Mapping the Media-sphere

By Louis Mazza, October 24, 2006

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Other

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies
  • Technology

Lesson Time

Four fifty-minute class periods


Nearly all forms of information and entertainment we receive is mediated through some kind of tool, whether it is television, radio, Internet, advertisements, etc. As a class, we will investigate our mediated community with cameras, gather visual representations, and examine the ways we consume media.

National Standards

Connections Standard 1.Understands connections among the various art forms and other disciplines
Visual Arts Standard 2. Knows how to use structures (e.g., sensory qualities, organizational principles, expressive features) and functions of art
Visual Arts Standard 3.Knows a range of subject matter, symbols, and potential ideas in the visual arts
Visual Arts Standard 4. Understands the visual arts in relation to history and cultures
Language Arts
Standard 6.Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary texts
Standard 7.  Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts
Standard 8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
Standard 9.Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media
Standard 10. Understands the characteristics and components of the media
Standard 9.Understands the importance of Americans sharing and supporting certain values, beliefs, and principles of American constitutional democracy
Standard 10. Understands the roles of voluntarism and organized groups in American social and political life
Standard 11. Understands the role of diversity in American life and the importance of shared values, political beliefs, and civic beliefs in an increasingly diverse American society
Standard 13. Understands the character of American political and social conflict and factors that tend to prevent or lower its intensity
Standard 14. Understands issues concerning the disparities between ideals and reality in American political and social life
Standard 27. Understands how certain character traits enhance citizens' ability to fulfill personal and civic responsibilities
Standard 28.Understands how participation in civic and political life can help citizens attain individual and public goals
Standard 29. Understands the importance of political leadership, public service, and a knowledgeable citizenry in American constitutional democracy

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.5 Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing:

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4     Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Knowledge of Language:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.4   Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


  • Students will compare and contrast the media messages they see in two different communities in their city.
  • Using prior knowledge from previous media literacy class sessions, students will make inferences about how and why different communities receive different messages.
  • Students will find the elements of art and the principles of design in the photographs they have taken as well as in the built environment in their community.
  • Students will create visual and conceptual models of the “media sphere” found in the two distinctly different Philadelphia* communities they have studied.
*note: This lesson plan can take place in any community, Philadelphia is just used as an example.


Google Earth–Aerial views of local communities Center for Media Literacy, Media Lit Kit Center for Media and Public Affairs, Entertainment Studies Ocvirk, Stinson, Wigg, Bone, Cayton. Art Fundamentals: Theory and Practice. Ninth edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002. Harris, N. Form and Texture: A Photographic Portfolio. New York: Reinhold Pub. Corp, 1974. Juracek, J. A. Natural Surfaces: Visual Research for Artists, Architects, and Designers. New York: Norton, 2002.


  • digital cameras–1 per team
  • color printer
  • photo paper for printing photos and images collected from Google Earth
  • notebooks
  • pencils
  • Elmer’s glue
  • brushes (for glue)
  • scissors
  • Exacto knives
  • cutting mats
  • rulers
  • large sheets of paper for use as a base for the neighborhood maps
  • wire, balsa wood, popsicle sticks for building 3-D and “pop-up” effects (optional)


Mapping-A continuous series of drawings or photographs connected in time Demographic-Statistical data related to the population of a particular place Mass Media-A means of public communication reaching a large audience Location-The act or an instance of placing two or more things side by side; also: the state of being so placed Place-Of, relating to, or based or depending on sequential development <linear thinking> <a linear narrative> Comparison-A situation in which elements can be arranged without regard to a temporal sequence (out of sequential order) Panorama-a: an unobstructed or complete view of an area in every direction. b: a comprehensive presentation of a subject Space-The measurable distance between points or images Collage-A pictorial technique whereby the artist creates the image, or a portion of it, by adhering real materials that possess actual textures to the picture plane surface Expression-The manifestation through artistic form of a thought, emotion, or quality of meaning Papier colle-A visual and tactile technique in which scraps of paper having various textures are pasted to the picture surface to enrich or embellish areas Balance-an equilibrium that results from looking at images and judging them against our ideas of physical structure Rhythm-rhythm is the repetition or alternation of elements, often with defined intervals between them Proportion-the comparison of dimensions or distribution of forms. It is the relationship in scale between one element and another, or between a whole object and one of its parts Dominance-Dominance relates to varying degrees of emphasis in design. It determines the visual weight of a composition, establishes space and perspective, and often resolves where the eye goes first when looking at a design Unity-The concept of unity describes the relationship between the individual parts and the whole of a composition. It investigates the aspects of a given design that are necessary to tie the composition together


