Media Moments Western Reserve Public Media


A Critical Viewing Exercise

When we talk about “critical viewing,” we’re not talking about “criticizing” a program. Viewing “critically” means that you and your family are making yourselves aware of the program or commercial and all of its elements — content and plot, message, gender and ethnic portrayals, background music, camera angles, lighting and so on. Critical viewing allows you and your children to gain a little emotional and mental distance from the program and have more control over its impact on you.

Here’s a format for discussion you can use after you watch a favorite TV show or see a commercial. These questions will help you and your preschoolers (and older children, too) think more vigorously about what you’ve just seen. It’s also a great opportunity to engage your preschoolers in meaningful, thoughtful discussion. Let your preschooler answer for him- or herself before you offer your answers. You’ll be surprised by what children pick up.

  1. Identify the name of the program or the product in the commercial.

  2. Describe the characters. Who are they? What do they look like? Male or female? How old? How are they dressed? What are their personalities like?

  3. Describe the setting. Where is the program or commercial taking place? What does it look like? Is it day or night? Is a season of the year indicated? What is the lighting like? How about background music? Are there any unusual special effects or camera angles? Why do you think the producer made these choices? What effect does each element create?

  4. Describe the plot. What happened and in what sequence?

  5. What problem was presented? How was it solved? In your opinions, was the solution a good one? Are there other ways the problem could have been solved?

  6. What was the theme of the program? What do you think the makers of the program wanted you to learn from the show?

  7. Rate the program on a scale of 1 to 10. Was it a good or bad program or commercial? Why do you think so?


Adapted from Screen Smarts: A Family Guide to Media Literacy by Gloria DeGaetano and Kathleen Bander (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996)



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