Activities: Media Representations (developed by students
in CI5472, Spring, 2004)
Tom Deshotels and Josh Wetjen
One possibility to encourage critical analysis of media in students
is to have students produce an ad or short scene that portrays a
social group in typical or atypical ways. You would need cameras
available in class for student groups wanting to make a short film.
What colors would they use? What camera angles would they shoot
from? What relationship will subjects in the shot have to one another?
How would they position different people in the ad? When students
become responsible for portraying a certain group in a certain way
through media, they will inevitably have to ask themselves how to
communicate that information. When they inquire about these techniques
they will gain understanding about media production and reflection
of social identities. The teacher could assign stereotypical roles
of people groups to different student work who would have to produce
a media artifact for class affecting the assigned stereotypical
Beth O'Hara and Mary Hagen
In studying media representations in my high school class, I
would get the students thinking about how they are represented by
reading portions of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, specifically
the paragraph that reads:
"We fall into clans: Jocks, Country Clubbers, Idiot Savants,
Cheerleaders, Human Waste, Eurotrash, Future Fascists of America,
Big Hair Chix, the Marthas, Suffering Artists, Thespians, Goths,
I would ask them to look at the various social divisions that
their particular high school places them in, tell them of the divisions
in my high school, eons ago: Brains, Jocks, Nerds, Cheerleaders,
Potheads, Lushes, Populars. We could discuss if those divisions
were hard and fast or if there was room for movement from group
to group, if they liked being in those groups, what they gained
from membership in one or the other. And then we would move to viewing
and discussing how teenagers are represented in the media, in movies
such as The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, in television
shows such as Boston Public, Joan of Arcadia, and MTV, and in advertisements,
magazines, and on the web. I would have the students split into
groups to study a particular way in which they are represented,
ask them to challenge those representations, give reasons why those
representations may or may not be accurate, have them act out what
they have found. We could expand the study to other aspects of their
high school lives, look at teachers, principals, secretaries, lunchroom
and janitorial staff, bus drivers, coaches, parents and how they
are represented, how they are "supposed" to be.
Erin Warren and Erin Grahmann
The main idea behind this set of activities is to examine the
ways in which "bosses" (i.e. authority in the workplace)
are portrayed in media--TV and movies specifically. We chose five
(but feel free to pick more, less, or different ones): Mr. Burns
from the Simpsons, Jack Gallo from Just Shoot Me, Mr. Lumbergh from
Office Space, Mr. Peterman from Seinfeld, and Mr. Strickland from
King of the Hill.
Start by showing clips of these bosses in action to set the stage.
Form groups based on interest. The groups analyze salient characteristics
and representations of these different bosses. Each group roleplays
these bosses using their findings. Groups split and students reflect
in a journal/freewrite about a real boss they have known. The activities
culminate in a discussion comparing students' real bosses to the
media representations. What are the similarities? Differences? Were
student responses influenced by the media examples? How so? To the
point: is your bias informed by media? How about a feminist lens:
why are these bosses all wealthy white men?
Reid Westrem and Brock Dubbels
In Chapter Two of Seeing and Believing, Krueger and
Christel mention the use of photojournalism in the classroom. Here's
a sketch of a teaching activity that would blend photojournalism
and media representations. Consider the "Politician" or
"Presidential Candidate" as represented in news photographs.
There will be plenty of opportunity to do so this campaign season.
In class, students could discuss their associations with this type
and describe the sort of campaign photographs they would expect
to see in newspapers during the campaign.
At home they would browse news websites for political photographs
-- individual newspapers such as the StarTribune and The New
York Times typically have links on their homepages either to
special campaign pages or to daily photo collections. Also, the
Associated Press website would be an excellent source for news photographs.
In fact, the AP wire would show what most editors can choose from
in producing the next day's paper. Each student should print a few
campaign photos and present them with commentary in small groups
the next day. What images are being portrayed? How? What character
traits are communicated? What are the candidates doing? What are
they wearing? Are the photos seemingly "candid" and natural
or do they seem to be staged "photo opportunities" --
and is it possible to tell? With whom are they pictured? How are
the photos framed? Is there any evidence of bias? For example, is
one candidate shown consistently as "friendly" or "strong,"
while another is shown as "goofy" or "awkward"
or "angry" or "unpresidential" ... and what
is "presidential" anyway? (A body-language analyst recently
claimed that Gov. Dean was often shown looking angry, while Sen.
