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Démocracia, Alfabetización política & Educación transformátiva

Actividades educativas


para los educadores, los estudientes y los socios de la sociedad civil


Preparado por Paul R. Carr & Lauren Howard

Proyecto de investigación sobre la Democracia, la alfabetización politica y la

educación transformativa



La culture populaire et l'alphabétisation aux médias offre aux adultes et aux enfants une opportunité de se repositionner vis-à-vis de l'étau dominant et hégémonique qu'ont les entités corporatives sur les acteurs sociaux suivant leurs intentions ctors with intent on jamming, resisting and rewriting the status quo. Examples are provided below that offer critical opportunities to revise and analyze such issues, and to provide educators and students with access to agency over everyday media that we consume, read, and view daily. It is problematic to only acknowledge current curriculum and standardized testing, and not consider the importance of critical thinking in media literacy as well as the effect that it may have on enabling future global citizens to make informed choices. Ultimately, we are hopeful that the link between media literacy and political literacy can be achieved, which could have an effect on more meaningful, engaged and critical forms of democracy.


NOTE: Some of the following activities were inspired by the work of Elizabeth Marshall and Sensoy Ozlem in their 2011 book Rethinking Popular Culture, and the Canada Teachers Federation`s ‘Media Literacy Week’ ( We have adapted and augmented these activities, and have also developed other ones.



Limiting the habit (Elementary and high school) 


Activities such as ‘No Television Week’ present an opportunity for students, parents and educators to participate in a unique environment to engage in a variety of other activities. Many children have a difficult time conceptualizing a life before or without television, and it can be extremely useful to have students interview or discuss with a family member what it used to be like without television. This activity provides students with the opportunity to begin thinking about how corporatized the media is, and how the television industry relies largely upon advertising dollars. 


•    Parents need to be informed prior to this activity, and need to encourage engagement and participation. A letter should be sent home with students outlining the objectives of this activity and what is hoped to be achieved.


•    Both parents and educators who provide students with alternative activities can make survival packages or activities for home-use, such as certain games to play, bike rides, baking, writing letters, poems or stories, or simply reading. Students should be encouraged to develop their own ideas as to what alternative and additional activities can be incorporated into “No Television Week”. 


•    As a follow-up assignment, students may interview a family member about the positive and negative messages of television shows. What do they notice, what do they believe is omitted, what are some of the stereotypes they see, and what is the overall effect of engagement (or lack of engagement) with the television?


•    This activity offers the opportunity for educators, students and parents to critically analyze and attempt to understand the effects of such media influences on our lives. 

Follow-up to ‘No TV Week’ or even ‘No TV for a few days’ 


•    Emphasis can now be directed to critiquing and analyzing what’s on television when we watch it. Not only television shows but also commercials. 


•    Ask the students to compile a list of the ads in one night while they are watching television, breaking it down for 30- and 60-minute shows. Keep track of what type of commercials are presented, and how long it lasted. 


•    Educators can devise a lesson plan that consists of previously watched commercials that you wish to share with your students. Questions can be posed such as to ‘what messages are conveyed by the commercial and why’. 


•    Explain the difference between implicit and explicit messages, what is being said and not said, how subliminal messages are presented, and might be the effect.


•    After watching and discussing various commercials, students can write about the explicit and implicit messages.


•    Cartoons, sitcoms and reality shows can also be shown and analyzed in class. 


•    Analyze messages, and ask ‘how are such problems solved?’ ‘Who does most of the talking?’ What race, gender, age, etc. are the characters on the shows or commercials? ‘How many instances of violence does one observe?’



Researching Bias in News 


Much can be learned from critically observing and analyzing what happens in various news formats (print, electronic, video, internet, radio, newspaper, television, etc.). It is critical for students to whose perspectives are being delivered by the news, and what sorts of messages are being “manufactured”. 


•    A chart can be devised for students. Segments can be divided into: anchors/reporters, news items, entertainment, sports, and weathers. Students can be asked to examine critically how the news is developed, packaged, presented and consumed. 


•    Highlighters can be used to organize and mark certain durations of time, and other important variables, such as the race, age, and gender of the reporters, as well the length, focus, content, description and analysis of the news program. 


•    Results can be analyzed by gender, race, government vs. non-government officials, celebrity status, and other categories that can be developed

•    How often do newspapers/news programs quote grassroots activities opposed to governmental policies?


•    The same can be done with profiles/stories/exposés by outlining in one color crime stories about violence and crime as opposed to those working for justice and peace, 


•    Similarly, one can highlight how many times people of “color” are featured in stories of crime or drug addiction, or sports and entertainment, and how many times they are portrayed positively. 


