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Lesson Plans

Lesson plan: What's in the frame? How media literacy helps students watch and dissect the news

June 29, 2022

Overview

For a Google version of this lesson plan, click here. (Note: you will need to make a copy of the document to edit it.)

In this lesson, students will be introduced to the media literacy concept of “framing” of a photograph or a video. They will learn how editorial decisions and viewer awareness can be shaped by what is inside and what is left outside of a frame. Students will begin to comprehend the broader meanings behind “framing” a topic or story, and how framing can contribute to misunderstanding, misinformation or reflect the bias of media creators, even when no false information is presented.

Objectives

  1. Students will be introduced to the idea of how a frame defines viewer understanding of a story.
  2. Students will create their own hands-on stories through framing their own images or scenes.
  3. Students will evaluate their levels of awareness before and after viewing the video provided. 

Subjects

Social studies, ELA, English, journalism, film, media literacy

Estimated Time

One 50-minute class period

Full Lesson

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Introduction

At a time of heightened misinformation, media literacy provides students with the tools to ask questions and think critically about the news. By examining questions like ‘what’s in the frame?’ students will gain greater clarity in how the story was created, and, as a result, feel more engaged and less overwhelmed by the news, according to a report by Common Sense Media.

Warm-up activity

  • Have students get out notebooks to write down what they think when they hear about the ways stories are “framed.” What is a frame used for? Encourage students to share their own experiences with any type of “framing.” 
  • Discuss responses as a class.

Main activity

Part one

  • Tell the students to hold up their hands and look through their fingers like it is a camera viewfinder. 
  • Have them look close and look far with their fingers framing the subject. Have them choose one image in their “viewfinder” from the classroom that represents to them what the class is about.
  • Next, have students hold up their index finger in front of their face and then have them focus on their finger. What happens to the background? It goes out of focus. Then focus on the background, what happens to the finger? It goes out of focus.
  • If desired, have students write in their notebooks about what they discover. Share ideas briefly as a whole group or class. 

Answer the following questions (or create online survey):

  • What is a frame?
  • What does including material inside VS outside a frame do to our understanding of a story?
  • How does the focus within the frame also help us understand the story?

Part two

Share this video

You may play it twice or as often as needed. (Running time: 2 minutes)

Discuss the following questions: 

  1. What are the students’ first reactions? 
  2. How do different shots or frames from the video change the emotional impact of the story being presented? 
  3. What do they understand about how framing works that they didn’t think about before watching the video?
  4. Can any participants think of times in their own lives where changing the framing altered their understanding of what was happening?

Use this time to create connections, clarity and build curiosity. Then, move onto the activity.

Part three

Now that students are informed about the concept of framing, have them complete one of the following activities that best suits your learning environment. They are ordered here by challenge level depending on student level and time availability. Please feel free to adjust the activity to suit your learning environment.

  1. Cut out images from magazines including people and objects. Using these “characters” and “settings” arrange pictures that tell a story within a 4 x 3 in frame. Write down what is happening in the image (or have another student interpret the image), then rearrange the cutouts to tell a new story in the same frame. 
  2. Have students find online images and use their editing tools to create the differing stories through framing.
  3. Have students write a story on construction paper with sharpies and cut out the individual sentences and rearrange them to make different meanings by changing the order – or leaving some of the sentences out. This activity can be taped to a wall or other large surface so students can all see and participate. This activity can also be done on their devices if necessary.
  4. Have students create, write or brainstorm a short scene and videotape it, including surprising context revealed by shifting the frame at the end. (For example, watch the video at the 2m:00s mark for a closeup of someone crying then zoom out to show they are cutting onions.)

Extension activity

Learn more in “News Framing Theory and Research” by David Tewksbury, Dietram A. Scheufele.


Andrea DeGette is a full-time teacher, award-winning filmmaker and mother of three children, all of which connect to her passion for media literacy in education. DeGette graduated from NYU Film School and Duke University, MA. She has lived and taught in historic Hillsborough, North Carolina, since 1994, and works continuously to bring media literacy to students both locally and globally.

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