Edwards has been portrayed looking friendly. Is it the man or the
Next, students should track the photos chosen by different newspapers
(StarTribune, PioneerPress, USA Today, NY Times). Do they
find any patterns? Obvioiusly, satirists such as Jay Leno and the
Saturday Night Live news anchors pick the photos of candidates that
make them look stupid -- but are newspapers ever guilty of doing
this? One can't fairly judge editorial decisions unless one knows
what the possible choices were, and thanks to the internet the average
person now has quite a bit of access to that larger pool of photos
(and news stories).
There may be several ways to approach this thread. The most ready
would be to have the students compile lists of associations to different
target audiences (adult female, white upper class, etc). They would
then study various (it could be any really) media to find their
personal stereotypes played out in the shows and advertising. The
students could also search for media figures that do not fall into
their stereotypical categories and attempt to discover why. The
conversation must then flow into the source of our stereotypes and
how they can be manipulative and potentially damaging. The students
must be able to consider this topic fully and maturely, which in
my experience leaves grades 7, 8, 11, 12 and above. It would perhaps
be best suited to a college pop culture class.
Adam Banse and Dan Gough
Media Awareness: Cartoons -- The British guy and the California
We would have our class look at the representation of race and gender
in cartoons and comic strips. Dan and I remember racist images of
Native Americans, Blacks and Asians in cartoons we saw as kids and
while they are not as overt in today's animated media they are still
present (for example, the misogyny in Beetle Bailey and Blondie,
Then (we're getting ambitious here), we would have them look
at cartoons and comic strips from other countries, such as Japan,
France, Great Britain and Mexico, and look for ways in which these
cultures show representations of race and gender.
Rebecca Robertson and Louise Covert
“Examining media representations involves identifying the
specific ways in which media uses images, language, and techniques
to construct a version of reality associated with a particular phenomena,
group, world, institution, or profession? (CI 5472 course module
We decided to apply this to her 8th grade students’ exploration
of Romeo and Juliet (both as a written and film text).
We chose to ask students to more deliberately look at the socio-economic
background of each family (Montague and Capulet). The 8th grade
students were asked to:
- Identify indicators of each family’s social status and wealth
as such is evident in both the text and film.
- Speculate in what ways the social and economic status of these
families bears on how the characters are portrayed, the plot unfolds,
and the setting, for instance.
Here are some examples of the kinds of questions students were
asked to think [and write] about, pair with one other student and
talk about, and then come together as a larger group and discuss
(the “Think, Pair, Share” process for metacognition).
After reading Act I of the play and seeing several scenes from
the film, you now know a lot about both the Capulet and the Montague
Respond to the following questions:
1. Based on the play, how do you know that the Capulets and the
Montagues are wealthy? Give some examples from the text to support
2. Based on the film, how do you know that the Capulets and the
Montagues are wealthy? Give some examples to support your answer.
3. How would the story be different if they were not wealthy? How
does family wealth change the outcome of a person?s life?
4. How do you think the wealth of these two families affects the
ways that the parents and Romeo and Juliet interact and treat one
Here are some of the responses from student writing/discussion:
In response to evidence of wealth from the text, many students noticed
these characteristics that they associate with socio/economic status:
- The two families had servants.
- Characters were called ?Lord and Lady.?
- The way the characters spoke,
- The description of the Capulet?s party.
- The two families had such hostility between them that it must
be over money.
In response to evidence of wealth from the film, they had more
- The limousines, the fancy weapons (?with their names engraved
on them?), The clothing that the characters wear,
- The two tall buildings with the family names on top of them (in
the new version of the film),
- The Capulet mansion at the party.
The third question had some interesting responses, too. When
asked about how wealth changes the story, or changes a person’s
life, they came up with the following responses:
- The story would not have happened if they weren’t wealthy,
because parents wouldn’t be as concerned about who their children
were marrying, they would just want their children to be happy.
- And finally, Prince Escalus probably let them go, giving them
another warning after their street brawls, because they were wealthy.
From here, it is interesting to explore some of the assumptions
about wealth and influence and how the film reinforces Western values
and beliefs about money, power, and its connection to social status.
One can assess the kinds of observations and understanding that
students have about the text’s context, characters, plot,
and culture from their responses.
One can learn more about his/her students’ conceptualizations
of socio/economic differences at this time in their lives.
One can learn more about his/her students’ values and beliefs
surrounding these aspects of contemporary culture as well as students’
views of the text’s cultural perspective.
