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This semester I am teaching a comics and graphic novels course. As I often do when teaching about new media for the first time, I consulted the blog of one of my mentors for meaningful instruction, Henry Jenkins. In addition to posting a sample syllabus, Jenkins discussed the cost of graphic novels in comparison to more traditional print texts and offered a clever solution:

 A Word to the Wise: Comics are expensive, and we are going to be reading lots of them in this class, so my recommendation is that you form a buddy or club system, much as you did when you read comics when you were younger. Go in together with 2-3 people and swap off the comics, so you each carry a more reasonable part of the price.  

 In the spirit of Jenkins’ pragmatism about the needs of cost-conscious students who are already worrying about student loans and the job market, I thought I would compile some other ways to teach about comics while also keeping costs down.


Go Old School

Because comics have a long history as a medium, it is possible to take advantage of comics no longer under copyright because over seventy years have elapsed since the author’s death. I am particularly fond of assigning Little Nemo by Winsor McKay as a way to discuss panel design and color choices. Over 400 flippable pages from 1905 to 1914 are available as a digital collection at the Internet Archive. The dirigibles, exotic animals, and vast metropolises in Nemo’s dreamscapes are breathtaking. Classes can also critique the antiquated ideas about race and gender on display. This classic in comics history still feels fresh to students, and you can ask them to illustrate their own dreams as a class project.


See a Museum

Now that comics are more likely to be recognized as an art form, museums are mounting exhibitions and may also post some materials from past shows online. For example, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, California, mounted Masters of American Comics a few years ago to enthusiastic crowds. The website for the exhibition includes a gallery of images that range from the days of yellow journalism to the millennial work of Chris Ware.


Peer at a Periodical

Speaking of Ware, some of his spreads for the New Yorker are available online, which offer opportunities to discuss how a cartoonist depicts everyday life and then chooses to organize scenes from the present moment into building blocks on the page. Ware’s view of the tech world is particularly incisive, whether he is illustrating commentary about specific companies (like Snapchat) or general group behavior at Silicon Valley-style conferences. For comparison, Ware’s New Yorker covers are also on display.


Dig a Digital Library  

Many campus libraries have licensed digital collections that can be useful to classes with comics and graphic novels assigned.  When I teach about the comics panic of the fifties over the possible effects of violent horror comics on young people, I love having access to the database for Underground and Independent Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels Series from Alexander Street. Your campus library might already subscribe.


Watch Web Comics

Internet comics made available online for free can also be wonderful resources for classes about ways to read images as well as words. For example, Scott McCloud’s The Right Number zooms in through successive windows on the viewer’s screen as a bizarre tale of coincidence and romance unfolds. You can check out more of McCloud’s webcomics and see how he uses the seemingly infinite resource of pixelated space.

In The Argonauts, the sole text in my writing seminar, Maggie Nelson bids her readers to think about Roland Barthes’ interest in the Argo—which remained the Argo, even after all of the original parts of the ship were swapped out over time. This idea resonates throughout Nelson’s memoir and, as it echoes, one is led to wonder: does it apply to people as well? The name is applied at birth, the child grows into an adult, the cells keep changing the whole time. The Argo remains the Argo, but what about the Argonauts? Do they? Are they, too, interchangeable? Replaceable?


While we’ve been slowly making our way through The Argonauts (it’s week four and we’ve made it to page thirty-two), I wanted my students to directly experience this puzzle at the heart of Nelson’s memoir: what can objects teach us about how language works? The Argo stands in as one such object: take it apart; put it back together; it’s still the Argo. Barthes later explains that this doesn’t work with language. “I love you” does not remain the fresh, thrilling phrase it is when first expressed. For that to happen, the phrase would need to be reinvented every time.


To help my students sneak up on this idea, I asked them, without explanation, to bring an object to class. They would be donating the object to the class and wouldn’t get it back, I told them, so it shouldn’t be worth more than $10 and it should be something portable. (This entire assignment sequence is inspired by Kate McIntosh’s Worktable, which I saw/participated in last fall at the Philly Fringe.) This is what they brought in:

It’s an appropriately mixed bag of stuff, some selected with more apparent care than other stuff (I was vexed by the submission of a single paper clip, a pen cap, a single earring), and some stuff provided by me in order to make sure that there was some range of choice for the next part of the performance/exercise.


