Standard Lesson

Media Literacy: Examining the World of Television Teens

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 60-minute sessions
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Students are immersed in popular culture. As educators, we have an opportunity to engage them in literacy activities that make use of this fun and engaging resource. In this lesson, students develop media literacy skills as they explore and analyze an episode of a popular television series. Possible shows include Zoe 101, The Secret Life of the American Teenager,or any of the High School Musical movies. Students reflect on characters, motivations, problems, and solutions as they view and interpret media. They then propose a new television series that more realistically portrays teenagers.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Using the Internet as a learning resource can be highly motivating for developing literacy learners.

  • There is no one best way to incorporate computers into the literacy classroom. Instead, teachers should use computers to enhance their instructional goals.

  • Computer use is about discovery of the ways language works and what students can do with language as they pursue both intellectual and social goals.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Computers with Internet access

  • One classroom computer with a projection screen (optional)

  • One taped episode of a television program popular with students on a VHS tape or DVD

  • Television and VCR or DVD player





The goal of this lesson is to help students increase their awareness of media, and become critical, reflective, and active viewers and producers of media. These skills emerge as students increase their awareness of how and why media is made, how different viewpoints and perspectives are portrayed, and how character, plot, and motivation are developed in the various media programs they view.

In this lesson, students have the opportunity to analyze why certain television shows are more popular with teenagers than others. With these observations in mind, students create their own idea for a show. This is an important part of the lesson because responding to media and becoming active "readers" and producers of media are essential parts of developing media literacy skills.

1. Informally chat with a few of your students about what their favorite television shows are. This will give you an idea of what programs they will indicate as their favorites when you conduct the class-wide survey. Familiarize yourself with the characters and general story lines of these shows by watching them or visiting their websites. Once your class votes on the most popular show, you will have to record one episode for students to view in class during Session 2.

2. Identify, preview, and bookmark websites about the television shows on the computers your students will be using. Remember that it is critically important to give students time to explore the websites independently and without any prescribed direction. Give students the opportunity to discover and learn in ways that may not be apparent to you. Computer learning is often about discovery.

3. If you are not familiar with the online Literary Elements Map, you may want to complete one prior to working on it with your students in Session 2. Add this tool to the Favorites on the computers your students will be using and make sure that it is working properly on all computers. If you experience difficulty, make sure that computers have the most recent version of the Flash plug-in, which can be downloaded for free from the ReadWriteThink Site Tools page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Reflect on and analyze current media by identifying the three most popular television shows for teenagers and explaining the reasons why these shows are so popular

  • Analyze and compare how characters are portrayed in different forms of media (i.e., books, television shows, and movies) by responding to a writing prompt that elicits personal connections to characters

  • Demonstrate growth in verbal expression as they clearly and succinctly share ideas with group members and the class

  • Demonstrate an understanding of characters, motivations, problems, and solutions by participating in Media Response Groups

  • Organize story information by constructing a story map

  • Synthesize information learned during the lesson by proposing a new television show that provides a more realistic portrayal of teenagers today

Session 1

The goal of this activity is to help students make connections between what media is popular with teenagers and why it is popular.

1. Provide your students with the following activity prompt: List your three favorite television shows where teenagers are the major characters. Next to each show, write the reason why you think this show is one of the best.

2. Ask for volunteers to share their responses with the class. Have a student volunteer keep a tally of the most popular shows on the board. Have a second student volunteer record some of the reasons why students like the shows they selected.

3. Facilitate a class discussion about what makes a television show popular. This will help students to analyze how and why producers of media make the decisions that they do. First, identify the top three most popular teenager shows in your class. Then instruct students to compare the reasons why these shows are popular.
  • Are any of their reasons similar?

  • Are there certain corresponding elements that make a show popular?

  • Are there any reasons that are unique to one particular show? What makes this show different?
4. Using the list you have on display, instruct students to respond to a second prompt: Choose a character from a show on our list. Now, thinking about the people in your own life, describe who this character reminds you of. It could be a friend, a relative, or even yourself! Why do you think you connect with this character?

The connection may be because they understand and empathize with the challenges the character faces. Each student's response will be unique.

5. Invite students to share their responses by describing the characters they connect with. Continue the class discussion to help students analyze and compare how characters are portrayed in different shows. Discuss the following questions with students:
  • What were the similarities and differences among the kinds of connections you made to these characters?

  • Which characters tended to be most interesting?

  • Which characters tended to be most complicated?

  • Which characters tended to be most realistic?
Note: This class discussion is intended to help students reflect on characterization on television's most popular shows. You can expect a wide range of responses. The goals of the discussion are to help students explore what makes a person connect to a character and how TV producers make decisions when they create programs for teenagers.

Session 2

The goals of this session are for students to view and interpret television media and analyze the characters, motivations, problems, and resolutions through the completion of a story map.