The media play an instrumental role in our concepts of ourselves. What we buy, eat, watch, how we spend our free time, and how we speak is closely entwined with the messages we get from all forms of media. With this multi-part project, we will research, collect data, and examine the ways that media influence us, and the ways we do or do not influence the media that is created for us.PART 1 Photographing evidence of the school’s immediate community. How members of the community interact, where they spend their time and money, and what messages they consume is important data to collect in order to get a sense of the collective identity of a place. The students are ultimately trying to define and recreate the identity of their community and how advertisers approach this "identity." Throughout the lesson, remind them to focus on media messages in each community: i.e., billboards, advertisements, products being sold, targeted groups (age group, racial group), etc.1. Students will work in teams of 2 to 4 to canvas the community surrounding the school and, using cameras and notebooks, they will bring their evidence back to the classroom. Remind students that the goal of this lesson is to recreate the identity of the community, so they are looking for representations of where community members interact, how they interact, where they spend their time, what they buy, and what messages surround them. 2. Photographs must be downloaded to computers and printed. 3. The photos will then be spread out in front of everyone in the group in order to examine the local media landscape. 4. Have each group list reoccurring messages, language, and images that emerge from the media messages photographed. 5. Students will be asked to find themes and link different photographs together according to similarities in color, composition, and subject matter, but NOT necessarily location. (They are trying to re-create the community, not literally, but conceptually). 6. Students will group together ideas and create a sense of the community’s identity as projected through visual and commercial media, the signage, products, the “demographic” of the area as seen perhaps by advertisers. 7. Students will identify their community’s “demographic.” This activity will give learners a sense of the way their demographic is perceived and allow them the objectivity to see themselves as others might see them. This will also allow them to practice critical thinking skills when evaluating products, signage, messages, commercials, etc. PART 2 Photographing evidence of a community in a different part of the city 1. Students will travel to another part of the city ( Rittenhouse Square) and collect evidence of the neighborhood through photographs as they did in Part 1. Remind them that they are trying to define the "identity" of this community using the same techniques as in Part 1. Have them go through the same steps as Part 1 of printing their photographs and then searching for themes and relevant messages that run through the photos.2. Asking the same critical questions about visual media and messages, students will compare how the media sphere changes its message when different audiences are targeted. PART 3 Comparing and constructing. 1. As a whole class, students will compare and contrast the two neighborhoods they researched, reviewing photographs and notes taken on the class outings. 2. Students will discuss and list the overall feeling of the two places. Exciting? Stimulating? Colorful? Depressing? Proud? Strong? Dangerous? Greedy? Drab? How do these feelings of the places determine how the map will look?3. Use examples from “You Are Here” and examine how artists interpret and illustrate their various feelings . Talk about how to use metaphor in visual art and design. Ask them to name some of the key objects or symbols they found at each location: i.e. a boarded up building/house or a prominent store or shopping intersection where the community comes together. Perhaps they may compare two different stores and notice the products purchased by the people in the different neighborhoods.Map construction The class will split into two groups. One group will work on a conceptual map (representation) of the local community and the other group will construct a conceptual map of the other community. Map construction may take two full class periods. (Remind students that the maps are conceptual, not literal. They will not be making a map that looks like the neighborhood, rather they will point out different areas that represent different themes targeted by the media.)


Assessment is determined by the presentation of the final product. Focus will not be on impeccable quality or artistic talent but will be based on the quality of insight displayed by the models that the learners make. The rubric will consist of the following criteria at one of four levels: Elementary, Developing, Consolidating, Proficient.

  • work habits (respect, focus, diligence)
  • growth (comparison of knowledge from beginning to end)
  • skill
  • comprehension
  • creative/conceptual skill
Requirements (did the learners' final product include all of the required elements?)
  • A map that contains a representation of the media found in the neighborhoods the class has examined.
  • A list of similarities and differences in media messages that have been found after reviewing media from both neighborhoods.
  • Participation from each member of the group. Each member of the group will be asked to rate their group members’ participation level anonymously.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Using the pamphlet “Who Owns Philly’s Media” (compliments of Media Tank – A local media watchdog group) learners can visually map the companies and organizations that own multiple media venues and can write a series of questions that ask how our information might be influenced by large corporate interests. Learners can speculate as to how our information becomes filtered by companies who may want to protect themselves from criticism, thus, preventing the public from obtaining true, objective viewpoints in the news, and on TV, radio, etc.

Teacher Reflection

At the current stage in this multi-part lesson, we have completed our community evidence gathering session and we have identified some themes that we see in our community media environment. Learners have found that media messages in the neighborhood are designed to attract young men and women of color, probably between the ages of 14 and 25. African-American celebrity personalities are often used to promote clothing, jewelry, soft drinks, food, cell phones. Movie advertising in this neighborhood promotes films having to do with fast cars, martial arts. Mystical or superstitious titles like “The Omen” or “The Grudge” are heavily promoted here.

Learners seem to be paying more attention to the visual culture around them but it is not yet clear if this is creating more critical thinking among them and their peers. I think it’s difficult to think very critically if you’re 14 and are just being introduced to these concepts. It’s not yet clear whether they are actually looking at the media they consume in a new way or if they continue to consume it for pleasure.

I've been telling them that it’s possible to be critical of media and still enjoy it for sheer entertainment.

The skills that these learners need are patience and listening. All else can be developed if they are first willing and able to absorb new ideas. Often the constant 14-year-old goofing around, talking, moving, laughing takes valuable time and meaning from the work at hand.

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