Author logo GCSE English - studying media

What are the media?
Sources of information
Primary sources
Sources of media education
Independent media study
Choosing a subject
Writing about your subject
Studying TV drama, soap opera and sitcoms
Studying children's television
Writing about TV for the very young
Television violence
BBC Guidelines on violence
Making a television broadcast
Key words
Itchy, Scratchy and Marge - transcript


This guide has been written to help you study the media. It is specifically written for students in England and Wales, studying media for assessed work in English in Key Stage 4 of the National Curriculum (Level 2 or GCSE). It may be of interest to students of media generally.

What are the media?

Any way in which we communicate is a medium of communication. When we speak of these collectively (radio, television, the press, cinema and so on) we refer to the media. This word comes from Latin (which explains its irregular ending) but has been naturalized into English (become a standard English word). Sometimes you will read of the mass media (those aimed at a large public) but increasingly the qualifying adjective (mass) is taken as read.

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The National Curriculum requires the study of the media in various ways. The Programme of Study for English in Key Stages 3 and 4 (11-16) contains general requirements for media study, as well as the following explicit (stated) requirements :

  • Speaking and listening - Breadth of study: The range should include listening to and watching recordings (for example, radio, television, film).
  • Reading - Media and moving image texts: Pupils should be taught
    • how meaning is conveyed in texts that include print, images and sometimes sounds
    • how choice of form, layout and presentation contribute to effect (for example, font, caption, illustration in printed text, sequencing, framing, soundtrack in moving image text)
    • how the nature and purpose of media products influence content and meaning (for example, selection of stories for a front page or news broadcast)
    • how audiences and readers choose and respond to media.
  • Writing to analyse, review, comment: Pupils should be taught to
    • reflect on the nature and significance of the subject matter
    • form their own view, taking into account a range of evidence and opinions
    • organise their ideas and information, distinguishing between analysis and comment
    • take account of how well the reader knows the topic.

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The GCSE or Diploma specification which you are following requires (in line with the National Curriculum) that you have opportunities to study a range of media. However, you must produce at least one complete piece of written coursework which is a media study of some kind. This could be a study which considers a single medium or one which looks at different media comparatively.

Sometimes your teacher may wish to direct your study very closely, especially in areas where you may not understand the terms in which the chosen media should be approached. For some kinds of study, it may be more appropriate for your teacher to show you some general principles to follow, but allow you to study independently (on your own), as exam boards encourage original and autonomous work.

The National Curriculum and GCSE or Diploma specifications also indicate what students should do in order to achieve particular grades/levels of attainment. Your teacher should make this information available to you, to help you do appropriate work. Most of the tasks which are suggested in this guide are suitable for speaking and listening or writing tasks; all of them should enable your teacher to assess you for Reading and/or Writing.

The AQA's Specification A, for example, has a compulsory piece of written coursework on media, which is assessed for writing, but not for reading. Here is the exam board's own guidance, as this appears in a recent published version of the exam specification:

The task should enable the candidates to demonstrate their ability to analyse, review and comment on features of media texts such as television programmes, film, radio programmes, newspapers, advertisements and magazines. Although this assignment is assessed for En3, candidates' responses should be firmly rooted in a reading of media texts; effective analysis and review of their chosen text(s) will require candidates to use an appropriate critical vocabulary.

Appropriate tasks might include the following:

  • A comparison of the techniques used in the opening sequence of two films.
  • An analytical piece of writing about a genre of programme on television, commenting on the use of conventions with precise textual references.
  • Analysis and review of individual films or programmes.
  • A comparison of two pieces of moving image marketing (advertisements for similar products; trailers; pop videos).
  • Analysis of the presentation of news in different media (e.g. newspapers, radio or television) or as it is presented differently by various groups within the same media.
  • An analysis of an advert or series of television adverts for a product.

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Sources of information

In studying the media you are surrounded by material which can help you. Lots of it is free. Mostly this material is of two kinds. Either it will be the things you are going to study (films, magazines, newspapers, advertisements, radio or television broadcasts and so on). Or, if you are prepared to look a little harder, you will find things which sort out or explain the subject for you. You cannot copy these directly, but you can certainly learn from them, and put into your own words the ideas you have found. Often these will be of more use than anything your teacher can give you, since we cannot be experts on all areas of the media (even the writer of this guide)!

