Key Civics and Government Concepts in the Book
This book connects key civics, government, and history concepts taught in K-12 schools with critical media literacy activities for exploring them as part of classroom learning. Each activity includes short written introductions followed by outlines for how students and teachers can complete the activities, individually or in small groups along with links to resources and materials.
Foundations of the United States Political System
The media literacy activities in this section explore modern-day social media policies and democratic principles, peoples’ right to Internet access and control, women as revolutionary technology innovators, media coverage of England’s royal family, and how Native Americans are portrayed in films and television. There is also a Foundations of the U.S. Political System Media Literacy digital choice board.
Social Media Policies and the Foundations of Athenian Democracy
The foundations of Athenian democracy include equality, harmony, debate, and general education, among others. Activities ask you to use these principles to evaluate how democratic are the community standards, online rules, and user policies found on today's social media platforms, and then write a social media policy for your class, school, or district that upholds the foundational features of democracy.
The Internet as a Public Utility
Who should provide Internet services to people: national, state, or local governments; private companies regulated by government agencies; private companies who engage in direct competition provide Internet? Activities here consider whether making the Internet a public utility would provide more access and more resources to more people at fair or no costs.
21st Century Women STEM Innovators
Women made society changing discoveries and advances during the Enlightenment and in every historical time period since then. Still, women's work in philosophy, science, and politics has been neglected or marginalized in history textbooks and curriculum frameworks; the most well-known STEM figures are men. Activities explore how influential women in STEM fields have been and are portrayed in the media and envision ways to encourage more girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
Media Coverage of Kings, Queens, and Royal Families
43 countries in the world today have a monarchy with kings, queens and royal families. Activities explore media coverage of and movies about the British and U.S. governments, specifically the British royal family and United States Presidents, along with how the media covered the country of Barbados' 21st century shift from a monarchy to democratic rule.
Representations of Native Americans in Films, Local History Publications, and School Mascots
Native American ideas about government and society influenced the development of United States government at the time of the American Revolution. The following activities consider how Native peoples have been represented in films, local historical publications, and school names and mascots and how those representations have shaped people's attitudes.
The Development of United States Government
The critical media literacy activities in this section connect to the seminal documents and events of the American Revolutionary Era, including the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitutional Convention, the debates between Federalists and Anti-Federalists, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. There is also a Critical Media Literacy digital choice on the development of American Government.
Declarations of Independence on Social Media
Imagine if all members of colonial society at the time of the American Revolution (women, African Americans, native peoples, and other groups) had access to modern social media platforms. Activities explore how they might have utilized social media to express their ideas and issues in order to gain support for their own groups' Declarations of Independence.
Media Marketing and Government Regulation of Self-Driving Cars and Electric Vehicles
Debates over the roles and powers of the federal versus state and local government have existed since the Articles of Confederation and the writing of the U.S. Constitution. Activities here investigate how auto manufacturers are marketing self-driving cars and electric vehicles and what local, state, and national governments should be doing to create safer driving for everyone.
Representations of and Racism Toward Black Americans in the Media
Racism toward Black Americans has been and continues to be a powerful, persistent, and pervasive feature of American culture and society. The following activities ask you to analyze media representation of, and social media use by, Black Americans, and then design media that affirm and celebrate Black lives and culture.
Political Debates Through Songs from Hamilton: An American Musical
Hamilton is one of most popular musicals of all time, combining political commentary and hip-hop, R&B, and pop music. It directly confronts the issue of slavery in American life and government. Activities explore how Hamilton portrays history and then write your own Hamilton-style lyrics about issues of importance.
Bill of Rights on Twitter
The Bill of Rights is an essential statement of everyone's rights in our democracy. Activities explore how you would have helped James Madison and the other members of Congress spread the word about the Bill of Rights on Twitter, and how you might continue to share information through social media today.
Institutions of United States Government
The media literacy activities in this section explore the branches of the government, the impeachment process, social media use by members of Congress, public opinion polls, and how political parties deliver the messages to voters. There is also a Critical Media Literacy digital choice board focusing on the institutions of American government.
Hollywood Movies About the Branches of Government
The branches of the U.S. government have been the focus of much-watched and highly influential Hollywood movies. In these activities, you will critically evaluate how political films portray the roles of each branch of the government and then design a movie trailer for your own political film.
Writing an Impeachment Press Release
Impeachment is the process of removing a public official from office for wrongdoing. In this activity, you will write an Impeachment Press Release for one of the Presidential Impeachments in U.S. History. You can write a statement from either the President who is being impeached, the Impeachment Managers from the House of Representatives who are presenting the case for or against the President, or both.