Jessica Dockter and Rachel Godlewski
We like the idea of having students first analyze their own stereotypes
of certain groups, and then asking them to analyze where their own
assumptions may have come from. For example, you could ask students
to list adjectives to describe athletes. Strong, determined, competitive,
etc. Then, you could have students place their words into gendered
categories -- are some words used more often to describe men or
women? An interesting discussion could follow about why adjectives
to describe athletes are particularly male words. Then, you could
have the students look at ads that feature male and female athletes.
Ask: How do they differ? How are they similar? Do you find gendered
words (again, list the adjectives)? How do these words help sell
athletic products? What assumptions do the ads rely upon? What representations
are left out (can you be feminine and an athlete)? Which ads go
against stereotypes to sell their products -- like the Just Do It
ads for women.
It might also be interesting to look at where the ads are coming
from (which magazines have more stereotypical ads and which have
more ads going against the gendered view of athletes). Students
could discuss how the intended audience helps to perpetuate or change
the stereotypes. (It's possible that sports magazines marketed for
women would either try to encourage women to adopt adjectives that
have generally been used for men, or would challenge the stereotypes.)
Finally, students could create their own athletic ads based on
the ideas discussed. Their ads may include those representations
that have been overlooked or may go against the stereotypes perpetuated
in the ads shared in class.
My idea relates to the film October Sky, which I show
to my classes in the unit where we study archetypes. I’m interested
in having students look at the “master narrative” for
children in the film, who live in a coal mining town and the “master
narrative” that other children follow—that of progress
and working hard to get to college to be whatever they want to be.
Before watching the film I would like students to brainstorm
their own master narratives: what life plans are generally laid
out for them and how those plans will become real (that is, what
resources are at their or their parents? disposal that allow those
plans to be realized). We’ll also discuss the freedom they
feel they may or may not have to work against those plans—in
other words, can they reject the master narrative? Why would they
want to? Why wouldn’t they? Why would they be able to? Why
Next we’ll watch the film. I’ll assign each student
to try to define the master narrative for students in the town of
Coalwood and assign different pairs to watch for how particular
students follow or reject the master narrative, using the same questions
we discussed for the students themselves. We will discuss the findings
of each pair after the film.
My goal is not to show students how much harder these children of
blue collar workers have it than my students do, who are generally
middle class offspring of white collar workers. I want students
to recognize how hard it is for anyone to reject the master narrative
that society writes for them and to identify what allowed these
children (who didn’t have financial resources) to do so.
Meghan Scott and Megan Dwyer-Gaffey
Teaching Media Representations of Sexual Orientation
We would do a unit on “The Other” in our society, which
includes racial, religious, gender, and sexual preference minorities.
During the portion on sexual preference, we will begin by discussing
stereotypes of GLBT and straight people. We will talk about how
language constructs the different stereotypes and how they inform
our ideas about what sexual orientation is.
We will show different advertising and media examples of these
stereotypes, then ask the students to bring in clips of TV shows
or movies that portray the stereotypes or challenges to the stereotypes
that we have been learning about, and we will discuss each clip.
My class would do a session on Media Representations of Gender,
specifically the advertising that affects high school youth. I would
show various video clips from Killing Us Softly (1,2,3) which mainly
show modern female representations in comparison to male representations.
An activity that I would like my class to do is compare these differing
gender representations for their ages. They could use clips from
tv shows or movies to make an Imovie/slideshow; or they could cut
out clips of advertisements in youth centered magazines: YM, Seventeen,
Teen, Teen People. In a collage they could show the different aspects
that men and women hold in advertising. They could make their own
decision on the representation of gender in these advertisements.
By combining only the media's representation of gender, students
could see what the media is trying to make them feel and how they
should react to that with their own thoughts.
Amy Gustafson and Kathy Connors
We think that in studying media representations of social worlds,
focusing on the family could give way to many different activities.
WE believe that it would be beneficial to bring in many different
representations of "the family" in order to see how the
family is represented across time. These texts could include episodes
of television shows such as All in the Family, The Simpsons,
Married with Children, Little House on the Prairie, The Donna Reed
Show, The Dick Van Dyke sShow, The Munsters, etc. You could
also bring in photographs of the family in order to see how each
member is positioned in the photograph.
After viewing these different texts, it would be valuable to
discuss the representations of family across time. Have the representations
changed? If so, how? Are they truly different or has little progress
After viewing these different texts, it would be valuable to
discuss the representations of family across time. Have the representations
changed? If so, how? Are they truly different or has little progress
One activity that could add onto this discussion is to have your
students make a representation of their family. They could use cutouts
of different television show characters to portray each family member.
