Five Key Questions Form Foundation for Media Inquiry

Keywords and Guiding Questions help build habits of critical thinking

In the MediaLit Kit ™, the Center for Media Literacy identifies Five Key Questions as the core of our inquiry-based media literacy pedagogy. Where do they come from? Like so many good ideas that evolve slowly over time, they are simply an innovative recasting of the Five Core Concepts which the early media literacy field adapted, in turn, from traditional categories of rhetorical and literary analysis.

The following chart illustrates the relationship between the concepts and the questions and identifies keywords that crystallize the analytical topic of each pair. Click on each concept or question to access a short essay about each one.

Five Core Concepts
Five Key Questions
Authorship All media messages are "constructed." Who created this message?
Format Media messages are constructed using a creative language with its own rules. What creative techniques are used to attract my attention?
Audience Different people experience the same media message differently. How might different people understand this message differently from me?
Content Media have embedded values and points of view. What lifestyles, values and points of view are represented in; or omitted from, this message?
Purpose Most media are organized to gain profit and/or power. Why is this message being sent?

Concepts or Questions?
In our work with teachers over the years, we have learned that concepts are difficult to teach but questions are powerful!

So in the classroom, the goal is not to teach the core concepts per se, especially for younger students, but, rather, to help students build the habit of routinely subjecting media messages to a comprehensive battery of questions appropriate to their age and ability. In the MediaLit Kit™ , you'll find recommended "guiding questions" or questions that lead to other questions that, ultimately, lead to "aha" -- the moment of insight and understanding.

Together the Five Core Concepts and Five Key Questions serve as the "Big Ideas" or the "enduring understanding" that students will need in order to navigate their way through life as citizens in a 21st century media culture. Together, they are a unique contribution to 21st century education.

"It is the learning, practicing and mastering of the Five Key Questions -- over time -- that leads to a deep understanding of how media are created and what their purposes are along with an informed ability to accept or reject both explicit and implicit messages."

Tessa Jolls, CML President

Over the years, media literacy practitioners around the world have adapted and applied this analytical construct to today's mediated ‘texts' -- from television and movies to billboards, magazines, even bumper stickers and T-shirts! We acknowledge the many thinkers and teachers in the media literacy field, especially our Australian and Canadian colleagues, whose decades of experience and thoughtful reflection have laid a firm foundation on which to build a practical pedagogy for learning and teaching in a 21st century media culture: the CML MediaLit Kit™.