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Analyzing and Synthesizing Propaganda Techniques in Film

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Keywords: propaganda, media, analysis, synthesis, English, Language Arts, manipulation, fallacies
Subject(s): Information Skills, Social Studies, Video, Technology, Writing, Speech and Language, Reading, English/Language Arts
Grades 9 through 12
NETS-S Standard:
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Research and Information Fluency
  • Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Technology Operations and Concepts
View Full Text of Standards
School: Rio Hondo High School, Rio Hondo, TX
Planned By: Edwin Everett
Original Author: Edwin Everett, Rio Hondo
Grade Level: 9-12
Subject: Language Arts

Established Goals:

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills:
(12) Reading/Media Literacy. Students use comprehension skills to analyze how words, images, graphics, and sounds work together in various forms to impact meaning. Students are expected to: (B) evaluate the interactions of different techniques (e.g., layout, pictures, typeface in print media, images, text, sound in electronic journalism) used in multi-layered media;

I. Essential Question
How can large masses of people be manipulated through media with non-verbal messages?

II. Plan
This set of activities will consume about three weeks within a larger 9-week unit called the “Weapons of Rhetoric.” In that larger unit, there will be four parts, with this set of activities appearing as the second part in the four-part unit:

Charting Manipulations in Ads--Who Can We Trust?
Making a Propaganda Video
Analyzing Schemes in Speeches
Writing, Documenting and Presenting the Persuasive Speech

Students will be given all rubrics and examples (both as handouts and shared through Google Drive--all students have Gmail accounts) before any work begins. Teams will be composed of two students although students desiring to work alone will be allowed, especially if they are highly skilled in the use of computers and the Internet. Teams will be given a week’s notice to consider their topics well in advance as we explore typical commercial methods of persuasion.

III. Steps in Making a Propaganda Video

1. Conspiracy Video & Discussion (30 minutes). The class will watch a 10-minute video clip from the film Zeitgeist which had gone viral on YouTube. The clip is named “North American Union & RFID Chip. Truth. Must See!” After watching it, I’ll ask how many students believe most of what they’ve seen on that film (e.g., North America merging into one country, the ultimate one-world government, 911 as a staged event, imminent mandatory RFID chip implants, etc.). Then, we’ll watch it again, discussing what techniques were used--both verbal and nonverbal-- to convince us of the clip’s veracity. We’ll further brainstorm ideas for crazy but believable conspiracy topics.

2. Construct a Storyboard for the film (about 3 50-minute class periods). Teams will have three class days and a weekend to build a storyboard for their video. It will be scored formatively so that changes can be made before students begin putting time into the actual video. During this time they will also be researching nonverbal propaganda techniques to add to the storyboard.

3. Create the Video (about 5 50-minute class periods and a weekend). Students will use a Propaganda Video Rubric and detailed guidelines in creating their conspiracy theory video. They will film at whatever locations are needed, including during school time if campus locations are desired. They will use Loopster.com or another video editing program of their choice, adding audio files, images, and transitions to the video editing platform as needed.

4. Evaluate Media in Film of Another Team (2 50-minute class periods plus homework). Using an example and form--shared with students through Google Docs, students are to make a copy of the form, and independently to evaluate the video of another team. They will be allowed to use their devices to make notes on the form during the repeated showing of the other videos. They will then be allowed two days to complete the form, taking time to think over what happened in the film and why particular parts were placed where they were placed. As a means of handing in the assignment, students will share their copies with me via gmail.

IV. Narratives Regarding Assessments

A. Technology Utilized and How It Enables an Assessment of Student Performance

The students will be using a plethora of technology-based tools in all aspects of this lesson. Embedded in the 21st Century skills they are learning is the idea of file sharing through Google Drive throughout all aspects of the lesson. This is the first semester that I have either required gmail accounts or used an LMS (Schoology) with these students, so this method of handing in work is brand new to all of us. The idea is that I begin the lesson (after the initial video hook and discussion) by sharing a non-editable version of all the directions and rubrics with the students. They then have to make a copy of it and share the copy with me. That way, I can keep track of all of the changes they make to their documents and also have it when grading time comes around. The only thing that isn’t shared is the video itself, but the shared link to the video is adequate for evaluation.

