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We live in a media-saturated world, and students are constantly surrounded by an array of constructed messages. Media literacy skills (the who, how, and why behind media creation) are essential for students to be informed citizens - to navigate and make sense of their world successfully. In our age of visual communication, students who are truly college-and career-ready demonstrate skills of critical analysis, creative collaboration, and multimedia communication.

In its simplest terms, media literacy builds upon the foundation of traditional literacy and offers new forms of reading and writing. Media literacy empowers people to be critical thinkers and makers, effective communicators and active citizens.

In addition to the ability to access, analyze, and produce media in various forms, critical media literacy is focused on power relations in society, identities, and inequalities, and encourages questioning such, as part of the media literacy education curriculum. 

When we talk about media literacy, and building media literacy skills with our students, we are talking about working to become media literate both as creators and as consumers of media. And both inform the other, working in tandem. The more media we consume actively (vs passively), studying the visual storytelling elements and intentions of the author/producer in terms of message, purpose of the piece and targeted audience, the better we understand how to create our own film, podcast or PSA infographic.

(Courtesy of Jacob Burns Film Center)

Circle Graphic






Courtesy of Common Sense Media

  • Who created this? Was it a company? Was it an individual? (If so, who?) Was it a comedian? Was it an artist? Was it an anonymous source? Why do you think that?


  • Why did they make it? Was it to inform you of something that happened in the world (for example, a news story)? Was it to change your mind or behavior (an opinion essay or a how-to)? Was it to make you laugh (a funny meme)? Was it to get you to buy something (an ad)? Why do you think that?


  • Who is the message for? Is it for kids? Grown-ups? Girls? Boys? People who share a particular interest? Why do you think that?
  • What techniques are being used to make this message credible or believable? Does it have statistics from a reputable source? Does it contain quotes from a subject expert? Does it have an authoritative-sounding voice-over? Is there direct evidence of the assertions its making? Why do you think that?


  • What details were left out, and why? Is the information balanced with different views -- or does it present only one side? Do you need more information to fully understand the message? Why do you think that?


  • How did the message make you feel? Do you think others might feel the same way? Would everyone feel the same, or would certain people disagree with you? Why do you think that?   



Students will be able to critically analyze a film by discussing and identifying elements of visual storytelling.


  • Build digital literacy skills
  • Develop critical analysis skills
  • Build creative and technical skills


  • Projector and screen


  • There are no wrong answers but help your students along with ideas about the film's message such as the permanence/impermanence of art; how do these pinatas give us insight into cultural values, etc.


  1. Introduce and define media literacy and talk about why media literacy is important
  2. Introduce students to visual storytelling elements (link to fundamentals of filmmaking in the classroom page ) by screening Vacuum Robot (a short youth-produced film where the story is told using only visuals, music and sound effects). Ask students how the filmmakers tell the story without dialogue.  What contributes to the message of the film?  
  3. Explain that these same visual storytelling elements are present in all films, even those with dialogue.  Play the short documentary film called: The Pinata King and ask students to identify the visual storytelling elements that help to tell this story.
  4. Now watch the film again but go deeper, asking students to do a critical analysis of the film by trying to answer the questions below. 



Participants will make a satire of an advertisement while exploring image editing software. 

Courtesy of the Adobe Foundation



  • Investigate and dissect advertising messages to develop media literacy skills
  • Build creative and technical skills
  • Use parody and satire to deliver a message


  • Projector to show images
  • Advertisements (provided here  link to ads found in media mashup folder)or use your own)
  • Image Editing Software (Photoshop or open source image editing software such as Gimp, or Pixlr Editor (web-based so no need to download anything ))


  • Educators should get students to familiarize with how to use the selected  image editing software(most software has built-in tutorials you can assign for homework)


1. Show students an advertisement (one of the demo advertisements from the activities folder, or one of your choice) and discuss: (15 min)

  • What is the message? 
  • Who is the audience and what in the piece tells you it was created for this audience?
  • Is there more than one message? Is so, what are the other messages?
  • What are the techniques used to convey the message?

2. Discuss whether there is any implied meaning that the authors are trying to "sell" you that may not be true. What might an honest portrayal of this product look like? (10 min)

3. Explore and discuss messages and parody in the advertisements on Middle Web. How do the parody advertisements tell a different story from the original ads? How has the media been mashed-up to tell a different story? (15 min)

4. Have students make their own media mash-up using the provided ads or ones found online. (60 min) Depending on skill level, students might:

  • Cover up the original text and add their own.
  • Change the colors using selection and adjustment tools. 
  • Cut out parts of the ad and paste in new elements.
  • Paint on the image to change the content.

5. Have students exhibit their completed media mash-ups and discuss how the message of the advertisement has changed. (30 min)