At the end of class, students were instructed to select one of the objects to take home with them. They then had a week, outside of class, to disassemble or otherwise render unusable their selected objects. They could use hand tools, but I asked that no fire or chemicals be used. And so, the students went to work on this in private, all the while reading five pages or so of Nelson’s book for each session. And then, a week later, this is what they brought back:




What are we looking at, I asked them.


Trash, one student said.

Art, another student said.


Some people didn’t follow the instructions, another said.


As the conversation continued, I had the students reflect on the results as evidence of how the act of dismantling was interpreted. Were there patterns?


And what were we to make of the submission of the small piece of paper with the word “her” written on it? What was the original object? (No one could say.) How did the appearance of this gendered pronoun makes sense as an act of dismantling?



Next step: selected one of the dismantled objects to take home for a week, instructions, as before, to follow. These instructions were even more straightforward: reassemble the object. They could use tape, glue, rubber bands, paper clips, but not blow torches or hammers or other similarly sized hand tools. Another week, more talking about Nelson, how she puts her memoir together, what she chooses to work with, and how she chooses to work with it.


Here’s a sampling of the submissions (I’ll post a collective shot by the end of the week):



The hand juicer.



The Calendar.



"her" reassembled as "them"



The students brought in their reassembled objects and they were on display for a week in the computer lab we’d decamped to for their work on another assignment (more on that one next time).


And then, this week, the quiz asked them to reflect on what they’d learned from the experience of performing in McIntosh’s Worktable. At first, some students thought I’d handed out the wrong quiz. Performance? Worktable? But, when they’d read the entire prompt, they all settled into putting their (perhaps just then forming) reflections down on paper. Here’s one response:


The Worktable is a play about ourselves, in the way that our brains are the actors and the assemblage and disassemblage are the ways the actors are performing. The actors take objects, create creative chaos, then recreate order in different ways (in the way that we all see fit and can bring to our aesthetic, as disassembling an object results in stress and stress relief, and reassembling results in new life and the resolution of stress). The surprise came ultimately from the destruction of the earring to “her,” then the reassembly to “them.” An object, like the Argo, was completely swapped of all parts and left to a singular word to represent it, then the word itself was swapped out, like an Argo of “the Argo.”


That irritating earring? It turns out to have been the catalyst for a number of insights into the creative process. What is “her”? It’s a dissembled version of “them.” What is “her”? It turns out it’s also a palimpsest rubbing converted into an invented Chinese character/gendered stick figure then translated into a gendered pronoun.



In their quiz responses, some students focus on the significance of the original object choice, how it constrains, how it determines what can follow. Others focus on how, at each stage, some members of the class were able to respond to the assignment in some previously unimaginable way. They could well be describing what happens via the act of citation.


Like millions of other comics fans, I am eagerly anticipating the release of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, starring Chadwick Boseman and a truly all-star cast. In fact, I’ve just been catching up by reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s three-volume Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, the first volume of which contains a map of Wakanda, an interview with illustrator Brian Stelfreeze, a Black Panther chronology, and other background information. These comics are page-turners for sure, with lots of the usual superhero battles and conflicts but also with lots of meditations on questions of the best kind of governance and the responsibility that those who govern owe to those governed. As someone who has studied collaboration throughout my career, I was especially struck by how the leader(s) and people collaborate to choose the best solution for Wakanda and to make sure that the solution “cannot be written in blood and fire.”


Until the film reaches our little movie theater here on the remote northern California coast, I’m enjoying reading about students’ experiences seeing it. You’ve probably heard of the Black Panther Challenge, launched by New Yorker Frederick Joseph to raise money to take kids from Harlem to see the film. That challenge has spread across the country, and just today a retired teacher friend of mine who mentors young women of color in a high school in Tampa wrote to say that one of her mentees had gone with a group of 30 other students to see Black Panther; she is being joined by thousands of other students having a similar experience and returning to their schools to talk about what the film means and HOW it means.


Which leads me to think about what a very fine teachable moment we have here, all across the U.S. The opportunities for students to do some serious research on the origins of the Black Panther Marvel series as well as on the Black Panther Movement, which began several months after the first Black Panther comic in 1966, are many indeed (and the irony that the series was created by two white men gives further food for thought). Broadening the scope a bit, students can also do research on other Black superheroes (like Icon) and on the history of such heroes, as well as on the evolution of the series, on the evolution of the role women play in the series, and so much more. I can easily imagine an entire first-year course developed around these ideas and texts, one that would challenge students to think deeply not only about the adventures, trials, and tribulations of the hero but also, and more importantly, about the message(s) that he sends to us today.


