10 creative ways to teach media literacy


Media literacy— that is, the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media in a variety of forms—has become increasingly complex over recent years. With such a high volume of information now at our fingertips thanks to smartphones and search engines, today’s students will need to become more efficient at filtering what they see and hear. In other words, it’s more important now than ever before to teach media literacy. So where do we start?

Media education is now required in many curricula across the world. Schools are working hard to help teachers prepare students for changes in the industry and have continued access to the right tools for the job. As the digital world develops, at what often seems like a daily pace, teachers will need resources to stay abreast of current trends.

Canva is one tool that has this adaptive capacity. In this post we’ll show you how to use it to stay ahead of the curve.

01. Recognizing Fake News

A study(opens in a new tab or window) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that false news spreads faster, farther, and deeper than real news on X (formerly Twitter). Teach students to read past the headline, check the date and author credentials, gauge the tone and language, and identify biases. It will take more time, but ultimately it will save them time as they won’t have to double-check their sources or correct their views later on.

Always have them do a quick search for at least one other source that states the same thing. Most news—especially if it’s momentous—gets coverage by more than one organization, so this should be a fairly clear indication.

At least in theory, X (Twitter) is a great resource since you can follow multiple news channels and see how many sources are reporting the same information, compare differently phrased headlines for the same story, and easily navigate back and forth between full article and feed. Just be sure that you’re not buying into a false story that’s gone viral.

When it comes to assigning school work, what better way for students to understand fake news than to create it themselves? Ask students to design a newspaper that features either real or fake news, or some combination of the two, and have other students see if they can identify each type.

They can choose their own newsletter template, such as this Yellow Photos Back to School Newsletter(opens in a new tab or window).

Yellow Photos Back to School Newsletter

02. Using Multiple Sources

When trying to spot fake news the first thing a student should do is check other sources for the same story. But this is about more than truth in numbers: since different sources report different details in varying levels of depth, students will gain a fuller, more accurate perspective on an issue when they read, listen, or view more widely.

Have students create a poster or a mind map listing different kinds of sources, including which ones are reliable and which ones aren’t. You can draw inspiration from this writer’s Mind Map or design your own from scratch.

Minimalist Writer’s Mind Map

3. Gauging Tone and Language

There is a difference between credible and non-credible language, whether it’s written or spoken. Teach students to develop an “ear” for it. People are especially likely to believe what they read or hear when it’s couched in language that sounds flowery or academic.

This means we need to make students good writers and speakers themselves, and to teach them as soon as possible that clear communication—not fancy or abstract language—should be their number one goal. That way, when a politician is blowing a bunch of hot air into a camera, they’ll be able to tell.

Have students read examples of different tones and re-create them in writing exercises. Try this Film Icon Writing Prompt(opens in a new tab or window) worksheet.

04. Questioning Numbers and Figures

Evaluating words often requires evaluating numbers too. Say you come across an article that claims “Students perform better in school when they get at least eight hours of sleep” and share it on Facebook, but when you take a closer look at the cited study, you find that it was only performed at one school, in one class, on six students. It’s crucial that we learn to judge the math behind the message.

Use infographics to illustrate how numbers can trick the mind into buying the whole message, even if those numbers are skewed. Have students create infographics and teach them to catch misleading facts and figures. Then hold a discussion on how false figures influence our perception and lead us to believe some messages over others.

Try creating one in the style of this Planet Earth Infographic.

Planet Earth Infographic

5. Understanding Images and the Brain

Visual media has an especially large impact on consumers. This is because there’s a huge part of the brain devoted to visual processing. It’s called the visual cortex, and it affects our attention, motivation, and even our emotions. Students need to understand just how powerful images can be in the media.

Today’s images should be read on at least two levels, says J. Francis Davis, an adult educator and media education specialist: first, the immediate emotional level on which we react in a way that “taps our inner emotions or stories”; second, as products meant to influence us that way. Once you develop a knack for recognizing the latter, you can more easily control whether they influence you or not.

And it’s important to do so. In her book Rise of the Image Culture, Elizabeth Thoman points out that images of perfect people leading perfect lives have “become a substitute for the search for meaning which other generations sought in more expansive and significant ways.” Let’s teach students to think for themselves again.

Have students create “powerful” but misleading messages on posters with mismatched images and text. See how many students believe the text, or buy the visual product, and discuss similar examples they may have seen online, on TV, in print, or on advertisements around town.

See how many students blink an eye when you turn a Happy Valentine(opens in a new tab or window)’s template on its head.

06. Developing Multimedia Skills

One important part of being media-savvy in the 21st century is knowing how to use different types of tools, both separately and together. We now have text, audio, video, augmented reality, and 3D printing. We have social media and interactive media. We have books, newspapers, film, and TV. We have blogs and vlogs. Today’s students need to be well versed in all of these in order to navigate the world ahead.