A lot of this material is produced by those with great practical experience. They will often be very familiar with techniques and presentational devices which teachers and students may not know. Let these experts help you with your work! Once you have chosen a subject for study you can begin to collect the sources and material you need. You may need to present the source material as evidence to support your work on it (for broadcast material you may need to write or print a transcript). Usually, this will appear in the body of your work, or be placed at the end, as an appendix.

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Primary sources

You can find plenty of resources by following these links on this site:

Television and radio

Make video or audio tapes of programmes you want to study. Alternatively, if you have a high-speed Internet connection, you may be able to obtain digital recordings of these texts.

Magazines and newspapers

Ask your parents, neighbours and friends to give you these once they are out of date. As a lot of them will be bulky, you may wish to cut out the articles you need - but you should record which publication they are from and what their date is. You can scan these, and save the data files as images, or use optical character recognition software (OCR) to obtain the text in a form that will allow you to manipulate it in other applications.


Make video or audio-tapes of broadcast adverts - record a few moments of the programme during or after which they were screened (or write down what it was), as this may affect your response; collect print adverts from magazines and newspapers - as above note where and when they were published. Increasingly you can find advertisements available on the World Wide Web - the producers are often happy to give them to you, in order to show you the commercial.

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Sources of media education

These may be very basic. Even the listings page in the local free newspaper has some helpful information. Listings magazines (Radio Times and so on) have a lot more, and it's mostly easy to follow. Magazines for younger readers usually have a page or so of reviews and "soapwatches". Most national newspapers have sections dedicated to television, radio and film; many have columns on advertising. Weekend editions are especially good, as most carry media sections. The Monday edition of the Guardian newspaper contains an excellent media supplement (suitable for the advanced student).

There are very many broadcasts which can help you: film review programmes appear on several TV channels. Occasional broadcasts show how a particular film or drama series was made. There are humorous broadcasts which look at television programmes from the past or other parts of the world, or which study advertising. The most helpful programmes are probably those that are broadcast specifically to support media studies for you or for older students: these are broadcast on BBC2 and Channel 4, usually while you are asleep or at school (or both): use your video recorder to tape these (copying them is allowed by law).

Your teacher should be able to provide you with details of educational broadcasts on the media. But you can find them for yourself in a good newspaper or listings magazine. You can find plenty of links on this site, by going to:

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How to produce an independent media study

This part of the guide will help you work independently on a subject of your choice. Guidance here is very general, and you will need to work under the supervision of your teacher, who will advise you about drafting and set a time for completion of the work.

Choosing your subject

Decide whether you want to study a single medium (e.g. television) or a theme or subject (e.g. sport) in a range of media. You now need to narrow your study down. For subjects such as film, TV, print journalism or radio, two or three examples are more than enough, if you are to study them in detail. Use the list below to help you choose; you are allowed to look at different media forms or genres if there is some linking theme.

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  • Broadcast media: Any kind of radio or television programme can be studied. Choose those about which you already know something, or which you are able to study closely.
  • Print media: You may study newspapers, magazines or comics.
  • Feature films: You may study several films on a set theme or which have the same director.
  • Electronic and new media: You may wish to study new forms of communication, such as the Internet, looking, for example, at a range of sites or homepages on the World Wide Web.
  • Advertising in different media: Look at advertising of the same or similar products in different media (broadcast and cinema commercials, print and poster adverts, sponsorship).
  • Journalism: Look at the treatment of one or more related stories as presented in different news reports (print, broadcast or both).
  • Sport: How is sport presented in a range of (broadcast and/or print) media?

This is a very basic list. Alternative possibilities are almost infinite. Check out other ideas with your teacher. You may find subjects by looking at media guides or other sources (see above).

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Writing about your subject

What is it?

First of all, introduce it briefly, in a single paragraph. Next, describe its different aspects in more detail (arrange this in paragraphs). At all stages give examples which support what you say. Don't generalise and never make unsupported comments. For some subjects, you will find detailed advice elsewhere in this guide, but it is not possible to do this here, as it depends on what you are studying; your teacher should be able to help you make a checklist.

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How is it presented?