Ordinarily, I am happy to be retired. But today, I would love nothing better than to design a new version of the research and writing-based comics course I taught for so many years. And I know right where I would begin!


Credit: Pixabay Image 1393153 by emiliefarrisphotos, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License


Jimisha Relerford is a Master Instructor in the Department of English at Howard University. She serves as director of The Writing Center and is currently a student in the PhD program. Her research interests include early 20th-century African American literature, archival studies, and composition pedagogy. 


Earlier this month, The Chronicle of Higher Education published “What’s Wrong With Writing Centers,” a profile of the work of Lori Salem, director of the the Writing Center and Student Success Center at Temple University. The profile focused on findings presented in Salem’s Spring/Summer 2016 article in The Writing Center Journal, “Decisions...Decisions: Who Chooses to Use the Writing Center,” for which she received the 2017 International Writing Centers Association Outstanding Article Award. Salem’s article draws on quantitative research conducted at Temple to implore writing center scholars and administrators to reconsider some of our “best practices”: our use of nondirective feedback in student tutorial sessions, our focus on “higher order” concerns before “lower order” concerns, our insistence upon not proofreading student writing, and our casting of tutors as peers rather than experts. Such pedagogical orthodoxies, Salem argues, are geared toward privileged students and ineffectively meet the needs of the students who visit writing centers most often: women, minorities, and second-language learners.


Reading Salem’s article was a shock to my system. As the newly-appointed director of Howard University’s Writing Center, I’ve spent the past year implementing and strengthening many of the policies that Salem now calls into question! However, Salem’s voice is one of many calling for practical and pedagogical changes in writing centers, and, based on her research, it is reasonable to assume that some of those changes may be beneficial for writing centers at HBCUs. But which ones, exactly? Which pedagogical practices are most effective for the unique student populations that HBCU writing centers serve?


Answering this question requires that HBCUs take a step back and evaluate our own writing center programs. What students regularly visit our centers? What motivates those students to seek tutoring? How are we developing our pedagogies to target those students? How are we training our tutors to best meet their needs? These are the types of questions that I hope will be explored at this year’s Symposium on Teaching Writing at HBCUs entitled “Remembering Our Past, Re-enVisioning Our Future.” The symposium offers an ideal opportunity to reflect on the progress and potential of the work we do in HBCU writing centers. Let us take advantage of this opportunity to learn from each other, to re-visit our own writing center “best practices,” to make plans for our own research, to ensure that our voices are part of the broader discussion.

Today's blogger is Jeff Ousborne, author of Writing Music: A Bedford Spotlight Reader.


All the essays in Writing Music model thoughtful and perceptive writing in a range of genres, from blog posts to scholarly articles. Students can read and adapt practical strategies for, say, moving from a general claim to a supporting example or using a paragraph to address an opposing point of view. That modeling process works at a deeper level, too: it means seeing writing not merely as an academic performance, but as a way of pursuing curiosity, answering questions, and correcting misunderstandings.


So how do we get students to identify with the curiosity and engagement of these writers? I have had success using a vintage technique: questioning. Every selection in the book lends itself to this approach (even the ancient excerpt from Aristotle). But let’s focus on a specific example.


Case Study

I’ve taught Will Wilkinson’s “Country Music, Openness to Experience, and the Psychology of Culture War” (page 105) several times now.  In a class comprised of many international students, but only a few dedicated fans of contemporary country, you’d think the topic would be a tough sell. But with a multimedia approach (I show music videos of the songs that Wilkinson discusses), students quickly apprehend the signals, symbols, and themes that he identifies in his argument.  The images also get students thinking about the writer’s wider claims: that a musical genre can mirror and express an ideology, and that a type of music can coordinate its fans as a community with shared values.


Several students were able to apply those insights to other genres, ideologies, and communities, which helped them place their own musical preferences in a broader context. For those students, one key to moving from Wilkinson’s text to their own writing was the low-tech process of asking the right questions about their topics. So in a class discussion, we essentially reverse engineered Wilkinson’s essay by identifying root questions that he attempts to answer. I put a few question prompts on the whiteboard; together, we worked through the answers. Here are just a few of them, with the brief explanations that Wilkinson’s essay provides:


  • What interests me about this topic?

While listening to a country song, the writer wonders whether its sentimentality is connected to the ideology of the genre, the psychology of country’s conservative fans, and the “stakes of the ‘culture wars.’” 

  • What do I know about this topic? What don’t I know, but want to discover?