They could bring in actual photographs of their family and write
descriptions of each of the family members. They could discuss how
the roles of their family members change when they find themselves
in different situations.
Katrina Thomson and Jennie Viland
Magazine ads provide a great opportunity for students to critically
analyze media representations. In our activity, we would provide
students with a range of magazine ads, some specifically targeted
at males, and some at female audiences. As much as possible, we
would choose ads that are for similar products, and have students
look at how products are represented for their different audiences.
For example, how are cars sold differently to women vs. men? What
assumptions do these ads make about their audiences and how do they
position the reader to respond to the message? How do these ads
contribute to the construction of the target audience's beliefs
and attitudes towards their "need" or desire for these
products? As a final exercise, have students individually, or in
pairs, manipulate the language or approach in their ad to "sell"
the same product to an audience of the opposite sex from that intended
in the original.
Kari Gladen and Katie Schultz
We would divide the class into groups of 3-4 and have them look
at how they (teenagers) are represented in the different types of
media: TV, movies, music, magazines, etc. Each group would then
choose one media type to focus on and work to produce a critical
media analysis "station" presenting their findings. These
stations would be viewed by their classmates in a poster session.
After viewing all of the stations, we could, as a class or in small
groups, discuss what these representations mean to them and to the
formation of their identity.
Kimberly Sy and Tammy McCartney
After studying different representations of different groups
of people or phenomena (women, men, adolescents), students might
further their inquiry by finding out where certain representations
are most prevalent. In other words, students can examine which audiences
tend to see which representations.
1. Pick a group (ex-women) and list some common representations
portrayed in the media (ex-homemaker, sexual object).
2. Choose several magazines intended for different audiences (Good
Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, The Atlantic Monthly).
3. Have students leaf through the magazine and keep a running tally
of how many times the group is represented in each of the ways.
4. Discuss why certain audiences are targeted through showing them
in terms of predominantly one image of a group.
5. Choose another group and go through the same magazines. What
is the effect of a combination of certain representations for a
variety of groups? (For example, women portrayed provocatively while
men are portrayed dominantly)
Jodi Laframboise and Lindsay Kroog
Teaching critical analysis as a unit, I am thinking of breaking
it down into different mini-lessons. One lesson might feature on-line
advertisements. The culminating activity, once having exposed the
students to the purpose and reason of being critical thinkers of
media, would have students create PowerPoint/Keynote presentations
featuring 5 ad's they have selected having strong messages. The
students would identify what type of discourse/message is present,
adding their personal opinion regarding the ad's effectiveness.
This could extend to magazine, television, and newspaper advertisements,
not to mention television shows and movies.
Dixie Boschee and Anne Holmgren
Students work in teams. Each team selects a media representation
they want to investigate (e.g., race, teens, class, gender, occupations,
families, mothers, fathers, etc.). Each group will need to determine
how this type is portrayed in the following formats: (2) films,
(2) television shows, (2) television or radio commercials, (3 total)
magazines, newspapers, web sites or books, and (1) song/music video.
The teams then need to determine how accurate the representations
are and who/what are un-represented in them. They can convey this
information in a formal essay or through a PowerPoint presentation.
Mary Hagen and Beth O’Hara
An idea for incorporating film study into the language arts classroom
would be to extend the concept of characterization through the use
of film or television. Students already are able to identify five
basic elements to characterization such as what the character looks
like, what they say and how they say it, what others think of them,
how they act, and what they like and dislike. Characterization could
be extended by the use of film clips to study how characters are
portrayed using such elements as sound, color, light, and positioning.
After careful class examination students could bring in short 3-5
min. clips to share with the class. Also an option would be to pass
out stereo type characters on index cards to small groups and have
them find characters from different TV shows and movies that portray
these types of characters and identify how the lighting, color,
positioning, and sound adds to our impressions of their character
and the differences between them.
Here's a teaching activity that I still remember from my freshman
English composition class at Winona State University. I'm sharing
as I find it an interesting example of integrating media studies
with language arts/writing studies.
As I recall, the assignment was pretty straightforward: pick
any advertisement out of a magazine and then write a five-page paper
analyzing the ad. Now, the instructor's main objective was to assess
and teach writing, but I still remember some of the comments she
wrote regarding the thoughts I had expressed in my analysis. (I
had chosen an add from an airline company romanticizing travel and
the notion of "going back home" to get in touch with your
roots.) Also easy for instructor to get a sense of which students
had developed "voice" in their writing as assignment involved
expressing opinions about media messages.