Media Literacy

By Frank Baker



Welcome to the first of my regular columns on media literacy. By now, hopefully, you already know what ‘media literacy’ means. What you may not know are ways in which you can help your students (and teachers) become more media literate.  Media literacy is also embedded in the Ohio Academic Learning Standards for Art, English Language Arts, Social Studies and Health.

In this column, I hope to provide you with ideas and resources.  Let me know what you think. I am always anxious to hear from educators who, like me, believe media literacy is just another way of engaging our students in learning for the 21st century.  I also hope to see many of you at my workshops during the Fall OELMA conference in Columbus!



If you are new to media literacy you may wish to start with photography. Most students have been photographed, others will already be proficient with digital images. Whatever their experience level, photography is a favorite. What many of us don’t appreciate is that there is a language to photography. (See “Reading Photographs” at The person taking the picture decides how to frame the subject, where to stand, whether to zoom in.  The person processing or producing the image has various tools in which to crop it or otherwise alter it.


Here is a recommendation: ask your students to bring in a favorite photograph, or you can choose photos from a favorite book. Some of my favorite books are the LIFE magazine series and the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph series. (Your school library media collection may already include these books) Before having your students analyze their photographs, you should have a discussion about the camera: how does it work, which buttons can be manipulated, how are images produced. Older students can discuss the differences between film and digital formats.  (If possible, you might want to acquire simple “point and shoot” cameras with fixed lens and have your students create their own photographs for later analysis).


You might also want to showcase (for example on a bulletin board) photos from the morning’s newspaper or from magazines. There are plenty of examples of close-ups, wide shots, low and high angles. Next you might want to introduce a series of questions for your students to use for their deconstruction and analysis.  The following questions are derived from the teacher guide to Literacy Through Photography and are posted on my website:



                           -What is happening in the picture?  
                           -How is the person feeling?
                           -What is in the background?    
                           -What do the people’s expressions reveal?
                           -What do you know about the picture;
                             what don’t you know; what would you like to know?

Using the questions as a handout, students can work individually or in groups discussing their photos. They can share their answers in class or as part of a writing assignment. Older students can be introduced to the “digital manipulation of images” and the ethical consequences of such images in the media.  Examples of altered images can be found on my web page “Is Seeing Believing?”  For more background on the language of photography, see this specially produced webpage I designed for the South Carolina State Department of Education at:     (Photography/Visual Literacy)

PS  Don’t forget: students love to see their media work on display. If you, or your teachers decide to conduct any of these activities, please consider how you can show off their media projects. 




About the author:

Frank Baker is a media education consultant having conducted workshops with teachers, students, and parents and at national, regional and local curriculum conferences. A University of Georgia journalism graduate, he worked in television news for 9 years (1977-1985). He worked for 11 years (1985-1996) at an instructional television/distance education administrator for the Orange County (Orlando FL) Public School System. While there he conducted workshops for teachers around media literacy. In 1999, his study of state teaching standards which include media literacy was published by Education Week. As president of the Partnership for Media Education, he chaired the National Media Education Conference in St. Paul MN in 1999. He currently serves on the NCTE's Commission on Media. He maintains the Media Literacy Clearinghouse web page, cited in the text "101 Best Web Sites for Secondary Schools." (