Media Literacy

From Vote Democracy! collection, lesson plan 7 of 7

(90-120 minutes + assignments)

Grade level: 9-12, College

Subject areas: Government, Political Science, Social Studies, Current Events, Language Arts, Debate, Sociology

Purpose of the lesson: This lesson provides students with an opportunity to critically view and analyze media and the ways images are constructed. Students will hear from the filmmaker himself about his intention behind the film and be able to look at whether or not he was able to achieve his goals. Students will also practice their speaking and presentation skills.


Students will:

  • analyze and critically view film as text
  • discuss in groups and as a class
  • exercise collaborative group skills
  • practice media literacy analysis
  • develop own media products


Stating and supporting opinions in class discussion and in writing with evidence, critical reading and viewing, note taking, speaking and oral presentation skills


  • Board or overhead projector
  • chart paper
  • Chicago 10 “The Convention” Film Module
  • Chicago 10 “The Trial” Film Module
  • Chicago 10 Discussion Guide

National Teaching Standards Addressed:

Grades 9-12

National standards from the following organizations were used in developing this lesson plan. See Recommended National Standards available in the educator guide for full descriptions of standards employed.

  • National Council for the Social Studies
  • National Council of Teachers of English/International Reading Association

Writer: David Maduli

David Maduli is an independent educational consultant who has contributed many curriculum guides and conducted various workshops for PBS programs. He has a master’s in teaching and curriculum from Harvard Graduate School of Education and continues to work as a veteran Bay Area public school language arts and social studies teacher.

  1. Have students make their own list of five types of media they regularly interact with. Call on students to share from their list and create a class mind map on the board or overhead. Then, discuss and co-construct a list of the techniques that each type of media uses (for example, magazines use color, images, text and placement on the page).

  2. Have students read and discuss seven “Key Concepts of Media Literacy” from the KQED Education Network Web site and the Temple University Media Education Lab’s What Is Media Literacy? to looking critically at documentary production.

  3. View Chicago 10 “The Convention” and “The Trial” Film Modules and have students respond using the following prompts:


    • Describe the modules in as much detail as possible. What did you see? What/who is represented? How?
    • What is this media text communicating in terms of message, key ideas and associations?
    • Do the images offer a visual argument? If so, explain.
    • Think about the filmmakers intention: Why do you think he made this documentary? Is his viewpoint represented? How?
    • How does the film represent different voices and viewpoints? Are you invited to identify with one viewpoint or are different perspectives represented equally?


    • How did the producer’s purpose shape the content of this program?
    • How is sound and language used in the film?
    • What effect does the music used in various scenes have on the viewer?
    • Why did the filmmaker choose to animate the courtroom scenes? What impact does this have?
    • What other devices are used to capture the attention of the viewer?
    • What techniques are used to enhance the authenticity or authority of the film?


    • Who is the intended audience? Is there one?
    • Why might different audiences respond differently to this film?
    • What factors shape the response of the audience?
    • Is the film controversial in any way? Why?
  4. Filmmaker Brett Morgen came up with the vision and intention that drives this film. Have students view the Citizens Summits interview with Morgen.

    In the Chicago 10 Discussion Guide, Morgen explains his motivation: “My goal from the beginning has been to reintroduce this chapter of recent history to a new generation, for they are the ones who will hopefully benefit the most from this story.”

    Have students also read Morgen’s “From the Filmmaker” introduction from the Chicago 10 Discussion Guide.

    Discuss using the following prompts:

    • Was Morgen successful in achieving his vision?
    • How appealing is the film to his target audience—young people? What works and what doesn’t?
    • How would you make a historical/political film appeal to a young audience? What techniques, images, music, etc. would you use?
  5. Assignment: Media Analysis & Creation

    Have students look at a variety of campaign media from a recent election: posters, cartoons, speeches, commercials/ads, slogans and song lyrics. They will use the media literacy questions from steps 2 & 3 to write an analysis paper on the target audience, techniques and the effectiveness of the media. Have each student select one media example of a message they oppose from the campaign. They should then select a form of media that they would like to use to create their own response. It can be an article, poster, short film, blog/vlog, song, cartoon or other media. Each student will then publish their creation online to [Youth Media Exchange] (, or a teacher-created classroom blog.

  1. Invite a panel of guest speakers to come into the classroom to address student questions and comments about documentary filmmaking and media making. Include artists, journalists, filmmakers, writers, bloggers, etc. Have students prepare questions for the panel in advance. Follow up in class by discussing what insights students gained from each of the panelists. See Teacher Handout A: Guidelines for Convening a Community Forum.

  2. Select one of the other film modules (Please Vote for Me, Iron Ladies of Liberia, An Unreasonable Man) from the Vote Democracy! Community Classroom collection for the students to view and ask them to analyze it using the media literacy framework. Research interviews with the filmmakers to find out more about their intentions behind making the film.

  3. Ask students to research news coverage of recent protests and rallies, especially around the 2008 political conventions. Ask students the question: How are they portrayed in the media?

  4. Request that students generate a list of characters from the film. Ask them to include minor characters (police men, national guardsmen, U.S. Marshals) as well as the principal ones. Assign each student a character and ask them to research how the character would have reacted to the situation and then show the research they found that supports that notion. Hold an open forum where students assume the role of the characters using props, nameplates, costumes and similar items. Have students answer these prompts in character:

    • Did the groups have the right to protest?
    • Were their rights violated?
    • Were they right in their decision to continue to march, even though a permit had not been granted?
    • Take a position and discuss the situation that unfolded in the courtroom with Bobby Seale.
    • Defend/don’t defend the final decision of the court. Have the students generate a paper wherein they describe what they learned from the role playing scenario.
  • Film module:
    Chicago 10: The Convention
  • Film module:
    Chicago 10: The Trial
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