Bright Spot: Media Detective

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

This bright spot was originally published in the 100 Million Healthier Lives Change Library and is brought to you through partnership with 100 Million Healthier Lives and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.


Detailed Description

Media Detective (MD) is a media literacy education program for 3rd to 5th grade students. The goal of the program is to prevent or delay the onset of underage alcohol and tobacco use by enhancing the critical thinking skills of students so they become adept in deconstructing media messages, particularly those related to alcohol and tobacco products, and by encouraging healthy beliefs and attitudes about abstaining from alcohol and tobacco use. The program consists of 10 45-minute lessons based on established models of decision-making and research on the message interpretation process. Students are taught to deconstruct product advertisements by looking for five "clues": (1) the product, (2) the target audience, (3) the ad hook, (4) the hidden message, and (5) missing information about the health-related consequences of using the product. The program uses a range of pedagogical techniques and can be adapted to a variety of classroom settings and skill levels of students.

Expected Outcomes

The goal of the program is to:

Encourage healthy cognitions about alcohol and tobacco use: Through class discussions, activities, and group work, students develop healthy beliefs and attitudes about abstaining from alcohol and tobacco use. Enhance critical thinking skills:This program is designed to foster the development of critical thinking skills in students, so they may successfully resist the dangerously positive messages about alcohol and tobacco use they encounter in media. These skills transform students from passive to active media consumers. Delay or prevent the onset of underage alcohol and tobacco use: It is intended that the Media Detective participants will be empowered with the media literacy skills they need to make informed decisions about the products and services that they buy and use, particularly in relation to alcohol and tobacco use.

SPECIFIC OUTCOMES: Reduction in intent to use tobacco products among students who reported previous tobacco or alcohol use. Improvement in self-efficacy to resist using tobacco and alcohol in the future among students who reported previous use of a tobacco or alcohol product. Reduction in boys' interest in alcohol-branded merchandise (i.e. toys, clothing household objects emblazoned with beer brand names and logos.) Improved media message deconstruction skills.


Evidence-based bright spot (strong evidence)

Cost Details

As of July 2014 the cost for this intervention is as follows:

Required by developer:

  • Curriculum kit (includes teacher manual, 5 posters, CD with multimedia presentation 30 student detective notebooks, and 30 bookmarks) -$400 each

Not required by developer:

  • Additional student detective notebooks (pack of 10) -$55 per pack
  • 1-year license for on-demand, Web-based teacher training (includes teacher certification test) -$100 per participant
  • 1-day|on-site teacher training workshop -$2,800 for up to 20 participants, plus travel expenses
  • Teacher certification test -$25 each
  • Implementation design and monitoring consultation -$175 per hour
  • Evaluation services consultation -$175 per hour

For the latest cost details, please contact the Media Detective program directly.

Key Steps for Implementation


  • Audience Size: Maximum of 30 students
  • Age Range: Youth ages 8-10
  • Grade: Grades 3-5
  • Gender: Both Male and Female
  • Number of Lessons: 10 classroom lessons
  • Length of Sessions: 45 minutes
  • Duration of Implementation: One lesson per day, presented sequentially
  • Training: Required Students enroll in Media Detective School for two weeks and explore media literacy lessons with their teacher, accompanied by dog and cat detective duo Snoop and Scoop. During ten lessons, students are taught to unravel the mysteries associated with media messages and advertisements. As successful Media Detectives, they will be able to stop and think critically before accepting media messages particularly positive and persuasive media messages about alcohol and tobacco use.
  • To replicate with fidelity:
    • The teacher should complete the Media Detective Teacher Training
    • Review the Teacher's Manual
    • Cover all program activities outlined in the Teachers Manual with the students.
    • Use the Fidelity Checklist to monitor adherence to the program sections

Special Funding

Innovation Research Training, Inc. (iRT) can help a school, organization, or community coalition write a grant proposal to apply for funding to implement or evaluate this program.

Required Materials

  • Curriculum Kit (All-inclusive kit includes poster presentation materials, scripted lesson plans, and student activity notebooks). Media Detective Student Notebook (3rd grade 4th-5th grade versions)
  • Optional Materials Overhead Transparencies of Media Examples Media Detective Bookmarks Replacement CD of Media Examples
  • The curriculum kit and additional student detective notebooks are available in English or Spanish.


Innovation Research Training, Inc. (iRT) offers an interactive, multimedia, Web-based teacher training for the Media Detective program.Training is a 6-hour web-based course. It is highly recommended that all teachers who intend to teach MD to children in their classes complete the training.

Types of Staff

Teachers from the participating schools can facilitate the program after receiving online training or in-person workshops from the program developers.

Outcome Measures

Media deconstruction skills

Understanding of the persuasive intent of advertisements

Interest in alcohol-branded merchandise

Intention to use alcohol and tobacco

Self-efficacy to refuse alcohol and tobacco.

Process Measures

Attendance scores for each lesson (Scores ranged from 3 to 10 days of attendance). Teachers reported how thoroughly they had taught each topic of each lesson (0 "not at all to 3" thoroughly) as a measure of fidelity of implementation.

 Related Topics

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Substance Use

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Children and Youth