Now, look at methods or techniques of presentation. This is much harder, and you are likely to need help, but if you can do this, you can earn a higher grade. You may think of such things as layout, typeface, organization, use of pictures (print) or camera angle, lighting, editing, close-ups (television). But presentation also includes features of language (metaphor, dramatic dialogue, formality or informality) or structure (how episodes in drama or segments of a magazine programme are arranged and linked). Visual images and figures of speech are important. In broadcasts, comment on everything you hear (and see). Don't forget presenters, actors/actresses or editors and columnists.

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Making a judgement and a personal response

Is what you are studying of interest to a few people or very generally interesting? Do you like it, and why? If you study several things try to compare them. You may well link your judgements to your study of presentation.

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Studying television drama, soap-opera or situation comedies

For many students this is a good subject to start with, as you probably know such programmes well. You may either write (or speak) about one or more programmes or attempt to write scripts or storyboards for them, to show your understanding (it is hard to do this very well). Try and show awareness both of subject or content (what is in the programme) and the programme-makers' methods (how it is presented). The first of these is much easier, but you need to do the second as well to gain a high grade for reading. What follows is a simple check list of things about which you can write (or speak). If you feel you can't do any of them, or they are not appropriate to you, just miss them out!

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Introducing the programme - what is it about?

Write a paragraph or two (no more) which introduces the most obvious features of the programme you have chosen. Here you may list things or mention briefly things you will explain in detail later.


Describe a range of these (probably not all). What sort of person is each? What are his or her relationships with others in the cast? Comment on important storylines featuring this character. How is the audience supposed to respond to him or her? Does the character have pet phrases, distinctive speech or mannerisms, notable gestures or habits? Comment on the way the actor or actress plays the part. (you may wish to place these comments in the part of your work where you consider dramatic method and presentation.)


Describe the place where the drama is set, both generally and more specifically (a square in London's East End; a public house, a market and so on). What is the character of this setting? Does it have anything to do with the drama?

Plot and storylines

Do not attempt to cover much of this (it isn't possible). Select a few current or memorable past stories or incidents. What is happening now? Are characters becoming more or less important, or changing in other ways?

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Presentational devices - how does the drama work?

This is how the actors and actresses suggest or establish character; refer to the checklist above. If you have already done this, don't repeat it.


How is the broadcast organized into separate episodes or scenes (check this by counting changes of location; don't guess this - count them carefully). How is each bit of story told within a given episode? How often do particular characters appear in the drama?

Technical features

These will vary with the chosen drama and may deserve more or less comment. Look at camera-work; do we always see the speaker, or do we have a reaction shot? Is the camera work matching the dialogue or giving us another strand of narrative (as in, say, NYPD Blue)? What is the balance of studio (inside) or location (outside) shooting?

In conclusion

Make a personal judgement. Say whether you think the drama is good or not, and give reasons for your opinion.

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Studying children's television

This activity should enable you to produce assessed work for speaking and listening, for reading and for writing.

Your teacher may be able to provide you with some printed resources, and some video-taped broadcasts. But you can easily find material of your own instead of, or as well as, this.

To begin with, you should watch one or more recorded broadcasts, and, in groups or pairs, to study the other source material. You can then attempt one or more of these speaking and listening tasks:

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  • Teletubbies (or other programme of the pupils' or teacher's choice): Explain ways in which this programme appeals to young children and helps them learn. You should discuss content (the different parts of the broadcast); language use in all sections of the programme; features of presentation and the effect of visual images.
  • Adults' comments on Teletubbies: Using a notebook or paper, arrange these in a list with the most favourable comment at one extreme and the most critical at the other (you can choose the order). For each comment, decide how reasonable it is. Bear in mind that many adults may fail to understand how their children learn and think.
  • Talk about the programmes you watched before starting school. Try to recall why you did or didn't like them. Did any of them help you learn? Can the same programme be both informative and entertaining, judging from your experience?

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Your teacher may ask you to make a short, more formal, spoken presentation on one or all of these subjects, after your informal discussion. Remember that your work is assessed at all stages, and that credit is given for listening (to others) as well as speaking. How well you have listened is easily judged by your response to others.

