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Jennifer Hewerdine teaches composition at Arizona Western College and is a Ph.D. candidate at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.  Her scholarly interests include digital literacies, writing center practice, collaboration, and low-stakes writing.  You can reach Jennifer at



When I hear of composition instructors assigning public service announcements PSAs, it is often in the form of radio or video PSAs. However, when teaching students multimodal writing, it can help the composing process to begin with the visual mode before revising the PSA for an audio or audiovisual mode. Visual and audiovisual PSAs also require students to consider design and the ways in which visual elements communicate messages. Therefore, before students compose a video or audio PSA, I assign a poster PSA to help them conceptualize how image and limited wording communicates a message to the audience.


Students see PSAs often: on billboards, television, fliers posted around campus, and in radio advertisements. They may not, however, consider the means by which PSAs attract and speak to an audience. Prior to beginning their PSA, I ask students to locate and analyze other PSAs for audience, location, and rhetorical effectiveness. Students are also taught about establishing an authorial ethos through the ethics of fair use, copyright, permissions, and Creative Commons.



  • Develop an awareness of audience, purpose, and visual modes of rhetoric
  • Understand the ethics and implications of fair use
  • Locate, edit, and use images for a rhetorical purpose
  • Enhance understanding of rhetorical appeals


Background Reading

These texts from Andrea’s handbooks are useful introductions to multimodal writing and rhetorical choices:



  1. In preparation for the PSA, students should locate PSAs about a variety of topics and then choose one or two to rhetorically analyze, preferably one that is a static image and another that is audio or audiovisual. I find that students are more successful when they first analyze in a small group and present their analysis to the class. Questions students may address include:
  • What is the purpose of the PSA? What is the designer arguing for?
  • Where is the location where the PSA would be seen or heard? What considerations does the designer need to make based on location?
  • For visual PSAs: Describe the use of images. What appeals are the images meant to invoke? What does this communicate to you as a reader?
  • What is the balance of white space, image, and text?
  • How do readers navigate the PSA?


  1. Once students have analyzed PSAs, each student should consider the purpose of the PSA they will create and the audience they are targeting for their PSA. Students can brainstorm or compose a freewrite or mockup of their PSA with multiple versions of wording and/or ideas for images that will appeal to their intended audience.


  1. Following their analysis, the students are asked to discuss citation, creative works, fair use, and copyright in regard to images. The class also has a discussion of the four licensing types offered by Creative Commons. For their PSA, students can either use images they may have created and/or locate images in the Creative Commons database. As a class, we discuss the conventions seen in PSAs such as the limited use of text and text dedicated to providing a location to learn more about the topic.


  1. Once students have completed a draft of their PSA, the class can then rhetorically analyze peers’ PSAs and/or submit a rhetorical analysis of their own PSA as a means of reflecting on the rhetorical choices they made while creating the poster.


  1. After creating a visual PSA, students can revise their PSA to turn it into a radio announcement and/or a video announcement, thereby asking them to reconsider the audience, design, rhetorical appeals, and location. Before doing this, students can use their poster PSA to present a brief PSA before the class. Students may also want to consider publishing their PSA.


Sergio Garcia, the designer of the PSA below, chose to discuss air pollution in Mexicali, Mexico, and the effects it has on residents. As a resident of Imperial Valley, California, just north of Mexicali, Sergio has experienced the effects of air pollution. When making his PSA, he was faced with a unique rhetorical choice. Because he was targeting an audience with both Spanish and English language users, he had to decide the language to use in his PSA.    



The first draft of a PSA by Sergio Garcia about the effects of air pollution



When students submit their PSA, I ask that they write a short essay about their design and audience choices as well as other rhetorical choices they made as they created the PSA. I then ask them to reflect upon how those choices change when they consider a new audience or a new location. If students revise to create an audio or audiovisual PSA, the reflection can include the differences in rhetorical choices from one mode of communication to the other.


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

by Daria / epicantus, on FlickrSince students in my course are choosing their own projects, every student is on a different schedule at this point. Some are working toward the midterm. Some are working on the Genre Analysis Report. Some are working on open projects. Because they are all working at their own pace, it’s not possible to set up peer review activities for the projects. There’s no way to guess who will have a draft ready when.


From this point on, then, I have asked students to work in online writing groups to share whatever they have and provide accountability for one another. To keep these groups organized, I set up a general schedule with expectations for each student to post several times in the course forums each week. In face-to-face classes, I ask students to create their own guidelines and schedules, but my experience with these online students is that they need more definite structures. Without spaced-out expectations to post and return to reply, they frequently wait too long to engage in conversations with their classmates.


I set up the schedule below, but I did indicate that groups can adjust this schedule as necessary:


By 11:59 PM onYou should
  • Check the previous week’s discussion to make sure all questions have been answered.
  • Post details in the current week’s discussion on where you are on your projects, even if you haven’t made much progress. See details below.
  • Include any questions, challenges you need help with, or drafts that you have at that point.
  • Read and reply to the messages that have been posted. See details below.
  • Add peer review comments on any drafts that have been posted.
  • Make any requests for additional information (e.g., if a reply leaves you with a question),
  • Check out everything that has been posted.
  • Add any additional replies or requests for more information.


Writing Group Wednesday Activities

Here are some things you might share with one by Wednesday in your weekly discussion:

  • Status/progress reports on what you are doing/have done since last Wednesday. 
    (Check Markel, Practical Strategies for Technical Communication, Chapter 12 for help with status and progress reports. Your updates can be informal.)
  • Rough drafts of your projects.
  • Revisions of your projects.
  • Small chunks of your projects, if you want feedback on something very specific.
  • Success stories.
  • Challenges you encounter.
  • Questions that you have about your projects.


Writing Group Friday Activities

After sharing, you can reply by Friday with any of the following:

  • Provide supportive feedback and advice, like that shown in the No One Writes Alone video.
  • Work together to solve any challenges or answer any questions.
  • Collaborate on projects (be sure to credit your helpers if someone provides significant input).
  • Plan for future discussions.


Final Thoughts

This week will be our first time to try out the writing groups. I'm excited about the possibilities for these groups. It's a strategy that I am looking forward to developing and using again next term. I will report on how it works. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. I can always use advice.


 Credit: by Daria / epicantus, on Flickr, used under a CC-BY license