Teaching Critical Media Literacy Skills



Canada’s 18th Media Literacy Week took place from November 23 to 27, 2023.

The BC curriculum incorporates media literacy throughout the K-12 curriculum in many subject areas such as English Language Arts, Social Studies, visual arts and drama.

For more details on the integration of media education in K-12 BC curriculum, visit MediaSmarts.

Why is critical’ media literacy increasingly important?

Students encounter multiple genres of texts on a daily basis, ranging from movies and songs, to social media videos, memes and gifs. As highlighted by Paul Orlowski (2014), there are three main sources of information in contemporary society: the mainstream corporate media, the Internet and the public education system. The increased amount of time with media and the increasing commercial, and rarely critical engagement with media has been shown in a study by researchers at Stanford University which shows that 96% of students, at 3466 high schools, failed to evaluate the credibility of a website that claimed to disseminate factual reports (as cited in Share, Mamikonyan, & Lopez, 2023).

Elmore  & Coleman (2019) highlight that students encounter a variety of political texts and videos online that often lack gatekeeping efforts, such as fact checking or any editorial judgment; yet, on the other hand, there is also the advantage that marginalized and misrepresented people get to voice their opinions on these platforms. In order to prepare students to actively participate as part of democratic citizenry, Elmore & Coleman (2019) emphasize that critical media literacy must be incorporated into the curriculum.

Critical Media Skills enable students to:

  • analyze relationships between speakers and audiences
  • interpret and critique multilayered messages
  • examine the stereotypes, dominant values, and ideologies informing these messages

(Kellner & Share, 2007)

Categories of Media Literacy

Paul Orlowski highlights three main categories of media literacy:

  • the first type analyzes how the various groups are represented in the media
  • the second type is concerned with diversity and voices of dissent, particularly of those who do not belong to the elites.
  • the third type is concerned with “how powerful groups control public discourse on important political and economic issues” (2014, p. 336).

A Framework for Integrating Critical Media Literacy in Lessons

A simple brief framework to integrate critical media literacy is developed by the Center for Media Literacy.

This includes 5 main concepts:

  1. All media messages are constructed.
  2. Media messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules.
  3. Different people experience the same media message differently.
  4. Media have embedded values and points of view.
  5. Most media messages are organized to gain profit and/or power.


Five key questions to deconstruct and unpack any media message:

  1. Who created this message?
  2. What creative techniques are used to attract attention?
  3. How might different people understand this message differently?
  4. What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in, or omitted from, this message?
  5. Why is this message being sent?

Examples of Teaching Critical Media Literacy

Critical Media Literacy could be integrated into many subject areas and related to a variety of topics. Below are some examples:

  • Media Literacy for Kindergarten to Grade 2 students:

An introductory lesson plan on media literacy for Kindergarten to Grade 2, titled “Break the Fake”, is created as part the USE, UNDERSTAND & CREATE: Digital Media Literacy Framework for Canadian Schools (available through MediaSmarts).

  • Assignment on Bias in Cultural Issues:

An assignment suggested by Orlowski (2014) is asking students to choose an article that addresses a cultural issue such as race, class, gender, sexuality, or war. Students would write one-page that addresses issues of bias, highlighting which groups benefit and which groups lose from a given ideological perspective. Students also reflect on who was quoted, and why, and which affected groups were excluded. Students could then present their findings to class.

One of the approaches that Orlowski uses is “reframing” conservative arguments using progressive values. For example, a student could attempt to reframe the debate regarding the topic of increasing minimum wage by focusing on the idea of “prosperity for all who work hard”.

Similarly, recent events such as the Ukraine war could be analyzed in different mainstream and alternative articles.

  • Newspaper Photo Analysis:

Another idea is encouraging students to quantitatively analyze a newspaper photo for the representation of different racial groups (Choudhury & Share, 2012; Lewison, Leland, & Harste, 2014).

  • Analyzing Representations in Textbooks:

Representations of identity groups in book pictures could be analyzed by comparing the similarities between representations of race and gender. For example, students could explore unequal representation and socialization of gender roles.

  • Museums as a Springboard:

Museums could be used a springboard, where students could analyze phrases like “wars erupted” which frame ‘war’ as natural and as something that just happens. Students would then be encouraged to interrogate the language and write counternarratives (Lewison, Leland & Harste, 2014).

  • Analyzing Memes:

There are a variety of memes on social media, including political memes. Elmore & Coleman  (2019) highlight that rather than perceiving memes as merely funny or provocative pictures, students should be able to analyze memes by questioning the motives of the author and the intended audience. They propose analyzing political memes through three actions:

  • Analyzing relationships between speakers and audiences.
  • Interpreting and critiquing multilayered messages.
  • Examining the stereotypes, dominant values, and ideologies informing these messages.
  • Analyzing Advertisements:

Advertisements such as those for Nicotine and alcohol products could be analyzed and students could be encouraged to create anti-ads with Google drawings (Share, Mamikonyan, & Lopez, 2023)

  • Creating Counter-narratives:

Students are encouraged not only to analyze texts but also produce media (Share, Mamikonyan, & Lopez, 2023).

Students could create counter-narratives through interviewing marginalized communities or family elders about past events, as well as searching archives and online sources.



Elmore, P. G. &. Coleman, J. M. (2019) Middle School Students’ Analysis of Political Memes to Support Critical Media Literacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 63 (1), pp. 29-40.

Kellner, D., & Share, J. (2007). Critical media literacy, democracy, and the reconstruction of education. In D. Macedo & S.R. Steinberg (Eds.), Media literacy: A reader (pp. 3–23). New York, NY: Peter Lang. Knobel, M., & Lankshear,

Lewison, M., Leland, C. & Harste, J. (2014). Creating Critical Classrooms: Reading and Writing with an Edge. Routledge.

Orlowski, P. (2014). Critical media literacy & social studies: Paying heed to Orwell and Huxley. In E.W. Ross (Ed.), The social studies curriculum: Purposes, problems and possibilities (4th ed.) (pp. 335-352). State University of New York Press.

Share, J., Mamikonyan, T., & Lopez, E.  (2023, September 20). Critical Media Literacy in Teacher Education, Theory, and Practice. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Retrieved 31 Oct. 2023, from https://oxfordre.com/education/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190264093.001.0001/acrefore-978.0190264093-e-1404.


Guest Post: Nashwa Khedr, EDCP graduate student, peer mentor 2023






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