Representation Lessons for Writing Students

 In Lessons and Ideas, Professional Development, Secondary

by Irene Faiz OCT

multiracial graphic

These lessons were created for my grade 12 Ontario Literacy Course (OLC) English classes during a block of 11 weeks of remote learning at a west-end Toronto high school.  This course is based on the Gr. 10 OSSLT (Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test).  I had two OLC classes.  One was a Special Ed. OLC English class and the other was a regular-stream OLC English class.

Students who are enrolled in the OLC course need to demonstrate the reading and writing skills required by the Provincial Grade 10 Literacy Test.  It is very important to help these students feel a sense of empowerment since this is their final year in high school and they are likely feeling low self-esteem since they know they have not fulfilled this graduation requirement.

I started by reminding my OLC students that they will succeed.  And I also informed them that we will be using content relevant to their lives.  By using culturally-relevant content and by engaging the students in critical thinking based on the key concepts of media literacy, the students are more likely to be successful.

I focused on key concept # 2 on the AML website:  Media construct versions of reality. Each of this series of lessons provides students guidance on understanding this media literacy concept. One of the writing tasks required in the Grade 10 Literacy Test asks students to write three related paragraphs on a particular theme or topic.

The lessons are:

Representation #1
Compare and Contrast Lesson
Two Representations of Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario – Spring 2020
Writing Task:  Three Paragraphs
Representation #2
Analysis of song, Payback Time by King Cosmos
Representation of Black History in the USA from a Trinadadian / Canadian’s perspective
Writing Task:  One Paragraph
Representation #3
Analysis of the LEGO sculptures of Ekow Nimako
Representations of Black History and “Black Futures” from a Ghanian/Canadian’s perspective
Writing Task:  One Paragraph
Representation #4
Analysis of news stories about the police and Black victims in the current media.
Representations of Blacks in the media.
Writing Task:  One Paragraph


Doug Ford cooking cheesecake

Doug Ford press conference

One introductory activity that I created with the support of Neil Andersen from the AML is a compare & contrast lesson on representations of Doug Ford in the media in the spring of 2020 (Representation 1: Representations of Doug in COVID-19 Times click here for a pdf copy).  The lesson begins by asking the students to reflect on how they would represent themselves if they were to go out with their friends.  After completing this self reflection, the students are given two short videos to watch comparing two very different representations of Premier Doug Ford.  This series of lessons will lead the students to write three related paragraphs.

After completing this preliminary activity, the students are led to examine another set of three related of topics from current media.  These three topics will lead the students to write another set of paragraphs on a related topic.

The first of this series of three lessons (Representation 2: Payback Time, click here for a pdf copy) was designed to help my students understand Black History from new perspectives.  This lesson was a modified version of lessons posted on the AML website featuring King Cosmos’ song Payback Time.  All my students really enjoyed and appreciated learning this Trinadadian-Canadian’s version of USA Black History.


The third set of lessons led the students to look at the LEGO sculptures of Ekow Nimako (Representation 3: The LEGO Sculptures of Ekow Nimako click here for a pdf copy).  Ekow Nimako is creating new mythologies and stories of empowerment for his culture.  He is using LEGO to represent his culture and remember untold histories.


ekow nimako


The fourth set of lessons gave the students a chance to research current media representations of Black people and asked questions about social justice (Representation 4: Black Americans In The News) click here for a pdf copy.  This set of lessons provided articles about the murder of George Floyd.

George Floyd's Murder

An alternative to the last set might be for the students to choose an alternate news event about how other minority people—women, trans, children, indigenous, mentally-challenged, physically-challenged, etc.—have been treated by the police and represented in the news.

Each of these series of lessons led the students to write one paragraph.  All three topics are on the theme of how Black people have been represented in the media. So, ultimately, the students can be guided to link all three of these paragraphs to formulate a five-paragraph essay.

During the 11 weeks of remote learning, my OLC students found these lessons engaging and challenging.  They were intrigued in watching a video of Premier Doug Ford showing the people of Ontario how to make his mother’s cheesecake recipe. They found this representation quite a contrast to how we see him being represented at the daily press conferences on our television screens.  They began to understand the meaning of the word, “representation” by comparing and contrasting these two portrayals of the Premier of Ontario and by also thinking about how they represent themselves.

My students really appreciated the lessons about the history of Black Americans as told through the song Payback Time by King Cosmos.

They also enjoyed Ekow Nimako’s positive portrayals of Black women and men.  They enjoyed these stories and mythologies of strong and inspiring Black characters.

All of our students have been affected by the recent news stories of racism towards Black Americans.  The students appreciated being allowed to read these stories from different perspectives and formulate their own thoughts on these stories.

My students also appreciated seeing their teacher make the effort to bring current and relevant news events to them through these lessons.  I began by using the resources that the AML had posted.  The lessons and the weekly blogs were excellent resources by which I began working on these lessons.

Please feel free to use and/or adapt these lessons. I wish you and your students success as they develop their reading, research, media literacy and writing skills.


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