Members of Congress' Use of Social Media
Members of Congress use social media extensively to communicate with the public. Activities encourage a critical in-depth exploration of how members of congress use social media by analyzing the social media activities of selected senators or representatives and by exploring how social media is used in political campaigns.
Political Impacts of Public Opinion Polls
Public Opinion Polls have become an prominent feature of American politics. In the following activities, you will gain firsthand experience in conducting and reporting public opinion polls and then explore what happens when public opinion polls do not accurately or fully represent the opinions of the public.
Website Design for New Political Parties
In modern politics, any new political party needs a website to communicate with voters. A party website serves as a digital hub or home base for information, showcasing the party's logo, highlighting its policies, introducing its candidates, and raising funds to support its efforts. In this activity, you design a website for a new political party.
The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens
The media literacy activities in this section explore citizen engagement and involvement in politics and society, including immigration, the COVID-19 pandemic, voting, gender in leadership, trans identities, political activism, political protest, political advertising, and the January 6, 2021 insurrection. A digital choice board addresses the rights and responsibilities of citizens from a critical media literacy perspective.
Immigration in the News
The United States has more immigrants than any other country in the world, some 40 million people or about 14% of the nation's total population, as reported by the Pew Research Center. Focusing on current events in online and print media, this activity asks you to compare and contrast different media treatments of immigration and present your findings to a school or local newspaper.
Portrayals of Immigrants in Television and Film
Portrayals of immigrants and the immigrant experience are often-used themes in television and films. Activities explore whether current portrayals and representations of immigrants in television and film media are accurate or stereotypical while considering "What does media representation of immigrants mean to immigrants?"
COVID-19 Information Evaluation
Fake and false news about COVID is everywhere online, leaving millions of people unsure what is true and what is not. These activities ask you to distinguish fake news about COVID-19 from the truthful and reliable information and develop guidance for students and community members in evaluating news about the continuing pandemic.
Women Political Leaders in the Media
Women in roles as political leaders vary in the United States and around the world. In these activities, you will examine how women political leaders are represented in the media, both here and abroad and develop social media campaigns to raise awareness of and celebrate the achievements of women leaders.
Online Messaging by Special Interest Groups
Political Advocacy Organizations and Special Interest Groups make extensive use of social media to promote their ideas and policies. Activities explore how civil rights and social justice advocacy organizations use social media and online messaging to promote equality in society and then you will design your own advocacy group and website to promote your goals.
Digital Games for Civic Engagement
Digital games offer exciting opportunities to engage young people in political learning and civic action. In the following activities, you will evaluate a currently available, politically themed online digital game, then design your own game about voting and politics.
Social Media and Elections
Social media provides politicians with expansive new opportunities to use political language and visuals to influence voters. Activities ask you to evaluate social media campaigns for an upcoming election at the local, state, or national level, and then you will design an online campaign to support your own run for political office.
Images of Political Leaders and Political Power
Political leaders throughout history have used artistic images (paintings, photographs, sculptures) to convey themselves and their power to people. In the following activities, you will explore and design imagery of political leaders and political power by curating a collection of images of political figures and designing an artistic representation of a current political leader.
Political Spin in Media Coverage of Political Debates
Political candidates seek to influence or spin media coverage of political debates to present themselves in the best possible ways. In these activities, you will examine how news outlets covered the 2020 Vice Presidential debate between Kamala Harris and Mike Pence, then write purposefully biased reports in which you generate political spin about the event from different political perspectives.
Celebrities' Influence on Politics
Do endorsements by celebrities impact how people think about politics and public policy issues? A study of hypothetical endorsements of public policy statements by Taylor Swift concluded that celebrity endorsements do matter. Activities ask you to analyze media endorsements by celebrities and then develop a request (or pitch) to convince a celebrity to endorse your candidate for President in the next election.
Political Activism Through Social Media
Social media is a widely used and impactful tool for activism and change. Activities explore ways to use social media to advocate for an issue of personal interest while considering the potential upsides and downsides of online activism and how individuals can evaluate the impact of their activism through social media.
Media Recruitment of Public Sector Workers
The public sector includes services and jobs provided by federal, state, and local governments. In the following activities, you will design a job recruitment commercial and social media post to influence others to pursue careers in the public sector.
