Improving Media Literacy

Any educational assignment that requires doing research—on the Internet, in magazines or newspapers, or at home—is an opportunity to teach media literacy. The key is to incorporate media literacy rather than teaching it in isolation. When youth are working on a history project, talk to them about good media literacy techniques, such as using unbiased sources, comparing sources, and examining sources for implicit bias.

Here are some tips for incorporating media literacy:

  • Don’t isolate media literacy—incorporate it.
  • Use media literacy to reinforce your existing teaching objectives.
  • Take advantage of teachable moments in the classroom, in feedback on homework assignments, and in society.
  • Analyze sources with your students for validity and credibility.
  • Compare/contrast various media sources.
  • Evaluate the sender, message, medium, receiver, and context.
  • Create social or other media in your classes.

As an example, consider the ad for Heineken beer that ran in the September 8, 2002 edition of Sports Illustrated.

The ad features an image of a Nintendo Gamecube controller with two Heineken beers taped to the handles paired with the text “It’s Game Day. Add two more features to your controller.” The ad then encourages people to enter Heineken’s sweepstakes to win a Nintendo Gamecube.

Deconstructing this ad, it’s obvious that the sender is Heineken and Nintendo. Sports Illustrated is popular with men and women, but they tend to be younger than the general population. So, we can reasonably conclude that they wanted to reach younger readers. The message indicates that they wanted to conflate having fun (playing video games) with drinking alcohol. Since video gaming is a fun activity enjoyed by large numbers of youth, this message likely appeals to them, and it was distributed in a form of media they may have read.

The bottom line: This ad associates Heineken with video games, and it tells young people Heineken is fun and they’ll probably like it because video games are fun.

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