What the writer knows: Contemporary music focuses on a limited number of subjects and themes; it seems to have a conservative ideology and represent a “side” in the “culture wars.”

What the writer doesn’t know, but tries to discover:  He does not know how, specifically, a preference for country music is related to cognition, personality types, openness to experience, conscientiousness, and social psychology.  

  • What are specific examples of this topic?

            The song that inspires the writer’s inquiry is “One Boy, One Girl” by Collin Raye:


In the original version of the essay, Wilkinson includes other examples, as well:

            “Small Town USA” by Justin Moore


                  “The Good Stuff” by Kenny Chesney

            These examples reinforce Wilkinson’s premise that country music has a worldview.

  • How is this topic misunderstood? What needs to be clarified?

Different views of country music reflect not differences in superficial “taste,” but more fundamental differences in psychology, ideology, and moral intuitions. Those with “high openness” personalities may find country music boring and nostalgic, but its fans understand that the genre celebrates traditions charged with transcendent meaning: “the  baseline emotional tone of a recognizably decent life.”

  • How has my attitude about this topic changed over time?

The writer comes to understand that country music works, in part, “to reinforce . . . the idea that life's most powerful, meaningful emotional experiences are precisely those to which conservative personalities living conventional lives are most likely to have access. And it functions as a device to coordinate members of conservative-minded communities    on the incomparable emotional weight of traditional milestone experiences.” That is, the writer moves from curiosity and intuition into a more precise, supportable, and debatable understanding of country music.  

 Again, these are just some of the questions that you can use (for more, see “Asking the Right Questions” section in this book’s “Preface for Students” (pages 2-6) or Critical Reading and Writing: A Bedford Spotlight Rhetoric (page 22)).


These questions encourage students to look for gaps, paradoxes, changes in attitudes over time, and other sources of tension and conflict. The question about specific examples also requires them to begin assembling specific evidence to support their claims. So after dismantling an essay from Writing Music by questioning it, ask your students to interrogate their own prospective topics in the same way. If they can come up with preliminary questions and speculative answers (or ideas for pursuing those answers), they have made significant progress in the writing process.

null by Beryl Chan on Flickr, used under public domainIn the workplace, employees write trip reports to document what happened during a business trip. Some companies use those reports to show how the goals for the trip were met. Others use them to share what happened with the rest of the organization. I use a Trip Report assignment in my Business Writing and in my Technical Writing classes, and it can be adapted into a website analysis assignment for a first-year composition or digital literacy course.

The trick to transforming the assignment is to rethink the idea of trips, making the excursion the writer takes into a visit to an online site, rather than a geographical destination or event. With those changes, the rest of the assignment needs only some minor phrasing adjustments.

The Assignment

This assignment is modeled on trip reports, which are used in the workplace to tell coworkers what happened or was achieved on a business trip. For this assignment, you will choose a website that you will share with everyone in the class and then report on your visit to that site by writing an online trip report.

You’ll begin the activity by deciding on a website and choosing a specific reason(s) to visit it. Think of your reason(s) to visit as your research question(s). Next, you will visit the site, looking for the information you identified as the reason for your visit. After you explore the site, you will write a trip report that explains how well the site is likely to meet the needs of people who visit it for the same reason(s) you did. You will share your trip report with the entire class. Your report will provide an analytical review or recommendation.

Step 1: Identify your search questions.

Brainstorm a series of questions related to your online visit. These questions will guide your project. Your research questions do not have to be complicated, but they should require more than a simple answer. You should be able to break the guiding question down into a series of sub-questions. Here is an example:

Instead of ThisTry This
Guiding Question
How much is admission to Disneyland during the first weekend of June?
Guiding Question
How much should I budget for a trip to Disneyland during the first weekend of June?

  • How much does it cost for admission?
  • How much does it cost to stay at a Disney resort? Are gratuities included?
  • How much should I budget for meals?
  • What special events will be taking place during the time I am thinking of visiting?
  • How much should I budget for special events?
  • How much should I budget for other expenses?

Step 2: Choose a website for your project.

Once you have your search questions ready, choose a site where you believe you will find the answers. You can choose any website that includes both visual and text content. Your site must meet the following criteria:

  • Appropriate for the classroom.
  • Free and open (no login required).
  • Professional (not a personal site).

Good choices for this assignment include these kinds of sites:

  • an official university site.
  • a university-related site (such as a club site).
  • a professional association’s site.
  • a nonprofit organization’s site.
  • a corporate site for a company you might work for.
  • a news media or journal site.