Deciding What Books Students Read in School
Decisions about books and other reading materials in school libraries is a contested political issue. In the following activity, you will design a digital library for your school while considering the roles of teachers, administrators, public interest groups, elected representatives, voters and students in choosing educational materials for classrooms and libraries.
Images of Teachers, Teaching and Public Service Careers
Media images impact how students think about possible career choices, including teaching and other public service roles and jobs. Activities ask you to design an interactive image of a teacher in a 21st century school, evaluate images of teachers taken from different media sources over the past 100 years, and develop a social media campaign to encourage young people to a career teaching or another public service field.
For Whom Is and Could Your School Be Named
A school's name conveys a lasting message and meaning. In these activities, you will research the name of your school, and then develop a proposal for changing the name of your school or another school in your community or state to more accurately represent the history and culture of people and place.
Representing Trans Identities
Media images influence how transgender students are treated in schools and society. In the following activities, you will analyze transgender representation in television and movies and then create a transgender character who accurately reflects the realities of gender identity and gender expression in today's society.
Media Framing of the Events of January 6, 2021
The events of January 6, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol have been presented in the media as a riot, an insurrection, a siege, or legitimate protest by a mob, a few bad actors, lawful protestors, political opportunists, or carefully planned conspirators. The following activities ask you to compare and contrast different media framing of the January 6, 2021 events and subsequent investigations into what happened.
Music as Protest Art
Protest songs bring music and message to people. In the following activities, you will remix lyrics from famous protest songs in U.S. history to create your own protest piece related to an issue you care about deeply. Then, analyze a political protest song and explore how it is used in social media today.
PACs, Super PACs, and Unions in the Media
Activities ask you to examine the political messaging of Political Action Committees (PACs and SuperPACs) and labor unions and how these organizations' use of the media influences voters and shapes democracy.
Brands and Politics
A brand is not just a specific product, but also a look, a style, a form of individual presentation and expression. Activities ask you to critically examine ads for popular product brands and then design a brand for a political figure or group.
The Constitution, Amendments, and Supreme Court Decisions
The media literacy activities in this section explore the Prohibition era in U.S. history, efforts to pass the Equal Rights Amendment and the Equality Act, how the Civil War is presented in historical publications, how race and gender are represented on U.S. currency, the importance of reading aloud Supreme Court dissents, and the potential impacts of cameras in federal and state courtrooms. There is a Critical Media Literacy digital choice board focusing the Constitution, its amendments and landmark Supreme Court decisions.
Prohibition in the Media
Prohibition was a time of enormous social, political and economic conflict and change. In this activity, you examine how individuals and groups used advertisements, cartoons, videos, and other media to spread messages for and against Prohibition and then you create your own video advertisement for and against Prohibition.
The Equal Rights Amendment on Twitter and Other Social Media
Proponents and opponents of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) make extensive use of social media to build support for their side of the issue. Activities explore how the ERA is being discussed on social media and then you will design a social media campaign to convince politicians and the public to support full passage of the ERA.
Civil War Era News Stories and Recruitment Advertisements
The Civil War, said the filmmaker Ken Burns, was "unquestionably the most important event in the life of the nation." Activities explore the media of the Civil War and its impacts on civil rights through the lens of newspapers and advertisements.
Representations of Gender and Race on U.S. Currency
Most images on U.S. money have been of White men, conveying a message that the stories and achievements of women and people of color are less deserving of the honor of currency recognition. The new American Women Quarters initiative is designed to honor women change-makers. In these activities you will get a chance to design your own currency and campaign for change.
The Equality Act on Twitter
The Equality Act is federal legislation that if passed would extend protection against discrimination to explicitly include lesbian, gay, and transgender Americans. In this activity, you will investigate how members of Congress are using social media to discuss, promote, or oppose the Equality Act and then consider how you might respond as well online.
Reading Supreme Court Dissents Aloud
A dissent or dissenting opinion is a statement by a judge expressing and explaining disagreement with a Court's majority opinion. In this activity, you will listen to one of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's famous dissents spoken aloud and consider how the media experience of hearing a dissent spoken directly by a justice might influence people's thinking about a political issue.
Television Cameras and Other Media in Courtrooms
Use of television cameras and other communications media in courtrooms raise questions of how to fairly balance every individual's right to a fair trial with the public's right to know what is happening in courts. Activities ask you to analyze whether still photographs or live streaming should be allowed in judicial courtrooms, and if so, when and how should Supreme Court or other court proceedings should be televised or live streamed.
