perspectives, and biases too.

Representation in the Media: Reinforcement Activity

Though examining representation in media can spark classroom discussions on some quite sensitive and even contentious topics, it can be extremely engaging and valuable for students.

While you can explore representation in any number of media, music works very well for many of our young people.

Music is central to much of youth culture. It can inform everything from young people’s attitudes to politics and sex, to the clothes they wear and the way they speak. It can also serve as fertile ground for the examination of how various groups, communities, values etc are represented.

In this activity, allow students to choose a music video to explore. This will usually be best done in small groups to keep the ideas flowing and to allow for some passionate discussion. Students should watch the video, listen to the song, read the lyrics and analyze representations of gender, race, and sexuality etc.

The 5 filter questions mentioned in the previous section can work well here to get the process started. Just be sure students maintain their focus on the central idea of representation as they ask each question.

5. Analyzing Advertising

Advertisements are pretty ubiquitous. Whether we consume old or new media, advertising will likely play a large part in what we engage with.

Indeed, advertisements often serve as the main revenue stream to fund the production of many forms of media. In this regard, they can even be considered to perform a valuable function in assisting in the dissemination of information.

No doubt about it, advertising has come a long way since the early 20th century with the obviousness of its radio jingles and roadside billboards.

Today, advertising comes in ever more subtle and sophisticated guises. At times these can be so understated or indirect that we may not even realise we are being sold to.

From sponsored content masquerading as impartial articles to cleverly placed products attempting to sneak in through the backdoor of our subconscious, the omnipresence and complexity of advertising make this is an important area of study within the subject.


Analyzing Advertising: Reinforcement Activity

With advertising intruding on so much of our lives, finding samples to use for this activity will be like shooting those proverbial barrel-dwelling fish.

For this activity, organise students into small work groups, distribute an advertisement to each group, and then encourage them to analyze how the advertisement works.

Regardless of the media used, encourage the students to look at the advertisement in terms of its emotional appeal, the technical and design components, and who the advertisement is targeted at.

When the groups have had a chance to dissect their advertisements, have them make a brief presentation to the class on what they have learned about how it works.

Video Lesson: How to analyze print media?


In this article, we have provided an introduction to some of the main concepts and ideas that form the core concerns of the subject of Media and Information Literacy. It is, however, by no means an exhaustive list.

Further reflection on some of the topics raised will open up a rich seam of interesting and important issues to explore in the classroom, whether in the form of discrete MIL lessons, or woven into other areas of the curriculum.

The fodder for lessons and learning opportunities within this area, much like media and information themselves, is practically inexhaustible.

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