If you are unsure whether the site fits the questions that you have identified, skim through the site to determine whether it includes the kind of information that you are looking for.

Step 3: Familiarize yourself with the characteristics and format for your report.

Read the following resources for information on writing trip reports:

Additionally, read the details on memo format, since your project should look like a trip report from the workplace. You can also read about memo format in The Business Writer’s Handbook or The Handbook of Technical Writing.

Step 4: Go on your trip: visit the website, and gather information for your report.

With the preliminary work taken care of, you can begin work researching the questions you identified above in Step 1 on the website. Check out the pages linked to the site’s main navigation. Browse the information on the site, looking for the answers to your question and paying attention to the supporting details and other related information.

To provide evidence of the answers to your search questions in your trip report, you identify specific details. Take notes on what you find and gather any materials that you can use as you write your report. For instance, you might take some screenshots, copy important passages, and note important page links. Remember to keep track of where your information comes from so you can cite your sources in your report.

Step 5: Write your Trip Report.

Write your trip report in your word processor, using memo format. The length of your report will vary, according to your search questions and the information you found on the website. There is not a minimum or maximum page length. Write as much as you need to, but be sure to include all of the required information.

Your trip report should include the following information:

  • the goals for the trip (your website visit).
  • what you actually found during your visit.
  • the lessons learned from your visit:
    • What made the site a good (or bad) resource for your search questions?
    • What features on the site indicated that the creators were thinking of you as an audience?
    • What about the site worked well?
    • Would you recommend the site to someone with similar questions? Why, or why not?

Include concrete details from the notes you took during your website visit to support the information in your trip report. You can quote or paraphrase information from the site. Insert the screenshots you took to illustrate your points (be sure to crop out irrelevant information in the images).

Once you have a complete draft, check the information in your report to determine whether you have included the answers to your search questions and the information required for the report, listed above. When you are sure you have met the requirements, proofread your report and turn it in.


Closing Thoughts

This trip report assignment upgrades the basic analytical essay. Students will still complete an analysis project, but the trip report format adds interest for students already looking ahead to the workplace. Further, by asking them to work with a different genre, students necessarily get beyond the comfort of the five-paragraph theme.

You can further adapt this assignment if you ask students to take online field trips. For instance, you might ask students to explore a genre or period of art on an art museum website. They can report their findings in a trip report.

Do you have unusual writing assignments that work well for you? I would love to hear about what you have tried and what’s worked for you. Just leave me a comment below!


“Yet one must also recognize that morality is based on ideas and that all ideas are dangerous — dangerous because ideas can only lead to action and where the action leads no man can say.” Student-selected quote from “Stranger in the Village” by James Baldwin (Notes of a Native Son 1955).



The following activity is adapted from several journal entry assignments that students were invited to write as part of preparing to draft the first essay of our spring semester course, the second semester of Stretch. Many of the students spent the fall semester of Stretch reading and writing about Baldwin, and some had requested that we continue this work in the spring. Because several new students joined our cohort, we began the semester with new material from Baldwin, a refresher for students enrolled in the fall semester and an introduction for students new to the cohort in the spring semester. We began with the often-anthologized essay “Stranger in the Village,” then continued with “Letter to My Nephew,” which serves as a model for the first writing assignment in the course.



Our first writing project asks you to write a letter to a younger audience about a contemporary issue of significance to you and to future generations. An example of this genre is James Baldwin’s “Letter to My Nephew,” first published in The Progressive in 1962, and republished in 1963 as part of Baldwin’s book The Fire Next Time.


James Baldwin uses this genre to introduce his main idea to his immediate audience (his nephew) and his wider audience (the general public and readers of The Progressive). After reading this letter, return to the first three paragraphs to observe how Baldwin creates an extended introduction.


  1. The first paragraph details Baldwin’s writing process and shows Baldwin’s relationship to his nephew and to his nephew’s father (who is Baldwin’s younger brother). Baldwin also introduces his main purpose for writing.
  2. The second paragraph describes Baldwin’s relationship to his brother.
  3. The third paragraph elaborates on Baldwin’s purpose for writing.


You can model your own opening paragraphs on this template:


First paragraph = direct connection to audience

  • Describe your writing process
  • Discuss your relationship to the audience
  • Introduce your purpose for writing


Second paragraph = background about why I am writing (choose from the following or add your own):

  • Events as you imagine them to be in the future
  • Current or recent events
  • Historic events that still hold relevance


Third paragraph = develop your specific purpose for writing:

  • To describe a specific problem faced in the current moment
  • To discuss a specific hope for the future
  • To create a specific plan for the future


The following is a student’s draft of a first paragraph, based on the model.


