The Reality of Digital Drama (6-8)

Does the way we think about digital drama have anything to do with gender?

Students discuss their impressions of peer drama, both online and as depicted on reality TV.

Students compare and contrast two videos — one featuring a candid discussion between middle school students about online drama and the other featuring clips from The Real Housewives reality TV series. Students are encouraged to analyze generalizations about men and women in both videos, and to think critically about the ways that gender stereotypes can play out in mass media, as well as in their own lives online. 

Students will be able to:

  • reflect on their own impressions of digital drama.
  • compare underlying messages about drama on reality TV with “real world” digital drama among young teens.
  • think critically about the gender stereotypes associated with drama.

Materials and Preparation

  • Review the Gender and Digital Life Teacher Backgrounder (Middle School).
  • Preview the videos “Discussing Digital Drama” and “The Real Housewives Series Video Clips,” and prepare to show them to students.
  • Copy the Dissecting Drama Student Handout, one for each student.

Teaching Plans


Warm-up (5 minutes)

PREPARE students for a two-minute free-write exercise. 

INSTRUCT students to reflect on the word drama. How would they define it? What does it mean to them?

INVITE student volunteers to share their responses with the rest of the class. 
Sample responses:

  • A type of fighting, or a tiff, that happens between friends or groups of friends
  • Gossip or rumors, breakups or falling outs
  • Jealousy, or people excluding one another on purpose
  • Making comments about people online without actually using their names

DISCUSS the double meaning of the word drama. In the context of theater, drama refers to a play or performance. In a social context, drama often refers to an emotional conflict between or among people.

ENCOURAGE students to describe how “online drama” fits both of these definitions. (Guide them to consider that online drama is displayed, or performed, for an audience of peers online. For example, someone may initiate a fight on a friend’s Facebook wall, knowing that other people will see the comments and possibly get involved.)

ASK: Do you feel that people enjoy online drama? Why or why not?
Students may discuss how people
sometimes bond over drama and gossip online. It can be entertaining to be involved in it, or to observe it from afar. Students may also point out that online gossip and fights can damage people’s friendships or reputations.

teach 1

Discussing Online Drama Video (15 minutes)

DIVIDE students into groups of three or four.

DISTRIBUTE the Dissecting Drama Student Handout, one for each student, and have students review the instructions.

TELL students that they are going to watch a video of middle school children having an open discussion about digital drama, and whether girls and boys experience it differently.

DEFINE the Key Vocabulary term generalization

ENCOURAGE students to take notes during the video. Instruct them to be on the lookout for generalizations about boys and girls.

SHOW students the video "Discussing Digital Drama."

INSTRUCT students to fill out column A on their handout in their small groups. Allow them about five minutes to do so. Then bring students back together for a class discussion.

ASK: Did you notice any generalizations about girls in this video? If so, what were they?
Sample video quotes:

  • “Girls are more sensitive in how they look and how they act because they want to be popular.”
  • “Girls are, like, so sensitive about everything.”
  • “Girls, I find, are the drama queens.”

ASK: Did you notice any generalizations about boys in this video?
Sample video quotes:

  • “Guys can be dragged into drama.”
  • “They aren’t usually the ones that start it.”
  • “They can’t talk as openly with each other as girls do, offline.”

ASK: What do you think about these generalizations? Are they true for you and your friends? Are they true for some, or all, teens?
Encourage students to recognize that while these generalizations may apply to some teens, they don’t apply to all — that’s what makes them generalizations.

teach 2

The (Un)Reality of Reality TV Drama (20 minutes)

ASK: Do you watch reality television shows? If so, do the shows ever feature drama?
Students’ answers will vary.

ASK: How “real” do you think reality TV drama actually is?
Encourage students to probe deeper by asking them whether their favorite reality TV shows might be scripted to encourage drama, or edited to make their cast members seem more dramatic.

ASK: Can you think of examples from your own lives where you and your friends have dealt with conflict in nondramatic ways? Do you think those stories would be a “hit” on a reality TV show? Why or why not?
Guide students to recognize that drama is often considered entertaining, so these shows are less likely to depict quick and positive resolutions to conflicts.

