TV Evidence

Identify/Generate the principle
Time: 20-30 minutes

This activity (a variation of Film Evidence) introduces students to the kinds of evidence they can use in writing about television beyond plot. Students practice both finding evidence to suit a claim and generating a claim after gathering evidence. This is an incredibly useful exercise if you plan to ask students to write papers of any length in response to TV.
Tape the opening credits to two television series: one that you think most of your class has seen, one that you think they haven't. It's especially effective to pair two shows with similar subjects, one recent, one older ("Malcolm in the Middle" with "Leave It To Beaver," "Ally McBeal" with "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "The West Wing" with "Yes, Prime Minister").
Before you roll the credits, ask the students to brainstorm a short list of claims about the first show: How does it depict families/women/politics/etc.? Jot them down on the board. Then, roll the credits to the first show. First, just ask students to watch and listen. Then, ask them to choose a claim from the board and make notes of anything they could use as evidence to support that claim. (Roll the credits two more times for this activity; they go by quickly.) Finally, share evidence, and make a list of the kinds of clues television offers: music, camera angle, pace, shot choice, sequence, credit typeface, etc.
Then, roll the credits to the less popular program. Ask students to watch and listen without taking any notes. Then assign each student to a particular category of evidence; roll the credits twice more, asking students to take notes about their assigned type of evidence. Share results. Brainstorm a list of claims about the program that grow out of the evidence.