Multimodal Mondays: Using Memes to Reflect on Writing Processes

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290417_pastedImage_4.gifToday's guest blogger is Amanda Gaddaman 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.


Our students are often participants in multiple social media networks—Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, and the like—but one thing they all see, regardless of platform, is a plethora of memes. Memes of all kinds have become a central part of daily reading for our students, so it’s time we start acknowledging them in the classroom.


Wiggins and Bowers (2014) argue for the significance of studying memes as digital artifacts:


Second, memes as artifacts highlight their social and cultural role on the new media landscape. Whereas a cultural artifact offers information about the culture that creates and uses it (Watts, 1981), a social artifact informs us about the social behavior of those individuals or groups which produce it (Wartofsky, 1979). Memes as artifacts possess both cultural and social attributes as they are produced, reproduced, and transformed to reconstitute the social system. In practical terms, the memetic social system is reconstituted when members of participatory digital culture use rules and resources of meme creation in the reproduction of further iterations of a given meme. (p. 6)


If students are to be participants in emerging digital spaces, they must study and learn the “rules and resources” of primary texts within these spaces.



To talk about memes as digital artifacts, to look at memes as objects of study, and to repurpose existing memes or create new memes as a mode of expression and reflection for students talking about their lives as writers.





1. Ask students to reflect on their past experiences with memes, and use this information to spark a class discussion about what memes are, which memes survive and why, how they become popular, and how they’re used in multiple rhetorical situations, including social media, text messages, and advertisements.


It may be helpful to do a “close read” of a few popular memes that have withstood the test of time and the internet. These examples might include:




This meme typically highlights personal reflections that are relatable to a wide audience. Later iterations of the meme are self-referential, showing how quickly these texts evolve and their trajectory.



Condescending Wonka


This meme and its countless iterations are useful for discussing how memes often become political and appropriated for argumentation purposes.



Salt Bae


Variations on this popular meme demonstrate how interpretations of the visual and its tone change based on the various authors/editors captions.

2. Partner students up to interview each other about their writing processes: what they do, what has worked for them, what they struggle with. The goal is to have an honest conversation, but prompt questions can be helpful. The following questions have been useful for my classes in the past when reflecting on the ways in which they write:

  • What kinds of tools do you use when writing?  Do you handwrite, use a computer, or use other media to compose or brainstorm? Why? 
  • What place does revision have in your writing process?  Do you tend to write several drafts or just one?  Have you always written this way?  Why or why not?
  • Do you consider writing to be a solo act?  Why or why not?  If you don’t, who do you generally ask to get involved?  Why?  At what stage of the process? 
  • How much time, if any, do you spend thinking or prewriting?  Does this vary with different assignments?  Why or why not? 
  • How do you react emotionally when writing an essay?  Why do you think you react this way? 
  • What challenges do you face as a writer?  Do you think that you can overcome these challenges?  Why or why not?  If so, how do you think these challenges can be resolved? 


Students take notes and prompt with questions to elicit detail and keep their partners talking.


3. Partners look over the notes that were taken and identify a meme-able emotion or challenge during their writing process. Based on the previous class discussion about what makes an effective meme, students should prioritize ideas that may be relatable to the class, to first-year composition students, or writers in general. You might describe the goal as creating a meme to make their classmates respond, “literally me rn.”


Multiple meme-generators available online for free, including Students can also easily use PowerPoint create their own memes using their own images and text options.


4. Share memes with the class, have some laughs, and talk about how the memes capture relatable reflections, stereotypes, and revelations about writing. Students might also talk about how the image and text interact with each other to communicate meaning beyond the words themselves.



This assignment helps students think and talk about digital literacy as they see it every day of their online lives. In studying memes as digital artifacts, students can see how visual and textual elements of memes work in conjunction to respond and adapt to current events, different discourse communities, and multiple rhetorical situations. Reflecting on their own experiences with writing, as well as learning about other writers’ experiences, helps to create a writers’ community in the classroom and to dispel the “lonely writer” stereotype.



Wiggings, B. E., & Bowers, G. B. (2014). Memes as genre: A structurational analysis of the memescape. New Media & Society, 1-21. doi:10.1177/1461444814535194

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.