I have tried writing this letter and have evidently struggled to find the words to express the importance of words. It’s strange that something used in our daily lives could be so influential and important if used correctly. Words can either damage or heal and most importantly change the world. My hope is, dearest readers, that you never lose the fire in your soul. That you face the monsters under your beds with the utmost confidence and vaporize them with the power of your voice.


We workshopped this paragraph as a whole class, and discussed specific revisions:

  1. We pointed out the main idea of the paragraph (in bold), and suggested revising the paragraph to clearly present this main idea
  2. We were concerned that “dearest readers” was too broad an audience for the specific focus needed for this assignment.


Our suggestions here centered on finding a more concrete audience, even if that audience was imaginary for traditional-aged first-year students (grandson, grandniece, great-grandchild of my best friend, etc).

Today's guest blogger is Jeanne Bohannon is an Assistant Professor of English in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Kennesaw State University. She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become stakeholders in their own rhetorical growth though authentic engagement in class communities. Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies and critical engagement pedagogies; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing informed and empowered student scholars. Reach Jeanne at: and


Here’s the reality: many of us are Gen-X’ers (or older), and we sometimes (often) feel overwhelmed when we try to navigate digital writing spaces. We may even feel like imposters. But from social media posts to their own Tumblr or blogging pages, students are always already writers in digital environments, and we know that our students need us to facilitate their emerging expertise in these spaces.


Here’s the good news: we can mentor our students to use the same rhetorical behaviors that we know how to teach, just mixing up the texts they produce through these behaviors. Try one or both of the assignments below, using the guidelines for analysis as feedback tools that are familiar to most of us already. Let me know what you think in the comments.


Measurable Learning Outcomes

After completing this activity, students will be able to:

  1. Analyze visual arguments in multimodal writing environments
  2. Apply criteria for analysis to everyday pieces of digital, public writing
  3. Create digital content for public consumption (Part 2)


Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of reading and viewing visual texts are ongoing processes for attaining learning goals in dialogic, digital writing assignments. Below, I have listed a few foundational items from Andrea Lunsford’s texts. 


Assignment (Two-fold)

Part 1: In class, students choose a website, blog, or other electronic text to visually analyze using these criteria.

  1. Aesthetics — How does the piece look to you as the viewer?  Is it pleasing, disturbing, ineffective, what?  How would you describe it to someone who didn’t have your educational or social experience?
  2. Characterization — Who or what are the players that relate meaning in this piece?  How are they related to each other, to meaning, to the audience?  What is their purpose? What is the author trying to say through them?
  3. Structure — How does the author organize the piece?  Does it seem effective to you? Think about how this structure impacts negotiated meaning of the piece.
  4. Meta-Discourse — What does this piece say in its sub-text(s)?  How does the piece comment on itself?  What does the piece say about the genre in which it resides?
  5. Cultural Impact — What effect does the piece try to have on cultural constructs such as gender, race, class, age? Is it a re/mix or an original analysis of these constructs? Is its message negative or positive?


Part 2: Out of class, students develop a webpage or blog post based on Guidelines


Academic blogs serve many of the same purposes as traditional essays.  Further, they also have the same parts, such as:


  1. Introduction - In a blog, authors use conversation as a rhetorical tool to convey a message and engage with an audience. Introductions will also have a banner, header, or image "above the fold" (no scrolling) that invites the reader to engage with the topic.
  2. Thesis - You state your purpose outright. In a blog post, it is OK to write "this blog post will..[insert your verb here]. You may write explicit elements of your claim, but more often bloggers don't. So, you must be mindful of your post's organization and make sure you stay on-mission with your message.
  3. Support - In an academic blog, support for your claim comes in a diversity of multimodal content items.  Make sure you frame each piece of support, whether you use videos, podcasts, images, or GIFs, or alphanumeric text. You frame your support in your own voice.
  4. Conclusions - Academic blogs do, indeed, have conclusions! You should expect to wrap up your argument and support in no more than three sentences. Always include an invitation for commenting and feedback. Re-iterate your contact information.