The Structure of State and Local Government
The media literacy activities in this section investigate topics where state and local government actions impact people and where people impact state and local government policies, including Native American mascots and logos, individual rights and privacy online, military recruitment, state-sponsored lotteries, COVID-19 pandemic and environmental protection policies, campaigns for public office, and digital democracy at state and local levels. There is a critical media literacy digital choice board about the roles of state and local government in our political system.
Native American Mascots, Symbols, and Logos
Native American-themed mascots, symbols, and logos continue to be used by professional, amateur, and public school sports teams across the country. Activities ask what steps state and local governments might take to combat racial/cultural stereotypes and promote fully inclusive histories of indigenous peoples and how might school buildings, streets, walkways, parks and other public places be named or renamed to honor those who accomplishments and achievements may be unrecognized or forgotten.
A Constitution for the Internet
There is no Constitution for the Internet and the laws about its use and rights of people online are still being debated and defined, country by country. In these activities, you create a 21st century Constitution and Bill of Rights for the Internet.
Military Recruitment and the Media
All branches of the United States armed forces make extensive use of the media in recruiting soldiers to serve. In the following activity, investigate how the military uses social and print media to recruit individuals while considering whether the U.S. should continue to have all-volunteer military forces.
Your Privacy on Social Media
Privacy means freedom from "interference or intrusion" while information privacy is having "some control over how your personal information is collected and used" (International Association of Privacy Professionals, 2021, para. 1). In the following activity, you review privacy policies of websites, apps, and social media platforms and then, based on what you learn, propose an amendment to the Constitution that focuses on the right to privacy in digital settings.
Pandemic Policy Information in the Media
Local, state, and national government use social media to communicate information about the COVID-19 pandemic. In this activity, you will examine how state governments have used and are continuing to use social media to communicate their COVID-19 pandemic policies.
Gendered Language in Media Coverage of Women in Politics
Gendered language means words and phrases that generate distinctions and bias among genders. Activities examine the use of gendered language in media coverage of women in politics and envision how gender-inclusive language can be used in politics, media, and everyday interactions in schools and society.
Gender-Neutral Marketing of Toys 
Gendered toy media marketing has a huge impact on how items and gender roles are perceived and learned by children and adults. In this activity, you critically examine how children's toys are marketed and then share your thoughts in an Op-Ed commentary presenting your views about legislation to promote gender-neutral advertising in the media and in-store displays.
Environmental Campaigns Using Social Media
Governments at every level as well as climate justice organizations use media to communicate their environmental plans and policies to the public. In this activity, you serve as a digital media expert tasked with improving how your local or state government's using social media to conduct environmental campaigns.
Plastic Pollution and the Media
Plastic pollution and waste threaten the health of living creatures on land and in water environments. In the following activities, you evaluate how plastics have been and are currently marketed in the media and then propose a plan for civic and community actions to address the issue of the impacts of plastics on the environment.
Trusted Messengers, the Media, and the Pandemic
People listen to messengers they trust, whether family, friends, community leaders, pastors/priests, celebrities, doctors, and/or television, radio, or online personalities. In this activity, you examine the media messages of different individuals and organizations to assess how they seek to influence people’s thinking and behaviors about the pandemic, vaccinations, and public health practices.
AI-Enhanced Online Campaigning for Political Office
Generative AI (Artificial Intelligence) tools have become a central feature of political campaigns at every level of U.S. politics. The following activities examine ways AI tools can be used in political campaigns while critically assessing the messages that candidates are delivering online. Developing codes of conduct for online campaigning and use of AI tools is also explored.
Advertising the Lottery Online and In Print
Government-run lotteries are a widely used approach to generating revenue for states. In the following activities, you analyze how lottery advertisements are designed to persuade people to gamble their money and then inform people about their actual mathematical chances of winning lottery prizes.
Local Governments, Social Media and Digital Democracy
Social media has been hailed as a way to promote people's active engagement in what has been called digital democracy (or e-democracy or e-government). Activities consider how technology might revolutionize and revitalize democracy, starting with how your local government uses social media and how might it can be used more effectively and democratically.
Protecting the Commons
Common spaces and places belong to everyone, but only if they are supported and maintained by public policies and funding as well as community efforts. Activities explore local and state common spaces and identify ways to use media to increase interest and civic engagement in protecting a commons of your choosing.
Freedom of the Press and News/Media Literacy
The activities in this section explore the news and the role of the Press and press freedom in 21st century United States democracy. There is also a critical media literacy digital choice board about the freedom of the press in a democratic system of government.
