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The Knotted Line

Evan Bissell, Author

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Media Analysis Basics

Download: Knotted Line Curriculum Guide

Foundational Understandings:

  • Media is “constructed.” Media messages are shaped by the ideologies and interests of the media makers. Their values and points of view are embedded within the media they make.
  • Media is a powerful tool for maintaining, changing, controlling, challenging, or expanding people’s understandings of the world around them. 
  • Media plays a key role in shaping the way identities such as gender, race, class, and sexuality are formed and enacted in society.

Essential Questions: 

  • Why does it matter who creates media?
  • How can you decode media?
  • How might different people understand this message differently from me?
  • How does media affect our ideas of ourselves and the world around us? 


Participants will…
...develop a deeper understanding of the role and purpose of media in society. their media literacy—the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms.
...think critically about the concepts of frame and ideology and how they shape media.

Facilitator Preparation

Core Standards

    Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
    Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
    Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
    Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information
    Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.


Length of Time:  Two 55-minute sessions
Recommended Age Range: 14-23
Ideal Number of Participants: 15-30

Materials Needed:

Session 1

1. Write up the instructions for the Making Our Own Message activity on a board or flipchart paper to have on hand.

Part 1: Personal Connection & Reflection, Developing the Reason to Learn

Defining Media

10 minutes
Facilitator begins by asking people to define MEDIA:
What is media? 
What are different forms of media we interact with in our daily lives? 
(examples: television, radio, magazines, blogs, websites, billboards, newspapers, movies, books)

After accumulating a thorough list, the facilitator asks the group:
Do you think media is powerful or important in our society? Why?
Does it matter who creates media? Why?

After hearing from a few participants, if helpful, the facilitator can share something along these lines:
Media is a powerful tool for shaping, maintaining, and/or changing the way people think about society—it can control or expand what we know and how we think about ourselves and others. 
Thus it is important for us to be able to analyze media—to think critically about the messages it is sending and how it is presenting information about our world. 

Part 2: Develop the Concept, Move from the Personal to the Theoretical

Media Framing

25 minutes
Facilitator holds up/projects the Media Frame example and asks: 
What do we see within the frame?
What is the purpose of the frame? 

Facilitator shows the flip side of the media frame example and asks:
What does the frame do to the picture? 
To the meaning or message?

After gathering several responses from participants, the facilitator offers this:
All media has a frame. 
The FRAME defines what you are looking at, just as a literal frame would when placed 
around a picture.

Facilitator hands out Media Framing worksheet and then asks:
So if every piece of media is shaped by a FRAME, how do media makers choose what the FRAME is? Can someone please volunteer to read for us the 2nd paragraph on the handout—the part that begins with IDEOLOGY?

IDEOLOGY is a set of beliefs, ideas or values that come from the people creating the media. When it comes to media, IDEOLOGY frames the MESSAGE – it dictates what is included within the frame. It guides WHAT or WHO we include in the piece, and HOW issues are represented or presented.

What does this mean?
What are ideas or values that shape your ideology—the way you see things? 

Facilitator solicits ideas from participants, and if appropriate and helpful, offers:
Here are some ideologies that some people might be guided by: patriotism, religion, ideas about economics like the “free market,” views on sexuality or abortion, etc...

The handout next says:
The FRAME defines what you are looking at, just as a literal frame would when placed around a picture.

So the message is what is delivered to the consumer of the media—to you and me. 
Project image 18 of the Power Words Images.
Let’s look at this piece of media. 
What do you see? First just describe things that you see in the picture—don’t interpret the image, don’t share opinions about what’s going on yet—just tell me what you see. 
Facilitator note: For a more extensive version of this line of questioning, see Visual Thinking Strategies.

(Example ideal response: There are young children who seem to be in a school in a neat and orderly line with their hands on each other’s shoulders, they are smiling, they are shaking hands with a soldier, there is a person of some kind of authority—maybe a teacher—smiling and putting his hand on the first student’s head.)

After the image has been described, the facilitator moves the group on to the next stage of media analysis:
What story is this image telling us?
What is the message of this image? 

(Example ideal response: The American soldier is kind and interested in meeting the people of Iraq. The people of Iraq are happy to see the soldiers. It’s an organized and positive environment.)

After participants share their analysis of the image and its message, the facilitator asks the final question for this exercise:
Take a guess at the IDEOLOGY behind the making of this piece of media. What beliefs are behind this media—about the U.S., about the U.S. presence in Iraq, about the Middle East, about the military, etc…?

(Example ideal response: This image represents the US army as a benevolent presence in Iraq, one that is providing help and stability. It’s meant to humanize the soldiers and present a picture of calm and goodness. This media seemingly comes from a media maker who wants to represent the US army and occupation of Iraq in a positive light.)

What is left out of the frame? What would we see if we zoom out?

This activity is based on the Media Analysis handout in Global Action Project’s Curriculum.

Part 3: Active Experimentation with New Knowledge and Concepts

Making Our Own Messages

20 minutes
Participants each receive a blank piece of paper and markers/pens/colored pencils are made available.
Facilitator reads through the instructions for the next activity:

Step 1:
Think about an event or an ongoing issue that you think is important in the world today. Write this down.

Step 2: 
Below this, write notes on what you BELIEVE and THINK about this event or issue. Next, write what message you want to send people about this event/issue.

Step 3:
Think about how you can show this message in an image and capture it in a caption or news heading. Write down images and words that will get your message across.
What do people need to see in your opinion, to understand this issue/event the way you hope they do?

Step 4:
Flip over your paper and pretend you are creating the cover of a magazine about this issue/event that will get your message across. Sketch this out. (Stick figures are ok! Include a headline and label images that aren’t clear).

We will begin the next session by sharing these, so put your name on the notes side of your paper and hand them in before leaving.

Session 2

1. Print Power Words Images, Power Word list and Media & Power Words Worksheet

Analyzing Our Own Media

15 minutes
As participants enter the classroom, they receive back their own media papers. 
If anyone needs a few extra minutes to finish it up, they can do that while everyone is settling in. 
Facilitator gives the instructions to the whole group before dividing participants into pairs. 

You are going to get into pairs with someone who is sitting far away from you in the room. 
Once you are in pairs, making sure the image side of your paper is the one that’s up and visible, trade papers and DO NOT look at the notes side of the media paper your partner gave you. 
Once you’ve taken a good look at the media your partner made, take turns analyzing each other’s media. 
Decide together who will go first. 
Tell your partner what you think the message of their media is—what ideas you think they’re trying to get across.
Tell your partner what ideology or belief system you think might be framing this piece of media they made.
Then your partner can tell you what they had been thinking and you can flip the page over and look at their notes and see how effectively they got their message across. 

Media Analysis: Using the Power Words

20 minutes
Facilitator brings everyone’s attention back together and explains the next activity.
Each pair receives the Power Words Images packet, Media & Power Words Worksheet and Power Word list. 
Using the worksheet to guide them, pairs reflect on the media and draw from the Power Word List to analyze the message, the frame, and the ideology (see worksheet for instructions). 

Part 4: Integration of Concepts & Experience, Learners Representing New Knowledge in their Own Voice

Group Media Analysis

10 minutes
The facilitator brings the group back together to look at a couple of media images from the packet projected so all can see. 

Can someone show us one of media pieces they focused on? Which power words did you connect to it, and why?
What is the frame? The ideology?


10 minutes
So now we are all closer to being media analysts! We have looked at media and thought critically about how the frame shapes the media, and that the frame is shaped by the ideology of the media maker. 
How has this made you think differently about a piece of media in your life?

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