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Multimodal Mondays: Meme Themes: Extending Critical Reading with Visual Representation

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Kim_Author Photo.jpgToday’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn, a Professor of English and Digital Writing at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning and critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy, and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at khaimesk@kennesaw.edu or visit her website: Acts of Composition  

Overview

This assignment provides a fresh approach to a traditional, academic assignment: The Critical Analysis. For this assignment, students are to apply a critical lens by connecting a theme/concept that we have covered in the class to the course readings and to their own lives. Students choose and define the theory/ideas and their important characteristics, discuss relevant passages from our course texts, and finish with their own interpretation and individual relevance.  

I took this type of critical response (with length requirements and defined criteria) and extended it to include the multimodal component of the Meme Theme in which students create an original meme – a visual representation-- to expand the ideas from their critical responses.  

Background Resources

 

Steps to the Assignment:

Although this assignment can be modified for any themes and class concepts, I have included some themes from my American Literature class to demonstrate an extended example.

Part 1 Critical Analysis: Student write a focused critical response in which they apply a theme from American Literature. Emphasize strong, interpretive reading and writing strategies that include: thoughtful interpretation; connections across texts; purposeful passages; and appropriate documentation and citation practices.

Choosing a Theme: For this particular course, students can choose from the following examples/possibilities for themes/concepts and 3 of the course reading selections that speak to the ideas, and at least one passage from each the selections:

  • Cultural Mirror Theory
  • Invisibility/Masking
  • Social Darwinism/Naturalism
  • Multiculturalism
  • The American Dream
  • Individualism
  • Southern Gothic
  • Nature/Science
  • Isolation/Alienation
  • Coming of Age

Part 2: The Meme Theme: Students create an original meme in which they extend the theme/idea they worked with in Critical Response Question.  They can use an online meme generator such as Imgflip or create their own through original images and any programs of their choosing.  The meme must include a representative image and some text that speaks to their interpretation (or some aspect) of their chosen theme. 

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Meme Definition: I provide a simple definition of memes that work with both text and image to communicate an idea.  Memes draw upon cultural assumptions and operate through unstated knowledge held by the audience.  We share examples to understand the structure and rhetorical strategies of the genre. Students can just conduct image searches or consult Know your Meme for a database of examples, origins and iterations.

Some things to consider:

  • The objective of the memes is to have fun, but one should know where to draw the line. I remind students to create memes that are not derogatory towards any race, culture, gender, or community. 
  • The image and the text that must have some sort of correlation. The image and text when seen together should imply something about the interpretation that is insightful.
  • The meme should focus on a theme and a cultural observation – not an author (although they can refer to particular selections to make their point).
  • Remind students that although they are using images (often viral images) that it is in their unique combination of text and image that makes it original for them. It is important to explain that this is an act of authoring and if they use an existing meme (without generating their own text and/or image) it is considered plagiarism.  I want them to get creative.

Create a Google Slide: Each student designs a Google slide that includes their meme and their name. The meme is accompanied by a short description of its purpose and meaning, how it is drawing upon their chosen theme and the unstated assumptions that make it effective. They should discuss their understanding of the theme and how their ideas are manifested in their memes and texts they are referencing.    

Share the Show: This is the fun part.  At the beginning of class have each student submit their Meme Themes slide to a collaborative Google slide presentation and ask them to show and explain their memes to the class.  This also works very well in a virtual classroom as it creates an interactive presentation in which students participate. Either delivery method works well and provides an overview of class concepts and can act as an engaging exit activity. 

Reflections on the Activity: I was excited about how well this assignment worked and the ways that it took a traditional academic assignment and asked students to create a multimodal version and revise their ideas for a different audience – their classmates (rather than just the professor for evaluation).  It brought new relevance to their ideas and pushed them to situate them in our current context. I created this multimodal extension during our first semester of the COVID crisis and found that some students found connections and themes that gave them insight to this unprecedented cultural shift.  Since I used it at the end of the semester for our final day of class, it provided a reflective review of the class and a closure experience in which every student was able to have a voice and quickly show their work in an engaging format.

Click here to view some example meme slides!

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.