SHOW students the video “The Real Housewives Series Clips,” encouraging them to take notes as they did during the previous video. 

ALLOW students five minutes to fill out column B of their handouts in small groups. Then have them discuss their findings as a class. 

ASK: Were there any generalizations about women in this video? If so, what were they?
Women are commonly portrayed on reality TV as dramatic, catty, competitive, and jealous. They are often shown as “frenemies” -- friends who are also considered enemies, or potential enemies.

ASK: Were there any generalizations about men in this video? If so, what were they?
Men are commonly depicted as watching the drama from the sidelines, or serving as mediators. Sometimes they dismiss female drama as stupid and unnecessary. Other times men fuel the drama indirectly.

DEFINE the Key Vocabulary term stereotype

ASK: Do you think reality TV might lead to stereotypes about girls and boys, women and men?
Encourage students to recognize that when people see these same kinds of behaviors depicted again and again on reality TV, it may encourage them to make assumptions about entire groups of people. For example, people may think of women as “naturally” more inclined to drama than men. Or reality TV might reinforce the stereotype that it’s “unmanly” for guys to talk about their emotions.

INVITE students to share connections that they’ve made between the boxes on their handouts. Students should recognize that the middle schoolers in the video made generalizations about girls, boys, and drama similar to the stereotypes encouraged by reality TV. For example, have students analyze their reactions to The Real Housewives clips with their reaction to Jessie’s comment: “I feel like girls aren’t taken seriously online.” Or have students analyze the way men were portrayed in the The Real Housewives clips with Robbie’s comment: “I feel like boys sometimes get dragged into drama by girls.”

HAVE students reflect on the extent to which drama can actually hurt people’s feelings and damage friendships. If we view drama on TV and online as silly, or even “girly,” does it make it seem less serious? Why or why not? Is that a problem?


Wrap-up (5 minutes)

You can use these questions to assess your students’ understanding of the lesson objectives. You may want to ask students to self-reflect in writing for one of the questions; use journals or an online blog/wiki.

ASK: Have your impressions of online drama changed since the beginning of this lesson? Why or why not?
Answers will vary.

ASK: Do you think that teens’ perceptions of drama can be influenced by what we see on reality TV? Why or why not? 
Students should acknowledge that media messages can be powerful and can shape our ideas and our behavior, but we can make choices about how much we allow these messages to influence us.

ASK: What factors do you think shape the way girls and boys act online? Can online drama encourage certain stereotypes about gender?
Students should realize that a variety of factors shape our online behavior -- media
messages, social expectations, pressure from peers -- and that they can be different for boys and girls. When girls and boys act accordingly, their behavior can reinforce stereotypes.

Extension Activity

Engage students in a long-term, media-creation project. Have students film a portion of their day as if they were on their own reality TV show. Then invite students to edit and embellish this footage in such a way that makes their day seem rather dramatic. You may wish to have students film an additional “directors cut” version of their piece, in which they describe their production and editing strategies.

At-Home Activity

Have students analyze a “one-on-one” interview clip from a reality TV show. (In such clips, a reality TV show cast member is filmed privately, often reflecting upon an event that has already happened, or gossiping about another cast member.) Students should imagine the kinds of questions that a director, behind the scenes, might be asking the cast member to elicit these kinds of comments. What kind of tactics would a director use to get someone to gossip about another person? What kind of editing might have occurred to shape the story in this TV clip?

Alignment with Standards

Common Core & NETS•S
Common Core State Standards Initiative ©2012 & National Educational Technology Standards for Students ©2007, International Society for Technology in Education

Common Core:

  • grade 6: RI.4, RI.7, RI.10, W.4, W.7, W.10, SL.1a, SL.1b, SL.1c, SL.1d, SL.4, SL.6, L.6
  • grade 7: RI.4, RI.7, RI.10, W.4, W.7, W.10, SL.1a, SL.1b, SL.1c, SL.4, SL.6, L.6
  • grade 8: RI.4, RI.7, RI.10, W.4, W.7, W.10, SL.1a, SL.1b, SL.1c, SL.1d, SL.4, SL.6, L.6

NETS•S: 1a-d, 2a-b, 2d, 3a-d, 4a-d, 5a-d, 6a-b, 6d