Multimodal Mondays: Annotated Mix Tapes as Narrative Forms

1 0 1,759

248197_Gaddam.gifToday's guest blogger is Amanda Gaddam‌ (see end of post for bio).

Every fall, I’m struck by the growing age difference between my students and me—things like Snapchat go right over my head, while my in-class references to Dana Carvey portraying Ross Perot on SNL fall on deaf ears. Like my students, though, I’ve embraced the new normal of streaming and downloading music instead of purchasing it or recording it on cassette from the radio. Spotify, Pandora, SoundCloud, and the like provide a great deal of convenience and variety; accessing and playing music nowadays is an unquestionable improvement.


I can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic, though—mix tapes, the actual cassettes that were carefully planned, curated, recorded, rewound, and labeled, were a huge part of my childhood and they held a great deal of meaning for both the creators and the receivers. Each one was carefully crafted for a particular purpose, to tell a particular story, or to communicate a particular message to the audience. When we create playlists now, we don’t spend the same time or effort thinking about the stories behind them; in that respect, the mix tape had unparalleled narrative and rhetorical potential, and this assignment pays homage to that.  



This assignment, which asks respondents to create a custom playlist in order to communicate a narrative or emotional arc to their audience, challenges students to use song selection and arrangement as narrative devices in response to a traditional writing prompt. The goals of the assignment are to identify musical elements and their rhetorical effects and to apply that knowledge in creating a multimodal storytelling text.   


Background Reading




  1. Select a writing prompt that calls for a narrative response: memoir, literacy narrative, and reflection are just a few examples that could work with this mix tape. This prompt is a reflection assignment about students’ composing processes that I ask them to write toward the beginning of the term. You can use the written assignment prompt as a guide for the mix tape project, or you can have students actually write a response to the prompt and have students create the annotated mix tape as an accompanying text.
  2. Facilitate a class discussion about how listeners are affected by music and its various elements and rhetorical appeals. This video is a good way to get everyone on the same page about the technical vocabulary, but students will bring a lot of personal experiences and expertise to the discussion about how the ways in which different songs speak to them beyond just the lyrics or the subject matter.
  3. Ask students to map out the emotional or narrative arc of the story that they want to tell. Working in partner discussions might help students pinpoint particular feelings, events, or states of mind that they want to highlight in their mix tape. In the case of the composing process assignment, I would ask students to focus on the various stages of their individual writing processes to identify not just what they do in order to write but also how they feel about writing as its happening.
  4. Students should create free Spotify accounts. Spotify allows even free users to create custom playlists, to name those playlists, to add a short description, and to assign a playlist image. All of these details can be included in your assignment requirements and provide opportunities to showcase students’ rhetorical knowledge and choices.
  5. Students create custom playlists with 5-8 songs that reflect the emotional or narrative arc of their story. They then create short annotations for each song choice in a separate document, PowerPoint, Prezi, or other medium of your/their choosing. Annotations should highlight specific musical and rhetorical elements in each song selection that help students communicate different parts of their story to their audience.



This project provides many opportunities for customization for specific courses, syllabi, and learning outcomes. For example, some instructors might require students to present their playlists in class, while others might ask students to use the “Share” function to facilitate a type of peer review. In any iteration of the project, students investigate the commonalities between textual composition and musical composition, and they get to use their personal musical aesthetic and experiences in order to do so.

Guest bloggerAmanda Gaddam is an adjunct instructor in the First-Year Writing Program and the School for New Learning at DePaul University. She holds a B.A. in English with a concentration in Literary Studies and a M.A. in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse with a concentration in Teaching Writing and Language from DePaul, and her research interests include first-year composition, adult and non-traditional students, and writing center pedagogies.

Want to be a guest blogger on Multimodal Mondays? Message Leah Rang for more information.

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.