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You may also be asked to undertake one or both of the tasks outlined below. These can be presented orally, but either may be turned into a written response. Both tasks will test your reading and researching skills as well as your communication in speaking or writing:

  • Programming for younger viewers: You are asked to look through listings magazines to see what programmes are scheduled for children and teenagers (not including schools broadcasts). You are expected to analyse and interpret your findings. Consider the type of programme, its timing and frequency, whether it is made in-house, by an independent company, in the UK or imported. You may make a judgement about the overall quality of programming for various age-groups. If you can make recommendations to improve programming for younger viewers, please do so.
  • Investigating customer satisfaction: For Teletubbies and/or other programmes of your choice, prepare a survey or questionnaire for young viewers. You must use suitable language, and must devise a way of recording your findings simply. (For example, avoid crude "Yes/No" alternatives but judge approval, say, on a scale from 1 to 5). If you are unable to find enough children to survey, you may pool your results with others. Make a presentation of your results, and what you think they tell you.

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Writing about television for the very young

This task will lead to assessment in reading and in writing. It has been devised to enable you to achieve a high grade in both of these attainment targets.

You should prepare by watching a range of television broadcasts for pre-school or other young children (usually broadcast in the day-time or early afternoon, when infants have come home). Read the articles provided by your teacher on Teletubbies, Thomas the Tank Engine, Postman Pat and other programmes. Your task is to draft and write up a comparison of broadcasts for children. It is up to you to decide which of these (and other) programmes you will discuss. You are encouraged to find and use any other articles in the media about these programmes. If you quote from them, and discuss the opinions expressed, you will gain credit for researching the subject thoroughly.

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You may illustrate your work with images from the broadcasts. You should quote dialogue and describe action. You must write about both the content ("what") and method ("how") of the programmes you discuss. The following checklists may help you.


  • What is the programme about (be brief - a paragraph is all you need here)?
  • Describe characters, settings, presenters, narratives or situations (as appropriate).
  • For what audience is it broadcast (give reasons for your view on this)?
  • What ideas or values does the programme encourage its audience to have?

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  • What kind of programme is it (e.g. puppet animation, cartoon, live presentation)?
  • Describe the length, format and structure of the programme.
  • Comment on the language and its suitability for the target audience (standard and non-standard vocabulary, sentence length and structure, text appearing on screen and so on).
  • Comment on visual images, sound effects, music and song.
  • Comment on any other presentational devices.
  • Comment on its appeal to the audience.

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In conclusion, try to compare the merits and failings of each of the programmes you have chosen; you may support or contest views stated in the articles you have found or been given. Your writing should be coherent (well-organized), persuasive, lucid (clear) and subtle, if you are to earn the highest grade for writing.

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Television Violence - The Simpsons and the BBC guidelines

This is a very structured task. It can be done wholly in school and requires little time. It can be used as practice for the GCSE paper, a section of which requires a response to a media or factual article. At the same time, it will yield an essay which will satisfy the requirements for your media study written coursework in GCSE English.

First you are to watch the selected episode of The Simpsons. (If you are a teacher, it is worth asking your students if any of them has a recording of this programme. If you wish to read a transcript of the screenplay, click here.) In this episode - Itchy and Scratchy and Marge - Marge (the mother) protests successfully against cartoon violence. Cartoons without violence bore the children who desert the television for wholesome pursuits in the open air. But when Marge is asked to help protest against a nude statue (Michelangelo's David) which is to be exhibited in her hometown, she refuses to do so. Accused of inconsistency, she admits that "One person can make a difference, but most of the time they shouldn't" and the animators restore the violence to their cartoons.

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Next, you will receive extracts from the BBC's 1987 guidelines for production staff Violence on Television (these resulted from the report of the Wyatt Committee on this subject, from the same year). The relevant section of guidelines is quoted on this Web page. The task is to make a written comparison of these two, showing how they present the debate over the influence on the viewer of TV violence. Very simply, you should explain what each has to say about violence on television, how it says it, and make a judgement about how persuasive each is: in effect, you must write three sections, each of which may have two sub-sections. Paragraphing should reflect this.

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Because you may not recall everything of importance in the Simpsons episode, you may find the following notes helpful:

Content ("what")

Contains many familiar arguments - for example

  • very young children imitate what they see on the television;
  • violence was around long before television;
  • protester is dismissed as "wacko" but finds many supporters;
  • censorship of violence is illogically linked with censorship of nudity;
  • adults don't know what's in the programmes until they study them;
  • ritualized violence in cartoons does not make older children act violently;
  • if television is boring children will make their own entertainment.