•    Students are all levels can be broken down into groups, and watch the same television news program together, then layering on an analysis of what each group saw, experienced and understood according to specific categories (one group could look at the political angle, another the editorial angle, another the timing and cadence, and another criticality of the news presented). Then a plenary discussion could take place around the theme of: Is it news or entertainment? And what has been omitted?


•    Students can also be asked to reflect on why so many news venues/programs/outlets/etc. cover the news from the same/similar angle and the same/similar stories. What does this mean for society, for media literacy, for education and for potential social change?



Being a Media Detective (Environmental Issues) 


As per the above, following a similar idea, encourage students to carry out their own research, and engage in personal and group critical thought and engagement in relation to the environment (or some other issue). 


•    Challenge young people to investigate how environmental issues are covered by the media. 


•    For a period of one week, ask students to track environmental stories that appear in the newspaper, on the radio, through the internet or in television programs. 


•    For newspaper stories, ask students to identify where or how they are presented (length of articles, which page they appear on, whether there are accompanying pictures, what is the focus, who is consulted/cited, what is omitted, etc.). 


•    For stories that appear on television news programs, ask students when and how they are presented (length of segment, when they appear, footage or interviews), and have them document where the information and analysis comes from, if it is relevant, and how it presents the nuanced complexity of the issue(s).


•    When students have finished their media monitoring logs, engage them to compare the coverage of environmental issues with the coverage of other issues. 


•    From this start-point, a plethora of other activities and action-plans can be produced. 



Analyzing Media 


This activities provide students with the opportunity to critically analyze many of the popular magazines that they enjoy and choose to read. The intention of this activity is for students to visually see how the media perpetuates gender stereotypes, and to critically analyze many of the images of women in the media to determine if they, indeed, reproduce stereotypes or lead to other types of identities.  


•    Arrange groups in either four or five students, and assign each group a specific task of creating a collage that either counters or reaffirms gendered biases. 


•    For example, problematize male gender stereotypes (masculinity, aggression, strength) that may reaffirm the stereotype of male ideology/patriarchy. 


•    Collages are a fun and engaging way for students to begin analyzing such stereotypes. 


•    Each group can be given a stack of magazines (these can be found in libraries, from home, from second-hand stores, or elsewhere) as well as a small poster board.


•    Allow time for students to browse through magazines noting words and images that they can use for their collage. 


•    Keep time may be helpful in keeping students on track as some articles can sidetrack many. Also provide a large manila envelope for students to keep their cut-outs. 


•    Although it is important for groups to stay on task, encourage groups to interact and find images that would be useful for other groups. 


•    Formal essays can be created after such an activity, having students to do literature searches through online databases, including Google Scholar.


•    Groups would then present their collages and work, constructively critiquing what other groups have developed.



Taking Action 


Often, outrageous newspaper articles, commercials, and biases within the news provoke spontaneous student activism. It is critical as educators to look for opportunities for students to act upon their knowledge-base. Instead of writing the same classroom essays that stay confined to institutions, ask students to create projects that have the possibility to move beyond classroom walls. Students need to see themselves as actors in the world, who can be fueled by opportunities to convince and make others aware of the long-lasting effects and influences of the media, commercials, advertisements, the news, and other sources. 


•    Ask students fundamental questions about media literacy.


•    Who can students teach about what they have learned? Who could their analysis touch enough to bring about change? How does power influence media development, production and dissemination? 


•    Have students write their ideas on a board, considering diverse stakeholders and interest-groups, including parents, peers, teachers, the community, different social groups (race, gender, class, religion, ethnic, etc.). 


•    The only necessary guideline for this activity is to write a reflective and critical piece using evidence from commercials, television shows, cartoons, or other sources of media, and how their lives have been influenced and affected by the media. 


•    Examples may come from cartoons, advertisements, novels, family advice, lines from television shows and movies, and other sources


A.    Focus on one media source, such as a movie: critique it, talk about it in depth. (Students can write about Mulan, Peter Pan, Barbie, other Disney characters or any other popular show).


B.     Provide a chart for students to document their analysis of the representation of men, women, people of color, working-class people and others in that movie. 


C.    The focus on the portrayal of one group. Write about how women, men, African Americans, Latinos, Arabs, overweight people, or the poor are depicted, and provide as many examples as possible. 


D.    Develop specific issues from the media representation of women or another group, and relate it to your own personal life and/or society-at-large.  


•    Students can then create a pamphlet that can be distributed at certain meetings and throughout the local community. Report cards can even be made for certain television shows and media. Pamphlets can include tips for parents and others to guide them in their media selection. 


•    Students can also be urged to write articles for local and national media, including newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc.. 



