Learning activity for Junior High and High School

Focus Scripture: Ephesians 6:10 (NRSV)

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. ”

Expected outcome:

Youth will learn critical thinking skills about the media; determine whether media images support or conflict with their values and faith regarding the use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

Materials needed:

    Flip chart or chalkboard
    Paper and pencils for each person
    Collection of print ads for tobacco, beer and wine from magazines to show how alcohol, tobacco and drugs are portrayed in advertising or in media coverage.
    For Pop Culture Critique, Option 2: Find television shows, commercials or movie segments that illustrate the use of alcohol, tobacco and/or drugs. Video tape these to be shown to the group to illustrate common media images. Arrange to have a TV and a VCR in the room when you do this activity.

Step 1 – Preparation
Contact a small group of junior high and senior high peer leaders several weeks before you plan to conduct this session. Review the content of this learning activity with them, explaining that you would like them to take leadership in presenting it. Decide who will help with which parts of the session. Ask them to help contact youth, or choose the television shows, commercials, or movie segments that will be shown.

Option 1 – Prepared by students at home
Prior to this session, ask youth to do the following:

    Watch a favorite TV show, video or go to a movie they’ve been wanting to see. Write down every reference in the show or film about alcohol, tobacco or drug use and what’s going on in conjunction with the use of the substance.

(Examples: smoking because the person is stressed out, having a beer after coming home from work, attending a party where socializing means drinking and/or drugs.) If watching television, ask students to also make note of the commercials — what is being sold and how? Also, make note of how persons of different ethnic and racial backgrounds are depicted, how males and females are portrayed, and how sexuality issues are presented.

You might want to provide students with a copy of the questions you are going to discuss to review as they watch the show or movie.

    Collect several print ads for tobacco and alcoholic beverages. Bring the TV show or film report and the ads to the next class session.

Option 2 – Prepared by Youth Leaders
Ahead of time, find television shows, commercials or movie segments that illustrate the use of alcohol, tobacco and/or drugs. Video tape these to be shown to the group to illustrate common media images.
Arrange to have a TV and a VCR in the room when you do this activity.

Step 2 – What Are Your Favorites?
Option 1 - Go around the room and ask student to name popular television shows or movies they recall showing scenes of smoking, drinking or taking drugs. Make a list on a flip chart or chalkboard.

Ask: Are some of these your favorites? Do you think these shows often portray the use of these substances in a favorable way? If so, explain?

Option 2 – A more active method of getting the same information as #1: Ask the youth to act out or play charades so that the rest of the group has to guess their favorite show or film.

Step 3 – Pop Culture Critique
Present the information on media images that have been prepared ahead of time either by students or youth leaders. Depending on which option you chose, this could be:

    Reports from students on what they observed on TV shows, commercials and movies.
    Tear sheets from magazines and newspaper print ads for tobacco and alcoholic beverages.
    Video clips of shows and commercials recorded off TV or from rented movies.

Step 4 – Let’s Talk About It
Choose from the following critical thinking questions to guide the discussion:

    Who is the intended audience for this ad or show? How does it ‘hook’ (get the interest of) the audience?
    In what ways does the ad, show or movie present a realistic picture of life? In what ways is it unrealistic? Is it OK to be unreal? Why or why not?
    Were good or bad consequences to their choices presented? What were they?
    What choices were the people making about the use of substances? About their sexual activity? About their relationships? About their use of violence?
    Did the characters talk about their choices? If so, what did they say? If not, why not?
    Was there a difference in how males and females were portrayed? How about persons of different ethnic and racial groups? Give examples.
    Do male and female characters make different choices as far as their use of substances or their sexual activity? How about adults versus teens?
    What is the role of violence in the show or movie?
    In what ways does the ad, show or movie portray the risks of using substances or of violence?
    Why do you like or dislike this ad, show or movie?
    How did the show or ad relate to your values?
    What does this ad, show or movie say about the things in life that make us happy, joyful, and satisfy our needs?
    How does this show, movie or ad compare with what you learn in your church about life? Similar? Compatible? Very different? How do you feel about that?

Step 5
Option 1 – Distribute paper and pencils and ask students to draw two overlapping circles. In the left part of the left circle, have them summarize the previous media discussion. What do they remember? What did they learn? In the right part of the circle, they should write what they believe their faith teaches about the use of substances, male and female roles, sexuality, violence, and how to relate to persons of different cultures and racial backgrounds. In the center, where the circles overlap, they should write anything they feel fits into both categories. When does their faith overlap with what the media portrays?

Discuss the circles. Comment on anything you feel is missing, especially in the faith area.

Option 2 - Look at the list you made earlier of favorite shows and movies. Ask the youth to rate each one on a scale of 1-5 (with 1 being the least realistic and 5 being the most realistic) in terms of the show’s realistic portrayal of the following:

Alcohol use

Illicit drug use

Tobacco use


Roles of men and women

What makes us truly happy

Step 6 – Wrap Up

Ask each student to make one statement about what they learned regarding media images and choices they make on a daily basis.