Academic blogs also have a few additional required elements:


  1. Tags - By inserting tags in your post, you help searchers find your post among millions of others on the Internet. Think of tags as digital keywords that describe your main argument and topic.
  2. Working hyperlinks - In blogs, hyperlinks serve as visual elements and way-finders to create a multi-linear, interactive experience for your audience. Double check all hyperlinks in multiple browsers to ensure viability.
  3. Accessibility Compliance - You must caption all videos, provide alt-text for all images, and use color schemes that are readable by all audiences.  To review ADA compliance, check out: "Learn About Section 508" and also Bohannon's post, Multimodal Mondays: The Importance of Designing for Disability Considerations



Students may already have their own blogs or websites on which they write. For instructors looking for free options, try WordPress or Edublogs, which provide intuitive, easy-to-use templates for web-composing beginners.  I participated in a Domain of One’s Own (DoOO) initiative several years ago and found it to be a useful platform as well. Instructors may also find web hosting services on Wix and GoDaddy and even their own universities.


Do you have an idea for a Multimodal Mondays activity or post? Contact Leah Rang for a chance to be featured on Andrea's blog.


Positive or negative writing feedback… what’s the optimal balance?



Recently I asked my students what they considered to be a healthy ratio of positive-to-negative feedback on their writing. The general consensus emerged from four sections of FYC that a 1:1 ratio seemed fair and healthy, the “norm” or even ideal. Then I introduced them to the Losada ratio and research by Gottman, which suggests that a 1:1 ratio is a recipe for traumatic experience.


To be clear, “negative” feedback is a broad term. We often hear phrases like “constructive criticism,” “critical thinking,” “critical examination,” or suggestions that we frame critical responses as questions like: “Maybe add more description here to improve this sentence?” Those of us who have built our careers within a context of critical discourse have created a lexicon to soften the blow of criticism and what is often perceived by students summarily as “your writing needs improvement” and “this sentence needs work.” That is too often what they hear when we write in the margins or in the comments window: “Maybe reword this sentence to bring in more evidence to support your claim?”


When we operate from a system that prioritizes critical examination, we are starting from an assumption of “this needs improvement”  – a deficits model for viewing students – rather than “this has outstanding strengths and virtues” (i.e., a positive, strengths-based model). And it permeates so much of what we do in K-12 and postsecondary education.


No wonder so many students find schoolwork drudgery (or worse). We have inherited a model that emphasizes – hell, it assumes as common sense (the most oppressive of forces) – a need for improvement disproportionate to that of highlighting students’ strengths and virtues.


Gottman’s research was centered on marital stability, and he discovered through a career of data collection that a ratio of 5:1 (positive-to-negative comments) was optimal for a healthy, strong, and loving relationship. Barbara Frederickson at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill has spent more than a decade furthering research centered on the Losada ratio in many contexts, including education.


What her data suggests is that those of us who adopt a positive-to-negative range in our daily lives between 3:1 and 7:1 tend to flourish. If we fall below that, we tend to suffer and fall into toxic patterns. Interestingly, if we are too positive, the benefits begin to fall off as well. There is an optimal window within which humans tend to flourish.


So how does this apply to the writing classroom?


I am moving toward a positive, strengths-based model for FYC, a model of teaching writing that improves student well-being (and my own quite frankly), and I’m beginning to consider if this is a direction the field of writing studies itself might explore through practice, discourse, and research.


How to Emphasize Positive Emotions and Well-Being in a Writing Class

This semester I asked students to write a gratitude letter, and then to plan a surprise visit to read their gratitude letter aloud to its recipient. The level of heartfelt, authentic, and mature positive emotions I’ve seen is profound. Tears have been shed. Good tears.


One student read his letter to his grandmother who parented him the last seven years after his mother died, and he asked his grandmother to be at his mom’s gravesite as he read his letter to her. Another wrote a gratitude letter to her dad who completed substance abuse treatment three years ago. One student wrote hers to her mom with never-before-expressed gratitude about the experience of riding along with her mom while she went from one business to the next trying to find work, persisting and loving her and her sisters while on the verge of homelessness.


Students are saying this is the most meaningful writing project they’ve ever completed. They’re saying things like, “You can’t B.S. a letter expressing gratitude to the one person who knows and loves you better than anyone else.” Some have even suggested they are finding meaning in life by writing and reading these letters.


Throughout this unit, we completed reflective writing activities that asked students to consider their strengths and virtues and the strengths and virtues of the people around them, to practice using those strengths and virtues in new and different ways. I’ve asked students once per week to complete an activity called “Three Good Things,” wherein they are to write down three good things that have happened to them in the past day or two, to consider the causal explanations of the good things, and then to share those with the class as a whole.


