Multimodal Mondays: Teaching Hacks for Multimodal Composition

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Today’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn.


In an earlier post, I talked about the ways teachers are radically revising their writing classrooms through multimodal lenses. I was interested to see how other teachers took on this challenge and have come to see traditional assignments in new ways. In another post, I wrote about the concept of Lifehacking. As I explain in that post, lifehacking is a phrase that “describes any advice, resource, tip or trick that will help you get things done more efficiently, effectively” or in a way that addresses everyday problems or issues in an “inspired or ingenious manner.”  Like the concept of radical revision, teachers have had to find hacks that help students re-see their ideas through the lenses of multimodal composition and digital culture. Although some teachers are hesitant to make these shifts because they feel hard pressed to let go of the tried and true, I have talked to many teachers who have revised their writing classrooms through teaching hacks in which they radically revised their assignments through simple digital and visual extensions and multimodal projects.


I ventured out to gather “comp-on-the-street” perspectives and talk to my awesome colleagues about their best teaching hacks for enriching their curriculum through multimodal assignments and digital literacies. Although some of these assignments involve multiple steps and processes, for this project I was looking for quick, radical revisions that can help teachers shift their perspectives and easily integrate digital forms and thinking into their classrooms. I asked each participant to submit a short paragraph or two – written for the lifehack format that calls for short, efficient methods. I didn’t have to go far to find creative teachers hacking their traditional classrooms. I asked each participant to submit a hack in which they referenced the original assignment and the way that they “hacked” it to become a multimodal assignment. All of these assignments productively blend the creative and the critical through simple shifts that demonstrate radical revision in its truest sense. Here is what I turned up so far . . .

5 Teaching Hacks for Multimodal Composition

Nancy’s Hack – Visualizing Writing Processes: Many of us ask students to look at their writing processes and write up reflective memos in which they detail the components of these processes.Nancy Reicherthacked this assignment through asking her students to visualize and visually represent their writing processes in a slideshow. After brainstorming, students had to combine text and image and create at least 5 slides that represented their processes of writing. They could create their own images, use clip art, video or use other internet resources. Each slide should represent just one part of their process that makes up the whole in the presentation. Students had to visually represent and correctly cite the images incorporated into their presentations – learning appropriate conventions in digital contexts -- and submit a letter of reflection in which they assessed how well their writing processes worked for them. Check out a student sample and Nancy’s website for more information.

Pete’s Hack – Collaborative Writing: 100 Word Project: Pete Rorabaughwanted his students to understand collaborative writing differently. He crafted an experience that harnessed Google Docs to cultivate online, real-time, collaborative composing behaviors. Outside of class, students composed, on their own, a writing response of exactly 100 words to a focused question on a class reading. When students met again as a group, they all copied and pasted their responses into a Google Doc that everyone could edit. Before students read through the document together, they talked about different kinds of jobs that happen in a writer’s brain -- from making up words to researching to proofreading to combining similar ideas to choosing a rhetorical strategy. Students practiced doing one of those functions/roles (combiner, quote finder, introducer/titler, paragraph shuffler, new idea generator) while watching the others happen. Students had to generate and agree upon a collaboratively revised draft that included their perspectives and roles. For detailed instructions to this assignment, check out Pete’s blog post on this activity.

Molly’s Hack: Digital Scripts: Splitting Voices/Splitting Perspectives: Molly Brodak hacked a straightforward movie analysis of an argument from traditional essay to a digital script for a discussion between characters. She reimagined this assignment to encourage students to incorporate multiple perspectives in their traditional essays and to broaden their approach beyond analyzing the movie as an argument. Students created personae and gave voice to multiple perspectives and approaches to their analysis of the movie’s claims, and they met course objectives by incorporating a wide range of research from both primary and secondary sources. These digital scripts allowed for multimodal elements and embedded hyperlinks (images, websites and videos) to contextualize the characters and create multiple dimensions for the reader. Student performers could also read the script aloud, adding another layer to the experience of approaching analysis with multiple voices rather than just one. Here is a sample of one of Molly’s students’ digital scriptsCheck out Molly’s website for more.

Charles’ Hack – Literary Interpretation Game App: Charles Thorne hacked a literary research based essay with documentation and sources. He was looking to design an assignment to support and facilitate a shift to learner-centered teaching and a learner-centered classroom. He gave students the option to radically revise their research papers through multimedia presentations, graphic essays or a program or game design based on their majors. Game design students created apps that drew upon elements and their understanding of the literary text. The program or game was accompanied by a two-page reflective rationale that explained their rhetorical choices. Check out the game screen shot and rationale statement.

Jeff’s Hack – Creative Interactive Fiction (or Choose Your Own Adventure Stories): In a recent writing course,  Jeff Greene tasked his students with developing a branching narrative using Inklewriter, a free, web-based application produced by Inkle Studios (the developers of games such as 80 Days and Sorcery). Inklewriter is an incredible tool that assists in producing web-based, interactive stories that are reminiscent of Bantam Publishing’s Choose Your Own Adventure series from the 80s and 90s. Although he utilized Inklewriter strictly for producing interactive fiction and game books, there are many applications for the platform in other classes. For example, literature sections could use it to retell short stories with alterative choices and endings, and composition sections could use it for multimodal, interactive writing projects. Check out this student sample, Intertwined.

Keep on Hacking

As writing teachers, we are all still deep in the process of understanding what it means for students to compose in these new contexts and the ways we can meaningfully integrate digital literacies into our curriculum. These hacks show us that our transitions can start with simple steps and that we have many tools now that open up possibilities that we could barely imagine even several years ago. Composing is much more dynamic, alive, participatory and present in our students’ lives than ever before. Student composers regularly blend critical and creative expression through multimodal composition. Although we will continue modify our assignments and approaches, we need to make sure that we are not so seduced by the tools that we forget what we deem important -- to teach writing as acts of composition that encourage student learning. Now, more than ever, our students can benefit from rhetorical approaches to communication and learn to compose for multiple contexts, purposes, and audiences. As you continue to radically revise your own classroom, keep your eye on your course objectives as you open up possibilities through multimodal composition and  . . .keep on hacking.

I would like to thank my colleagues for their generous contributions.

Guest blogger Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning, 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 or visit her website Acts of Composition.

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment or be a guest blogger? Send ideas to for possible inclusion in a future post.

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.