1. Remind students of the survey that took place during Session 1. As a class, review what show was selected as most popular in your class. Then, browse the Wikipedia site associated with that TV program.

Note: Before the class begins exploring the Wikipedia site associated with the TV program, you should engage students in a discussion about the nature of wikis and who writes them.

Conduct an informal survey asking the class what websites they use to "find things out." Continue by asking students if they have ever used Wikipedia for research. Then ask students who they think writes the entries for a site like this. This will segue nicely into a conversation about the legitimacy of sources and their authors. After this, students should begin to develop a sense of awareness about what sources they can and should use for research.

After they have used the site, ask students if they think it was useful, legitimate, and accurate. Be sure that students share the reasons why they think this. They should refer to the site directly in this class discussion. After all, they already know about the show you are analyzing. They are the experts on TV teens! Don't be afraid to remind them of their status. Finally, ask the students to describe who they think the author of the Wikipedia entry might be. Ask them if they think the author of the content is a fan of the show. Why or why not?

2. Invite your students to explore the official network website for the television show they have selected; it should provide background information about the actors, photographs, character descriptions, and interactive technologies. Give students time to explore on their own (see Preparation, Step 2).

3. As a class, view an episode of the TV show your class selected.

4. Access the Literary Elements Map tool on your classroom computer and display it on a projection screen. Have students work together to create a story map that outlines the main character, conflict, resolution, and setting of the episode.

Alternately, and particularly if you do not have the computer projection equipment available, you may wish to have students work in small groups to complete the story map. If additional time is needed, students can complete the story map as homework or at the beginning of Session 3.

Session 3

In this session students interpret media by discussing varied aspects of the television program in Media Response Groups. Students also demonstrate growth in verbal expression as they communicate with one another in small groups and as a whole class.

1. Divide the class into small groups of four to five students each. You can decide, based on your students, whether to make the groups hetero- or homogeneous. The purpose of these Media Response Groups is to provide a forum in which students can share, record, reflect, and refine their thoughts and ideas.

2. Provide students with a copy of the What a Character! handout and ask them to complete it. Each student should complete the handout individually.

3. Provide time for students to share and discuss their responses in their Media Response Groups.

4. Facilitate small-group discussions by circulating and asking students to clarify and extend their responses. For example, you might ask a student, "In what other ways might you respond to the events in this episode?" Help them make connections between their experiences and those of the characters in the program your class viewed.

5. Conduct a whole-class discussion by having students share their personal responses and also the discussions they had in their Media Response Groups.

Session 4

In this activity students have an opportunity to create a response to the television episode they viewed in class during Session 2.

1. Tell students that an important part of analyzing media involves challenging what they see. The goal of this activity is for students to apply what they have learned about analyzing media by proposing a new television show.

2. Have students get into their Media Response Groups to review what they have learned from analyzing the television show. Give each group the following imaginary scenario:
Melanie Gloss, a famous Hollywood television producer, is coming to visit local schools across America. Her goal is to talk to teenagers about their experiences, and enlist their help in creating a new television series. You will have five minutes to make a pitch to Ms. Gloss and describe your ideas for a new television series. You must describe characters, setting, and a sample plot. Be sure to think about what makes a television show popular and why teenagers like you connect to specific characters in the shows you enjoy.
3. Provide each student with the My Idea for a TV Show handout to use as a guide in their planning. Inform students that they will be presenting their TV show ideas to the class in Session 5.

4. Work together as a class to create a rubric for how the presentations will be assessed. You can use the following questions as criteria:
  • Is the program clearly explained?

  • Will the program appeal to the target audience?

  • Are the main characters believable?

  • Did you make a convincing argument as to why your program should be chosen?

Session 5

Provide time for each group to present its work to the class. As a class, vote on which presentation best captures the experiences of teenagers today. Use the criteria developed in Session 4 as a basis for the class vote. Invite students to also share their own reasons to support their choices for the best TV show presentation.


  • Have students create a class collection of television shows entitled, "The Best & the Worst Portrayals of Teenagers in Media."

  • As a class, conduct Internet research to learn more about media literacy. The following websites are good sources of information:
  • Conduct the following lessons to reinforce students' media literacy skills:

Student Assessment / Reflections

The purpose of this assessment is for students to apply what they have learned in this lesson to another television program.

Ask students to create a class list of questions that can be used when viewing media entitled, Being a Media Savvy Viewer. Sample questions that students might choose to include on their list are:

  • Were the characters and events in this show realistic? Why or why not?

  • Did the interactions among the characters resemble interactions in my own life? Provide a few examples to explain why or why not.

  • Did the characters on the show look like me? Explain why or why not.

  • How were families portrayed?

Then have students watch a television program and answer the questions at home with their families. After they have completed this task, ask students to evaluate the questions and responses, and refine their questions to create a new version of the Being a Media Savvy Viewer list. Share and post the list with others in the school.

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