Press Freedom in the United States and the World
Freedom of the Press is essential for democratic government to function. People need unblocked access to free and truthful information on which to make informed decisions about candidates and policies. In this activity, you act as an expert media advisor tasked with helping the U.S. improve its World Press Freedom Index ranking.
Objectivity and Reporting the News from All Sides
Objectivity and fairness in reporting the news is the highest goal of journalism, but not all reporters or media outlets do so. Activities ask you to practice evaluating the news from different sides -- from different points of view and contrasting political perspectives -- as a foundation of critical media literacy learning. Journalism becomes a process of helping readers and viewers to verify truth and reject falsehoods and lies.
Investigative Journalism and Social Change
Investigative journalism involves reporters researching important topics of public interest to uncover crimes, injustice, corruption, and other forms of wrongdoing. In this activity, you act as an investigative journalist to explore a political topic of interest and importance.
News Photographs & Newspaper Design
The meaning of a news photograph depends on multiple levels of context and design that contribute to how readers and viewers interpret its meaning. In these activities you act as a critical viewer of newspaper photographs and as a member of a newspaper design team who must decide what photographs to incorporate in a school or class newspaper.
How Reporters Report Events
Reporters and news organizations make strategic and business-minded decisions about how to report events on print and digital media platforms. In the following activities, you examine differences in coverage of the 2016 Hong Kong Protests and then you act as a reporter and create or remix the news.
Recommendation Algorithms on Social Media Platforms
Recommendation algorithms on social media and e-commerce platforms are designed keep users on the site, app, or platform as long as possible, often to promote sales of products. Advocates hail the convenience of personalized digital experiences while critics worry that users experience only a narrow range of suggestions and choices. In the following activities, you critically examine YouTube's recommendation algorithm and then ask you to design your own.
YouTube Content Creators
YouTube has given rise to a new category of money-generating roles for individuals and groups as Content Creators. In the following activities, you critically examine YouTubers' channels before designing your own YouTube content creation channel and assessing how the revenue you might make from your channel should be shared and regulated.
Fake News Investigation and Evaluation
Real, truthful news and fake, false news differ dramatically in quality and reliability, although it can be difficult to clearly distinguish between them in many online environments. The following activities are designed to develop your skills and perspectives as a fake news investigator and critical news evaluator.
Paywalls and Access to Online News
Media organizations use different combinations of paywalls and free access in providing information to readers and viewers. In the following activity, you evaluate your levels of access to different sources of news and information on television and newspapers.
Critical Visual Analysis of Online and Print Media
See, Think, Wonder is a critical visual analysis approach where students evaluate images by asking questions before drawing conclusions as to meaning and accuracy. The following activities expand the See, Think, Wonder approach by offering opportunities to evaluate different types of visuals for their trustworthiness as information sources.
Memes and TikToks as Political Cartoons
Memes and TikTok videos can provide engaging messages that influences the political thinking and actions of people regarding local, state, and national issues. In this activity, you evaluate the design and impact of political memes, TikTok videos, editorial cartoons, and political comics and then create one of your own to influence others about a public or educational issue.
Women Reporters in the Movies
Images of women news reporters in movies, television and online media reflect and potentially change prevailing views about gender roles. In this activity you design a poster for a modern-day movie, TV show, podcast, or streaming series about a strong, independent, ethical, truth-seeking woman journalist and the challenges they face in that role.
Design a 21st Century Indie Bookstore
An “Indie” (or independent) bookstore is a store that is independently owned and not part of a large chain. Every bookstore, whether independently owned or part of a large corporate structure, has a civics learning role as a provider of ideas and information to readers. In this activity, you design an Indie bookstore to meet the needs of 21st-century people, notably children and young adults, in your community to be informed participants in a democratic society and government system.
Greenwashing and the Media
Greenwashing is a type of media presentation where companies seek to project an image of environmentally sound business practices through the use of ambiguous, misleading, and even false advertising. Activities examine what roles does the federal or state government have, if any, in regulating deceptive greenwashing practices and how can students and teachers act as ethical consumers who support accurate marketing while rejecting false presentations and claims.
AI Writing Tools, Politics, and History
Generative Artificial Intelligence (GenAI), such as ChatGPT, are tools capable of generating new and original writing, images, video, audio, art, music, 3D models and computer code that are largely, but not entirely indistinguishable from what humans can create. Activities explore how students can learn to distinguish authentic writing by humans from materials that are AI-derived and contain false or bias information.