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James Davis
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Understanding Economic Principles through Media Education

Understanding Economic Principles through Media Education

James Davis of Clinton Senior High School in Clinton, N.Y.

James Davis
Clinton High School
Clinton, N.Y.

Title: UnderstandingEconomic Principles through Media Education

Description of School and Students

This is a series of lessons that aims at both economic and media literacy. The unit will be taught to twelfth grade students, in a public high school nestled in a college town in suburban/rural upstate New York. The students are in enrolled in the New York State mandated course Economics. The class size ranges between fifteen to the twenty-five students; all students are English speaking; socio-economic status of families in the community greatly varies; student body consists of mostly white suburb-dwelling students, some students from farming families, and a handful of students of African-American and Latino background.

Standards Met

New York State Standards

New York State Learning Standards for Economics (Standard #4): Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of how the United States and other societies develop economic systems and associated institutions to allocate scarce resources, how major decision-making units function in the U.S. and other national economies, and how an economy solves the scarcity problem through market and non-market mechanisms.

Key objectives:

  • Identify, locate, and evaluate economic information from standard reference works, newspapers, periodicals, computer databases, monographs, textbooks, government publications, and other primary and secondary sources
  • Use economic information by identifying similarities and differences in trends; inferring relationships between various elements of an economy; organizing and arranging information in charts, tables, and graphs; extrapolating and making conclusions about economic questions, issues, and problems
  • Understand the roles in the economic system of consumers, producers, workers, investors, and voters
  • Take, defend, and evaluate positions about attitudes that facilitate thoughtful and effective participation in public affairs (added from Standard #5, Citizenship)

Generative Topics

  • Commercial goals of media conglomerates
  • Media corporate ownership: entrepreneurship and rationale behind mergers
  • Corporate responsibility and relationship to consumers/American public

Generative Objects

  • Overhead projection of big ten media corporations (Media Institute Handout)
  • Clip of "The Lion King"

Understanding Goals

  • Essential Questions
    • Who exactly owns the media?
    • What do media corporations do to meet market and stockholder demands in a world of scarcity?
    • How does media ownership affect choice of products in a free-market system?
  • Critical Engagement Questions
    • What media companies are you most familiar with, and why?
    • How do media corporations attempt to be efficient, productive, and profitable?
    • Do media companies provide one sort of product, or several different products?
    • “Is Allowing One Company to Own Many TV Stations Good for Consumers?” (as asked in USA Today reading)
    • Do media corporations limit or extend consumer choice in the marketplace?

Performances of Understanding, Rationale and Timeline

Each of the following activities will provide students with the opportunity to explore the structure of contemporary corporate ownership, market trends in a world of scarcity, and the business objectives of modern day corporate ownership. This economic study will promote the examination of the media products that students, and evaluate that based on: their ability to be discerning media consumers in an international media market; the efficiency of media corporations and their ability to be both productive and profitable; the relationship that students themselves engage in with media corporations. Class discussion, teacher-led interactive lecture, and student research will achieve greater economic and media literacy and success in covering New York State Learning Standards. Each activity will take place within a 39-minute class period, and should take place over a three day period.


Activity 1


  • Share with students the overhead projection of the “Big Ten” media corporations, and take a moment to explore with the class the products that each companies provide.
  • Ask students probing questions that will determine their current relationship with these companies. For example, ask “How many of your are familiar with AOL-Time Warner products?” (response may include Warner Bros. films, America On-Line Internet services, Time magazine) or “What media companies are you most familiar with, and why?”
  • After establishing that students certainly have a relationship with these companies, review the key facts of media ownership as discussed by Stephen Greyser and his panel members:

Key Facts:

  • In the international market and across regions in the United States, there are increasingly fewer media voices due to corporate mega-mergers.
  • Power in the media rests in the hands of corporate conglomerates–similar to vertically integrated industries of the late 19th century–that provide multiple products to consumers.
  • Content provided by media corporations rests in their ability to provide useful information with the ability to mislead and damage the public
  • Like other corporations, media corporations attempt to cut costs and improve revenue year after year
  • Advertising is key for media corporation success

Activity Wrap-up: For homework, students should spend ten to fifteen minutes making a list of which media companies provide products for their household. Students should bring the list in for discussion for class the next day.

Activity 2


  • Ask several students to share their homework with the class. What sort of products did they find? Make a list on the board of the different products that students have discovered.
  • Ask students “Do media companies provide one sort of product, or several different products?” Students should realize that many companies are multi-media providers.
  • Discuss the issues of multi-media providers in the market place as outline by Rick Kaplan. Introduce his ideas with a clip from "The Lion King." Use the Disney model of “Media Company as Real Estate Company.” This will provide not only a corporate model for students to investigate, but also help them develop ideas as to how media corporations, as businesses, attempt to create profits.

Key Ideas:

  • Media companies, such as Disney, continually attempt to extend product lines. Movies become vehicles for other consumer products that beget other movies and products. (Lion King = $350 million in box office revenues, $1 billion in merchandise)
  • Local news accounts for half of local television station revenues; national companies provide majority of first-run and syndicated programming.
  • AOL-Time Warner continues to struggle because a successful publishing company is trying to create a viable partnership with as of yet unproven Internet provider(‘the new media’).
  • Deregulation of communications companies decreases radio/television ownership, and decreases programming variety across regions.

Activity Wrap-Up: For homework, students should review notes from class discussion as to prepare for a debate during the next class period. They should also read Michael Gartner and Alan Frank’s article “Is Allowing One Company to Own Many TV Stations Good for Consumers?”

Activity 3


  • Divide students into two groups. Debate Topic: Do media corporations limit or extend consumer choice in the marketplace? Tell students that they should be prepared to argue both sides, because they will not know what side they will have to argue at debate time. Give the groups fifteen class period minutes to consider the relationship they have with media corporations. Have students refer to the list they made for homework to help focus their thoughts.

Questions for groups to consider:

  • Do media corporations provide you with greater choice for media consumption?
  • Do media corporations limit your ability to choose products in the marketplace?
  • What sort of opportunities do companies provide you for media consumption?
  • Should there be more–or less–media companies in the world?
  • How does media ownership affect your quality of life? Do media corporations enhance your life, or diminish your life?

Engage in a general discussion with your students in the last five-ten minutes of class, and discuss the quality of life issue in greater detail. In essence, discuss the ways in which media companies interact with the public and influence student daily life? Do students consider this interaction positive or negative?

Activity Wrap-Up: Assign written essay


In a two-page typed, double-spaced, twelve point font essay, address the following:

  • Who owns the media in this country, and how do media companies behave as profit-seeking businesses; how does the media influence your ability to choose products in the marketplace; how does this influence affect your everyday life?

Grading on this essay will be based on the social studies department-approved grading rubric for argument content and clarity.

Resources Recommended

  • “Big Ten” media conglomerates overhead
  • "The Lion King" clip
  • “Is Allowing One Company to Own Many Stations Good for Consumers.” USA Today, February 25, 2002 (for students and instructor), Selections from "The Business of Media: Corporate Media and Public Interest" (Sage Publications 2001).

James Davis’ lesson plan, "Understanding Economic Principles through Media Education" was published in The Media and Democracy Curriculum Compendium 2002, Barrett and Greyser editors, published by Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., p. 136.

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