Charting Stereotypes


Animated characters in movies and cartoons, such as Mulan, Aladdin, Pocahontas and Popeye, present opportunities for students to begin looking at stereotypes and critically analyzing such messages. Older cartoons are easy to begin with because stereotypes are so blatant. Newer cartoons are subtler and take more sophistication to detect bias. Nevertheless, as students watch old cartoons, contemporary cartoons will hopefully be easier to analyze and critique. It is critical that such media be critically analyzed so students can apply such strategies into their everyday life, and be made aware of such messages as they continue to engage with media. 


•    Show some video clips in class to engage in small and large group discussions about the perspectives being presented, who has produced them, and would they be different if they had been developed by those of different identities. 


•    What are the characters’ motivations? What do they want out of life? How are people portrayed? 


•    Charts are a helpful way to assist students in their thinking and organizing such thoughts that can later be discussed and analyzed. 


•    As an educator, try and observe the reflection process, documenting language, concepts and themes as well as questions. 


For older students: Writing as a vehicle for change 


To be more critical, students can formulate essays critiquing the cartoons and shows, and they should be encouraged to look deeper into issues and challenge material and commonly-held conceptions. Writing blogs, discussions, short stories, articles and longer papers can be cathartic and important to venture into other forms of expression. 


•    The objective is to develop their critical consciousness, and to encourage students to take action. 


•    Instead of seeing cartons/shows, try to determine if you can also see racism, sexism, and violence that swim under the surface of media. It is the intent here that issues in the news, on the television, in schools and even communities need to be critically observed and analyzed. The information and methods that students are learning, and will be constructing, are critical for their engagement in the future and with others in the world. 



Toys and the Media 


This activity provides students with the opportunity to analyze images of women that they observe daily, and to attain a level of understanding of how such images influence self-image and society. Throughout this activity, sources of stereotypical images of women in both toys and the media will be analyzed and critiqued. It is not expected that students will fully comprehend and understand all concepts. Nevertheless, it should not be assumed that students, even at the elementary school level, cannot handle such complex issues and topics. 


•    Lessons can be focused on a mainstream toy, such as the Barbie doll. 


•    Before the lesson begins, educators should have a thorough understanding and background on the effects of advertising to assist and facilitate important discussions.


•    Ask students, both female and male: “Tell me what you notice about Barbie” 


•    Barbie looks quite different from many students’ mothers, grandmothers, and teachers, and asks students to expand on this. Start engaging in critical thought. 


•    Questions can be asked such as: Why do you think toy manufacturers may make dolls that look so different from real girls and women? Who should play with these dolls? Who has access to the dolls? What do the dolls represent?


•    Consider the marketing and advertising of the toy. What techniques, images, words, concepts, etc. are used to sell the product? 


•    Try to analyze hidden messages, and begin to see how women are portrayed: are they objectified and minimized (through magazines, commercials, television shows, store products, clothing)?


•    Educators and students can tear out multiple available images of advertisements from a variety of magazines, using them as a starting-point for critical discussions. 


•    Students can then develop their own posters and advertisements, which could be discussed in relation to the techniques and strategies used to market goods as well as the potentially manipulative nature of selling commodities, concepts and ideas. 



Miles and Aisles of Sexism 


Toy stores can be places of childhood joy and also areas that can reinforce sex role stereotypes, the glorification of war, and diverse levels of male and female gender bias. This exercise can be extremely beneficial for students in university gender issue courses. Areas of focus could be: gender segregation, career related toys, militarism, and themes in packaging, such as color usage, marketing techniques, and language. A wonderful text to assist in this exercise is Myriam Miedzians’ powerful critique in her 1991 book Boys will be Boys: Breaking the Link between Masculinity and Violence.


•    Several visits to chain toy stores and suburban shopping centers will hopefully teach the powerful lesson about how toy manufacturers operate. 


•    Record certain details and characteristics about toys and their target-audiences. 


•    Develop a list of items in toy stores, such as messages about gender expectations, cost, quality and amount of toys in the boy’s section vs. the girl’s section. 


•    Students can prepare questions to further their research, which could be addressed in the larger group. They should be encouraged to find empirical and mainstream evidence to flesh out their knowledge.


•    Language on packaging now justifies the use of force or violence in the name of being a “peacekeeper”, completing a “mission” or being a “superior defender”. Colors can be commented upon as well as words such as “deadly” and “assault”. Ask students to critically look at such concepts. 


•    The video game section should also be critiqued to questioning if violent imagery, actions and themes may affect those who play, and to what extent and how.


•    Does the girl’s section have many board games that require creative thinking or higher order reasoning?


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