Considering the rapid pace of 21st century technology, we especially need to prepare students for types of media that don’t exist yet. This means helping them become as comfortable as possible with the kinds of media that currently exist, since future technologies will be built off of them.

With Canva, students can effectively create their own websites with a unique URL. Have them practice putting presentations together and sharing them on social media channels. They can also embed videos and links to other web pages in their presentations, which you can read more about here(opens in a new tab or window).

For instance, students can practice honing their multi-media skills (and even talk about multi-media at the same time):

Growing Power of Social Media

07. Recognizing Bias

Teach students to recognize which channels might highlight which kinds of facts, emphasize certain kinds of contexts or angles, and use different tones. At the same time, teach them to recognize their own biases, which can influence their perceptions of the media as well. It goes both ways.

Biases can be political as well as personal. In an episode of National Public Radio’s Fresh Air, journalist, fake news expert, and Buzzfeed media editor Craig Silverman reveals that the kind of news which performed best on Facebook during the Clinton-Trump election was fake news that confirmed biases viewers already had. In other words, if someone posted a false news story smearing Hillary, it would be believed and shared most by viewers who already held negative perceptions of her.

Ask students to evaluate a few sources that exemplify these types of bias, then have them write a report on how to recognize bias in the media. Possible sources might include articles, blog posts, excerpts from books, speeches, podcasts, radio or TV programs, posters, ads and commercials, academic papers, YouTube videos, or short films.

You can adapt a report like this Colorful Elementary School Book Report(opens in a new tab or window) and have students hand in a general report or review on a piece of media you’ve chosen.

08. Shaping the Media Ourselves

A free, open media is essential to a democratic society. Media education ensures that future generations will be able to think for themselves and not just be shaped by what they see and hear.

In a truly democratic society, people are going to butt heads and disagree, but these differences are honored by a “majority rules” mentality. On some level, this means that if the media is truly representative of the people it serves, then it should highlight the controversy, conflicts, and questions raised by its citizens. In this way, people can and should help shape the media.

For an assignment, have students create an entirely new set of laws around media use in society. Break everyone into groups and have them present their ideas to the rest of the class.

Adapt a Blue Red Design Proposal(opens in a new tab or window) template to this assignment.

09. Curating Information

By some measures, if you began reading the Internet today and continued for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it would take you 57,000 years to reach the end. That’s a lot of information. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), most of us don’t have quite that much time on our hands.

With so much data to weigh through, how do we proceed as efficient consumers of media? Where do we start and stop looking, and what do we do with the information we receive? Is there a way to collect, organize, and use this data in a way that doesn’t leave us feeling like burnt toast, or wondering if we missed out on some better piece of information we didn’t manage to find?

It’s a challenge, but it’s an important one: teach students how to effectively filter, select, organize, save, and use information gathered from media sources. Turn it into a research project where they discover solutions on their own and share their findings with you and the rest of the class.

A number of templates would work for this, including presentations, reports, photo collages(opens in a new tab or window), and charts. Have students start with a warm-up task where they create a screenshot album of reliable information sources for different industries and interests.

10. Becoming Responsible Creators

It’s never been easier to create and spread a message, and to such a wide audience. Teach students to be responsible creators of media. Not all of them will go into the media, per se, but they will design and distribute information, many of them daily, for the rest of their lives.

Who are they affecting when they post updates on Facebook, or photos on Instagram? Is what they post an accurate reflection of who they are and what their life is really like? What’s the difference between visual material of value and visual junk?

Teach students how to be discerning creators of media, and explain why it matters. The world doesn’t need another selfie unless it means something. Incorporate a SWOT Analysis(opens in a new tab or window) to enhance their media creation skills and understand the impact of their content.

For one assignment, ask students to write a timeline or design a mind map for a responsible life as a media creator. Here’s a Circles Healthy Lifestyle Mind Map(opens in a new tab or window) to get you going in the right direction.

Media education will be a hot topic for a long time to come, and the discussion around it is already evolving rapidly. It’s not so hard to keep up with the latest trends, build awareness around effective use, and challenge ideas of what media literacy means when we’ve got an educational toolbox like Canva at hand. Keep students on their toes with design tasks that force them to see and use media in new ways.

Embracing the Power of Media Literacy

In today's digital age, media literacy is more than just a skill, it's a necessity. From recognizing fake news to becoming responsible creators, the journey of understanding and navigating the vast media landscape is challenging and rewarding. Canva serves as a valuable tool in this educational endeavor, offering a plethora of design options to help students visualize and comprehend complex media concepts. Canva has an expansive library of templates and, if you're looking for something different, SlidesCarnival also offers an additional treasure trove of designs that can be seamlessly edited in Canva. For those seeking a fresh twist, news-themed presentation templates(opens in a new tab or window) can be a game-changer. As we continue to evolve in our media consumption and creation, tools like these empower us to be more informed, critical, and creative citizens of the digital world.

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