|Today's guest blogger is Amanda Gaddam, an 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.
- The St. Martin’s Handbook: Ch. 18, Communicating in Other Media; Ch. 4m, Reflecting on Your Writing
- The Everyday Writer (also available with exercises): Ch. 24, Communicating in Other Media; Ch. 8, Reflecting
- EasyWriter (also available with exercises): Ch. 3, Making Design Decisions; Ch. 5, Sharing and Reflecting on Your Writing
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.
This meme and its countless iterations are useful for discussing how memes often become political and appropriated for argumentation purposes.
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:
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 https://memegenerator.net/. 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