Review by Vanessa Aranda, Common Sense Education | Updated August 2018

Critical Media Project

Relevant media clips get students examining identity, culture

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • English Language Arts

Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Character & SEL
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
3–12
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Pros: The curated, high-interest, and identity-focused clips makes media literacy relevant and personal.

Cons: The basic lesson plans mean teachers must take the time to build an effectively scaffolded, differentiated, and tailored lesson.

Bottom Line: Teachers will need to take time to build effective lessons, but if they do, this is a useful, relevant, high-interest resource for deconstructing identity and building critical thinking and empathy skills.

For teachers who want to tackle media and cultural studies, the Critical Media Project offers a wide selection of ready-to-use and school-appropriate media clips and discussion questions, filtered by topic (age, race and ethnicity, religion, gender, LGBTQ, ability). With a bit of digging, teachers will find ready-to-go quick-writes as well as discussion openers or closers. To get started: Don't skip the intro. The home page introduces the basic philosophy guiding the site, with a link to video clips and thoughtful writings on identity and media. It'll be tempting to dive straight to the lesson plans and categories, but these introductory video clips will help students identify with the site's media, stories, and central cause. They'll also learn that the Critical Media Project is more than another media catalogue.

While the Critical Media Project -- and its lessons -- would best suit teachers whose curriculum dives deep into textual analysis and media, the DIY activities offer options for those not wanting to take too much of a detour. These activities are short and sweet ways to infuse any subject or lesson with critical thinking about identity. For teachers who regularly assign video group projects, the "who's who" activity gets students thinking about casting decisions and stereotypes. The "your turn" activity asks students to select a piece of media and create a list of critical questions that'll get viewers considering the media more deeply. This could easily be applied to just about any classroom's textbook; task students with selecting an image from the textbook and then creating critical questions for their classmates. Students can then share their images and questions on a class website, or in a classroom setting with a gallery walk. The "two sides of the fence" activity gets students to consider pre-selected viewpoints and then move to one side of the classroom or the other depending on their response. This can be used to spark discussion about ethical dilemmas, or for science classes evaluating the impacts of experiments and theories. 

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The Critical Media Project is a website by the University of Southern California that encourages media literacy education, specifically around issues of culture and identity. The website hosts video clips and images from popular media alongside discussion questions, lessons, and extension activities.

The site is primarily focused on the media clips and images, which are organized by topic: race & ethnicity, age, class, ability, gender, LGBTQ, and religion. Each topic includes a bunch of media clips, and they repeat in multiple categories, which nicely demonstrates how these topics are interwined. Generalized, basic lesson plans accompany each topic as well as a thoughtful summary and discussion questions. Beyond the media library, there's a Learn and Do section offering opportunities and activities for further learning. There's a glossary of important terms, links specific to each topic, and interactive activities to supplement lessons.

While the next Common Core assessment may not ask students to deconstruct ABC's sitcom Modern Family, those kinds of discussions, and the thinking they develop, are increasingly valuable. Students absorb info from media around the clock, whether at home, on social media, or in the classroom. Media shape our culture, and students need to approach media more critically by digging into questions of authorship, intent, and representation. Unfortunately, it can be tough to track down appropriate media for media literacy study. The Critical Media Project solves this problem, collecting a library of high-interest clips and providing easy conversation starters that'll get students practicing media literacy skills.

While the Critical Media Project's topics (e.g., race and ethnicity or religion) appear best aligned with non-core classes like psychology or sociology, ELA classes will also benefit from expanding beyond traditional literary analysis. Of course, social studies classes will find the resources useful as well, and can easily adapt the DIY activities (from the Learn and Do section) to modify existing lessons on history, historical figures, and culture. 

There's room for the Critical Media Project to grow, however. The lesson plans are basic and meant more as templates. It'd be nice to have some featured media and lesson plans for teachers new to media literacy. Moreover, English learner and special needs teachers might need to further scaffold media content and discussion questions; there's no closed-captioning or differentiation options offered. Finally, there are some content gaps. Adding more media as well as more subcategories could be helpful. For instance, adding a language or immigration subcategory (as well as media that address these issues) could help teachers more easily locate media clips that connect with some concerns of their English learners.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Timely and relevant media familiar to teens will engage them in analysis. Discussion questions embed their opinions and experiences. Video clips are just long enough to communicate content without losing attention.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

The media clips and sociocultural analysis build critical thinking and cultural awareness. A wide selection of clips and images alongside open-ended lesson plans allows teachers to customize for their classrooms.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

There are lots of extension opportunities, like additional links, glossaries, and activities. There's no live-chat or support section, but teachers can contact the Critical Media Project. Videos lack closed-captioning.


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