Written by Dyan Branstetter

Stepping In, Stepping Out Strategy

Media literacy is more important than ever. So important, that there is an entire section devoted to it in the framework for 21st Century Learning. It states, “To be effective in the 21st century, citizens and workers must be able to create, evaluate, and effectively utilize information, media, and technology.”

At first glance, media literacy instruction sounds like a task for media specialists. (Perhaps also ELA teachers, technology specialists, or social studies teachers.) But we know that instruction is more effective when concepts are connected… and when concepts are taught in and through the arts. Media literacy is something that can easily be woven into lessons in many different subject areas through the use of the Media Arts standards. And in a world where the average teen spends more than nine hours a day consuming media, it is crucial that we incorporate these skills. We need to make sure students have the ability to automatically separate digital junk from treasure.

How can I Teach Media Literacy Through the Arts?

When integrating the arts, it is so important to find a natural connection between standards. Media literacy and Media Arts connect so well that some even overlap one another. This creates a wonderful foundation for powerful arts integrated lessons. 

This document, Media Literacy Education & The Common Core Standards explains how we can find four main connections between Media Literacy and the CCSS. For each connection, connections with ELA standards are shared. I challenge you to read through those connections and follow it with a look at the Media Arts Standards. The Media Arts standards complement the Media Literacy Connections so perfectly!  It is almost impossible to NOT address them during a lesson. The magic happens when you get to know those standards and intentionally make them the crux of your lesson.

Learning Through the Process

Students are best able to analyze media after they have created their own. I started noticing this years ago when I first incorporated green screening into a project. Once students learned how to create with green screen, they started pointing it out all the time. They were able to swing their point of view in order to deconstruct the video clip they were watching to notice the green screen technique. At that moment, they changed from a passive consumer to a critical thinker, deeply analyzing the green screen decisions the filmmaker made.

Stepping In and Stepping Out Strategy

I compare this switch from “consumer to thinker” with a strategy I use called the Step In and Step Out strategy. (This strategy comes from educator Michael Friermood.) With the Step In and Step Out strategy in literature, students learn to intentionally switch from a consumer to an analyst, and back again.

Stepping In

During the “Step In”, students are viewing the content as a consumer. They look at the characters and their motives, the actions of the characters, the story itself, or the information presented. This allows students to deeply interact with the content that was written.

Stepping Out

When students “Step Out”, they analyze what the author did as a writer. They may question the author’s word choice, character development, and/or choice of text structure. This allows students to discuss the decisions that the author made. They use similar techniques to make their own writing more effective.

The “Step In and Step Out” strategy is explained for use with literature, but we know that “text” is not just written. It can also be visual or audio. Students may Step In and Step Out of a painting, a photograph, a movie, a dance, a piece of music — the list is infinite. The idea, however, is the same: moving from a consumer of the piece to someone who is analyzing the decisions of its creator.

Creating (Process) is Key

Unless students have the opportunity to create in the media arts form they are analyzing, they will have a difficult time switching from consumer to analyst with automaticity. Creating through media arts requires students to deeply understand the “why” behind the process. The National Association of Media Literacy Education sums it up perfectly in their educator’s guide for connecting Media Literacy with CCSS, “…experiences constructing messages of their own, through filmmaking, graphic and web design, or other forms of creative and nonfiction writing, are essential to connecting the practices of professional media-makers they see online, on television, and all around them to their own opinions, ideas, questions, and values.” 


Try It!

Not sure where to start? Here’s one idea for integrating media arts, specifically photography, with content standards.


Choose a photograph based on content you are teaching that is age appropriate for your students. (Some examples can be found here from TIME Magazine. Time for Kids, Scholastic News, and Newsela are other great resources for photographs.)

Step In and Step Out Strategy:

Work through this strategy with your students.

Step In: Have students “Step In” to the photo using the visual thinking strategy See Think Wonder to interact with the content in the photo.

Step Out: Have students Step Out of the photograph. This time, use the See, Think, Wonder strategy to notice the photo from the perspective of the photographer.

Prompt the students to question what the photographer wants the audience to think/feel. What did the photographer do to compose the photo effectively?

Art Instruction:

If students don’t have photography experience, this is where instruction in photography techniques (Rule of Thirds, etc.) takes place.


Have students compose a photograph that enhances a piece of original writing, a current topic, or a selection of text. In an artist’s statement, have students point out photography techniques they utilized. Have them discuss the thought process they went through when composing their photograph.


While you can certainly assess a student’s ability to compose a photograph based on your lessons/standards, the original intent is for students to critically think about media they are viewing. The purpose of the creation is so that students have an opportunity to go through the process. For this reason, I would suggest assessing students on their ability to Step In and Step Out of a new photo independently.

Standards addressed:

media literate students

How will you incorporate Media Literacy?

Become familiar with the Media Literacy Connections and the Media Arts Standards. Once you are, you will find ways to include this important skill in many of your lessons. Help students go from being passive consumers to critical thinking creators who are ready for the future.

About the Author

Dyan is a fifth grade teacher in a public school district in Lancaster, PA and has over 16 years of classroom experience. With a Masters of Science Education and a passion for dance and music, she strives to integrate the arts into the curriculum whenever possible. Dyan has a background in teaching advanced learners, and is devoted to using project based learning to help her students achieve 21st century learning skills and master the PA Core Standards.