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Method ("how")

Sophisticated reference to other cultural works:

  • Hitchcock's Psycho (film-score music; red paint down plughole like notorious "shower" murder scene; unusual camera angle above "victim");
  • Field of Dreams (line of vans delivering letters like line of cars at end of the film);
  • Itchy and Scratchy a parody of Tom and Jerry, similar, but excessively violent: one episode is called Messenger of Death; another opens with an explosion in a grave, propelling skeleton into the sky;
  • non-violent episodes have values of Forever Friends, Care Bears or My Little Pony;
  • Beethoven's 6th (Pastoral) Symphony used for "Golden Age" scenes;
  • Michelangelo's David comes to Springfield.

Programmes within the programme serve as comment.

Manipulation of viewer - Marge leads us to a more tolerant conclusion.

Irony, as Homer believes a "golden age" has dawned - many (forgetful) adults claim life was like this before television became so attractive.

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In the case of the BBC guidelines, you have the text in front of you. Refer to this directly and explain or comment. You should quote briefly, but not at length. You may use dictionaries if your teacher allows this, although dictionaries are not allowed in the GCSE exam. You may spend a few minutes making notes, but should write your work as a fair copy (no time to draft). Your teacher may show you how to set out the work.

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Violence on Television - the BBC 1987 Guidelines

The following is an extract from Violence on Television: Guidelines for Production Staff, published by the BBC in 1987. The publication gives guidance on production of various kinds of programme. This section refers to Children's Programmes.


  • Between the ages of two and 12 children pass through a number of intellectual and emotional stages. They only gradually acquire an understanding of television conventions, so that what may appear self-evident to an adult will not necessarily have that same meaning for a child. The following guidelines are based on this.
  • Young children do not fully understand the subtleties of good and bad and will readily commit themselves to one side in a conflict. Avoid using violence as an easy way of resolving conflict.
  • Children are strongly affected by realistic events close to their world, e.g. death of parents, brother, sister, friends and pets. Care should be taken with such situations, particularly violence, physical and verbal, in the home.
  • The impression should not be given that violence does not lead to injury. Frightening scenes should be considered with great care, and thought given to how children of all ages might cope. Do not linger on death scenes or frightening close-ups.
  • Avoid dangerous situations which could be easy for children to imitate, e.g. karate chops, weapons which are easily accessible - knives, ropes, broken bottles etc. - scenes in which people are locked in empty rooms or cellars or hide in old refrigerators or ovens.
  • Details of criminal techniques should not be shown, e.g. picking locks, making weapons etc.
  • Good characters, and those with whom children identify, should, where possible, only use legitimate and legal means to achieve their objectives.
  • In news reports, attention should be given to the likely impact, particularly on children viewing alone, of coverage of violence and its consequences.

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Extension task - making a television broadcast

There are various ways to do this, and you may approach it as a task for speaking and listening, reading and writing, or all of these.

First, decide whether you are going to prepare a broadcast of an existing programme or whether you are going to devise your own broadcast.

If you choose the first, you are advised to select a programme which does not require elaborate resources (actors, locations, technicians and so on) unless you are doing a spoof version - this is allowed so long as it respects the original. If you take the second option, a magazine programme with young presenters and everyday locations is less challenging. BBC2's Video Nation is ideal as a model (but why not do it for real? See below). Animation is not advised unless you aim to put in many hours. However, by using computer applications, you can create quite effective presentations, that use digital audio and still or moving images.

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Alternatively, you may choose to write a screenplay or camera script for a programme. Again, this can be one you have devised, or an existing programme. For an existing programme, you can show your ability in reading by keeping close to current storylines, established character and style of dialogue (if you can do this really well, you may even find that the production company will employ you as a writer).

Finally, you can make a real television broadcast. You can do this by submitting a digital media file, recorded CD/DVD or VHS videotape to a programme or other forum for community response and participation in broadcasting. You could apply to be in the audience (or even a participant) in a programme such as a game show, which invites the public to do this.

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Key words

Use these in your own work, as required:

  • audience
  • broadcast (noun and verb; as a verb it never ends in -ed: the film was broadcast last night.)
  • censorship
  • programme, programming (program in UK English refers to computing)
  • sitcom/situation comedy
  • soap opera
  • watershed

You may make use of anything on this guide in your writing, but should avoid copying word for word, although you may wish to cut and paste into your word processing or desktop publishing software.

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© Andrew Moore, 2000, 2004; Contact me