Instructional Strategies:
An À La Carte Approach

Intro: Different Sources and Modes, Different Experiences

What teaching and learning approaches are best fits for Media Literacy unit design?

Media Literacy is a high-level activity, integrating a panoply of sources, concepts and skills that students are already developing intuitively and haphazardly. The many years students have spent online, in school contexts or as participants in social apps and games, have built up tacit knowledge and skills, good and bad habits, and the posture of consumers rather than civic actors.

To make use of the rich background students bring, Media Literacy learning experiences should activate prior knowledge across many domains, engaging across differences in access and experience, and joining together as digital citizens willing to defend democracy. This goal implies going beyond the explicit/didactic lesson plans that are easily found online. Didactic teaching is cognitive-behaviorist, not experiential, with learning objectives narrowed for accountability. It is part of the solution, but needs to be complemented by more wholistic approaches.

After searching for media literacy lesson plans, another category easily found online is "resources". Common Sense Media splits out Media Literacy and News Literacy resources into separate pages, but it is overwhelming to a teacher new to this material to try and navigate these lists without a strategic intent. It's like wandering the aisles of a megastore without a shopping list.

A premise of Fake News Fitness is that explicit instructional strategies rather than "impulse shopping" should inform the assembly of lessons and resources into units. Instructional strategies are connected to learning theories and modes, like constructivism, social learning, game learning and project-based learning.

NAMLE's Resource Categories, 2 Additions

NAMLE uses four resource categories when soliciting curriculum and instruction proposals, and these seem to imply differences between content-centered, learner-centered and teacher-centered approaches:

  1. Case Study (implied: narrative-driven, problem-based learning)

  2. Assignment/Activity/Lab/Game (implied: structured materials and procedures organize learning)

  3. Teaching/Learning Strategy (implied: teacher-driven activity to accomplish specific learning objectives)

  4. Primary Source/Media Critique & Analysis (implied: artifact-based learner-driven exploration)

Two categories seem missing from this list: social learning and project-based learning. The progressive and student-centered philosophy of EL Education (for example) puts a strong emphasis on student discussion and cooperative (social) learning, where students take responsibility as groups for the cognitive load that would normally be shouldered by the teacher (or the textbook writer). For longer-term projects (such as a Media Literacy unit), EL schools organize "Learning Expeditions" that sequence "investigations" as part of student-defined project development.

We believe that an instructional strategy-driven approach to unit design can help teachers make the most of short time with high engagement and integration. In the following pages, we identify components of media literacy education for teachers to consider when browsing for and selecting curricula and products for their own units.

We will sometimes recommend current providers of these components, given that most teachers have little time and knowledge on which to base such decisions. We will also identify what we deem useful opportunities to incorporate our “Fake News Fitness” Chrome extension into lessons and activities.

Six FNF Instructional Strategy Categories and Examples

FNF (for now) is proposing five instructional strategy categories. After feedback from our second round of pilots (2022-2023) we will adjust this list.

  1. Constructivist / Discovery Learning (individuals experience & critique media to construct knowledge)

  2. Social Learning (groups make sense of social learning objects, including student work)

  3. Games (computer-based learning experiences use games as contexts for sense-making)

  4. Explicit Teaching (teacher-led lesson plans that present instructional content directly)

  5. Project-Based Learning (skills and sense-making are built as part of product development)

These categories are too abstract to cover more specific aspects, and obviously can be combined in lessons. They don't fit neatly over resource categories. For example, movies can work in different ways: if students are shown movies that portray dramatizations (like "The Social Dilemma") and case studies (like "Trust Me"), these can be considered discovery / experiential learning (in the same way that drivers education movies do). Other movies are didactic tutorials, like explicit/direct teaching. Also movies can be watched in segments followed by sharing personal experiences and reflections in circles (social learning).

Mixing and Matching: Weaving Outside and Self-Built Lessons Together

Suggested Progression: 1) Give students new concepts and tools => 2) provide a context to explore => 3) correct or clarify individual concepts => 4) integrate with group experiences => 5) clarify and integrate group concepts.

Sequencing Strategies

In Explicit Teaching, the teacher is the source of knowledge. Lessons begin with a presentation, and then "I do" => "we do" => "you do."

Constructivism asks teachers to scaffold learning experiences from which students build knowledge.

Social learning accesses student differences to extend scaffolding further and build together.

Each approach has benefits and drawbacks which a good sequence can amplify or compensate for.


It is ambitious to hope that isolated units of instruction in a classroom context will affect future adult attitudes and behavior. But this the intent of Fake News Fitness as a response to current existential threats. Therefore, the depth and "stickiness" of learning designs are primary concerns.

Student ownership of the learning context can access intrinsic motivation and active learning, and anchor learning in the self concept.

Suggestion: To situate learning outside the school context, access intrinsic motivation early with media literacy games, and build student ownership at the end with civic action projects.

Sequencing with Transitions

While there is no one best "logic model" for a learning sequence, the logic for sequencing the learning modes should be explicit.

That logic will define the transitions that need to carry the learning forward, and inform the teacher's role in narrating connections between learning modes.

Helpful Combinations

Each of the colored modes above can be a series of lessons, and may need to be in order to help students shift, unless they are used to the different modes and quickly settle in.

Problem-Based Learning, Experiential Learning, and Game-Based learning are all considered Constructivist, as they are contexts for discovery and creation, not defined presentations of material.

Within each learning mode, different applications can be layered. For example, games can be individual or social, and pausing games for social (student-led) or didactic (teacher-led) talk enlists language in constructing ideas from game experiences or defining the skills that games access.