I will spend time at the beginning of each period demonstrating how to use a particular tool that figures into the current parts of the project. In fact, since they’re using so many online tools, I generally spend about 10 to 15 minutes at the beginning of every period discussing the tools they’ll likely be using that day. For the most part, students will be using the following tools: Loopster, Looperman, Sumopaint, Audacity, iPhone Apps of their choice, Gmail, and Google Docs. Uploading their videos to YouTube will be optional but encouraged.

Once we’ve watched the conspiracy video from YouTube and discussed it and the manipulation strategies used, students will then plan their video via a storyboard, which is step two. Students use Google Document to develop their storyboards, with each member of the team sharing with the other so that as one makes changes in his Google Drive account, those changes appear on the other’s copy as well--and on mine. Once the deadline has approached, I simply fill out a copy of the rubric and share it with them without giving them rights to edit it. I will use this grading approach, with regard to sharing the rubric, in the next two steps of the lesson as well.

Of course, the most technologically intensive aspect of the lesson involves the third step--video creation and editing. Students have to learn how to take videos with their Smartphones--which most of them have--and email these to their gmail accounts. From there, the videos must be downloaded to their laptops (or Chromebooks) and uploaded to an account they will have created in Loopster.com or another video-editing and hosting tool. As per the requirements of step three, an image editor must be used to manipulate at least one image and all of the credits. An online or offline audio editing program must also be used for the background music mp3 files that students are required to use at least somewhere in their videos. They are encouraged to visit royalty-free sites for these, like looperman.com. Once they have all their audio, video and image files, the teams must organize these in the video editor and hosting program Loopster.com--or another if any students have made videos using another program with which they are more comfortable.

While watching and discussing the conspiracy videos developed by other teams, students work through step four--the Propaganda Film Evaluation Form. At their desks they will have some device (Smartphone, Laptop) to make notes regarding a conspiracy video that they’ve watched. We will watch them several times each, so students can decided whether or not to use a particular video in the first showing and take notes during the second and third. Students will be typing their notes into the cells of the Propaganda in Film Evaluation Form while logged into their gmail accounts, accessing the document through Google Drive.

Clearly, student performance could not be assessed without an advanced level of technology present in my classroom along with a strong knowledge of file management both on their parts and on mine. Although students are being explicitly assessed on their ability to analyze and synthesize propaganda elements, there is an underlying requirement that they become at least proficient with a number of media file types (mp4, mp3, jpeg, etc.) and some of the online sites where these can be collected, modified, and assimilated. The understandings that they gain regarding these technology mediums do not require rubrics, however, since the requirements in the propaganda assessment rubrics could not possibly be met without their also showing proficiency in these. Thus, to master the rubrics’ standards entails the mastering of advanced, authentic technology-based understandings as well.

B. Thought Processes

In considering how best to approach a unit on persuasion and propaganda, I considered a number of project possibilities, but one always kept recurring in my mind--the propaganda video. From earlier years in dealing with propaganda, I remember showing students videos that suggested imminent end of the world scenarios, not to scare them but to test their levels of gullibility. Indeed, I’ve found that even high school seniors will believe just about anything if it is couched in a convincing medium. Thus, to target this tendency, I wanted students to build their own propaganda source to demonstrate to them just how easy it is to make the incredible seem almost self-evident. After a quick poll, I realized that none of my students had ever made a video for online viewing. That sealed it!

The facet of understanding this project targets most involves perspective. Students are told that they are to attempt to convince all but the most critical of audiences that some incredible event has happened, is happening, or will happen. They must consider the mindset of the average person who surfs the web and absorbs the plethora of messages hurled at them with every click. By having them create such absurd messages couched in a semblance of truth, I hope to have students think critically about the messages to which they expose themselves as daily consumers of media.

In attempting to justify their strange accounts, students must provide just enough facts and data that, when combined with non-verbal messages, bring their audience to a position of uncertainty about their world. They must also bring what they know about the causal connections in their world into the story and events behind their films, in a way that reshapes these understandings in a unique manner for others to view and interpret.

Finally, upon finalizing this project, students should come to a point of self-knowledge that opens up a self-critiquing dialogue involving the questioning of old habits of thinking, sources of prejudice, and previously accepted understandings. In their unique interpretation of a chain of events that could or did happen--but most likely won’t and didn’t--students, I expect students will have a challenging opportunity to deconstruct all the myths associated with their topics, creating in reality a reinterpreted vision of a conspiracy theory or urban legend that most likely already exists in some form.

Follow-up activities are detailed in the plan description.
Materials: Mobile Labs
Other Items: 30 Acer Chromebooks, $199.00 each, total of $5970.00