Multimodal Mondays: Breaking the Rules - Using Multimedia to Teach Rhetorical Situation

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Tori BanksVictoria Banks is a graduate student at Kennesaw State University working towards a Masters in the Arts of Professional Writing with a focus in interactive narrative design and script writing in videogames. She teaches First-Year English Composition and Rhetoric courses and writes as a freelance video game journalist. Victoria’s experiences with new media rhetoric influence her teaching philosophy in the classroom, which encourages student exposure to various forms of multimodal composition.

Every semester in my first-year composition classes, I receive the same question: “Is it ok for me to do this?” “This” always refers to a definite and unbreakable rule drilled into the students’ subconscious since high school, a rule so ingrained in them that they struggle to trust or rely on their own judgement of the rhetorical situation for which they are writing or to extend their writing into new mediums.

Many students zealously follow these rules no matter the situation. However, if FYC instructors allow students to participate in multimodal forms of writing, students can begin to understand that rules, rather than set in stone, are all based on genre conventions and rhetorical situations. Using multimedia projects and themes in English Composition classrooms will expose students to various types of writing they will encounter in academia, in their future careers, and in their everyday lives.

Gaming controller,

Course Themes – Sports and Games

As an English instructor, one of my goals is to teach diverse forms of composition and rhetorics, including those in multimedia. In doing so, I hope to change students’ understanding of “unbreakable” writing rules and instead encourage them to practice assessing rhetorical situations.

It is for this reason that I chose to theme my courses around a multimodal field, games. In particular, my assignments are related to sports, video games, and board games.

Each of these areas often involve intensive writing, despite public perception, and including them in my class changes my students’ preconceived ideas about what writing is and exposes them to multimodal composition. It also allows students to view various rhetorical situations and genre conventions. Another bonus is that students are excited by the prospect of going to a sporting event or playing a video game as a part of their research.


My “New Media Argument” assignment focuses specifically on this goal. Students learn to assess a rhetorical situation before composing their own video around a topic in games. These videos could include anything from sports commentary, athlete interviews, “let’s plays” (documenting gameplay with the player’s commentary), and other video content exploring issues and arguments around games.

Background Reading

  • The St. Martin’s Handbook: Chapter 2: Rhetorical Situations: 2a, “Making good Choices for your Situation”; 2f,  “Thinking about Genres and Media”; 2g, “Considering Language and Style” and Chapter 18a, “Consider your Rhetorical context”
  • The Everyday Writer: Chapter 3: Rhetorical Situations; Chapter 4: Exploring Ideas
  • EasyWriter: Chapter 1: Writer’s Choices: 1d, “Considering the Assignment Purpose”; 1f, “Researching Appropriate Audiences”; 1h, “Considering time, genre, medium, and format”
  • Everything’s An Argument: Chapter 16: Multimodal Arguments

Assignment Learning Objectives

  • Students will be able to identify the rhetorical situation (purpose, audience, and context) for their multimodal argument.
  • Students will practice defining and working within genre and medium conventions.
  • Students will compose arguments using rhetorical appeals, hands-on research, and multimedia rhetoric.


Project Components

  • Script and Outline
  • 5-10 minute Video
  • Reflection Essay

Project Steps

  • Assessing the Rhetorical Situation

Before students begin, they must first determine their argument’s purpose and the audience of their video. Once this is defined, students choose a genre that best fits their goals. Writing around sports and games appears in several forms and styles. Together we examine current genres of  videos, including let’s plays, video game walkthroughs, game ratings and critiques, sports commentary, sports interviews, athlete rankings, podcasts, video essays, and more. Each genre has a different purpose, audience, and medium. By analyzing them, students can understand how other writers make composition choices based on rhetorical situations and thus begin making their own argument in the genre of their choice.

  • Planning

Once students understand their purpose, audience, and medium, they continue into the planning and research stages. This includes outlining ideas and crafting a schedule for completing components of the project, such as scripting, editing, casting, and so forth.

  • Research

Whether it’s making observation notes while watching a sport, reviewing gameplay footage, finding other authors’ viewpoints, or conducting their own surveys, students must compile their research before approaching video composition.

  • Composing

Experimenting with creating videos gives students the ability to learn and communicate using new media. For this segment, I spend two days going over the basics of various free video software programs and the benefits and downfalls of each. After conducting tutorials, class time is dedicated to workshopping and assisting any students facing technical difficulties.

  • Revision and Reflection

Students refine their project through revision before presenting it to the class and providing a two page reflection essay. I find it important for students to reflect on their composition choices. In doing so, they begin to recognize how they assessed their rhetorical situation and made composition decisions on their own, rather than following strict rules set in place by past teachers.

My Reflection

My experiences with English 1101 have taught me the value of using media-based themes in the classroom and new media projects to teach rhetorical situations and multimodal composition. When I moved on to teaching English 1102, I was surprised by my students’ disappointment that there was not a final video project. They expressed how the 1101 project made them feel engaged with the research and excited to learn new types of composition other classes had not taught them. Each appreciated the agency over their rhetorical choices and the freedom to express their creativity. It became clear my students valued these skills and opportunities the most in their composition classes.

Image: under a CC0 Public Domain license.

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.