As letter writing practice, one day in class I asked students to write a letter to themselves four months from now with self-compassion, complimenting the achievements they will have made by succeeding this semester. They then read their letters aloud in class filled with hope, compassion, and kindness. One students’ letter to herself read: “By the time you read this letter, you will have weathered your parents’ divorce which, as I’m writing this, I just learned about a week ago, and you will be stronger and happier and enjoying summer camp.”


The response has been like nothing I’ve ever seen in twenty years of teaching writing. Students who truly believe they’re not good writers are talking about their strengths and about the people in their lives to whom they would like to express gratitude. They’re finding meaning and purpose in life, and they are authentically questioning what happiness is and how to achieve it through writing, positive emotions, engagement, and building positive relationships with others.




In closing, think about three good things that have happened to you in the past day or so. Maybe even write them down. Then ask yourself, how does it feel to think about those three things? How does it feel to think about what went well?


Economics has risen above its reputation as the "dismal science,” but it still may not seem like a lively topic for a composition classroom. However, in the spirit of inviting our students to grapple with meaningful material, let’s remember that our composition students are already thinking about economics in the form of student debt … and it feels deeply personal. While a composition class is certainly not Econ 101, a writing course devoted to understanding the ways experts make meaning is a (perfect) opportunity to empower students with tools for analyzing the financial context of U.S. education. 


Ask your students what they think about student debt, and they’ll have plenty to say. (I hope you will, and that you'll share their responses, below.) At my public university, where many students are first-generation, the conversation tends toward two directions: 1) Student debt terrifies them and they try not to think about it, and 2) They don’t understand why education costs so much, whether it's worth it, and how anyone could pay it all off. Why bring this negative energy and confusion into your writing classroom? Because understanding is power, and you have the tools your students need to make sense of an issue they know will affect the course of their lives.


I recommend assigning portions of Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream (2016), by Sara Goldrick-Rab, a self-described “scholar-activist” with a backgrounding sociology and education policy. Stuart Greene and I include her engaging writing in the 4th edition of our book, From Inquiry to Academic Writing, precisely because she models, with verve, the “habits of mind of academic writers” we cultivate in our classrooms. I will focus on two of those here:  


  1. Inquiring 
  2. Seeking and valuing complexity  


In our headnote and the “Reading as a Writer” topics that guide students in analyzing Goldrick-Rab’s writing, we dig into her questions about the history of student loans, shifting attitudes about the necessity of a college degree, and problem-solving examples of states investing in “first degree for free" programs in order to “reinvest” in communities (746). Goldrick-Rab invites us to explore the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, where the concepts she presents are being tested in innovative, scholarly ways. In Goldrick-Rab, students see an academic mind at work, using your course’s tools to understand a problem that matters to them. Goldrick-Rab sides with them:


         The first step in addressing the college affordability crisis is taking the problem seriously. Money matters. Lack of          financial resources is keeping students from succeeding. Suggesting that low-income students merely need to          learn how to live more frugally is usually a misplaced recommendation — and an offensive one, to boot. As Oscar          Wilde wrote, “To recommend thrift to the poor is both grotesque and insulting. It is like advising a man who is          starving to eat less.” (747)


When even the musical our students are humming, Hamilton, suggests punching the Bursar, your composition class has the opportunity to inspire students to apply the skills you’re teaching to an issue relevant to them – to flex their academic “habits of mind,” rather than their fists. Plenty of instructors, also burdened by student loans, will find Goldrick-Rab’s insights timely, too. 



Image source: “student loan” by airpix on flickr 6/23/16 via Creative Commons 2.0 license


Yes, it's that time of year again: time for Super Bowl Semiotics, advertising division. And as I contemplate this year's rather uninspiring, and uninspired, lineup, I find myself realizing that the ads were more significant for what they didn't say (or do) than for what they did—like Sherlock Holmes' dog that didn't bark in the night. Here's why.


To start with, one dog that didn't bark this time around was a real dog: that is, after a couple of high-profile puppy-themed ads in the recent past (Budweiser's "Puppy Love" ad from Super Bowl 48 was a hit, while GoDaddy's parody the following year was a disaster—you can find complete analyses of both in the 9th edition of Signs of Life), Madison Avenue decided to let this sleeping dog lie for once, along with the ever-popular cute animal theme overall. I expect to see it come back next year (or soon thereafter) however: cute animals are good salespeople in America.


Of course, there was a fair share of comedy in the lineup (yuks sell stuff too), and the consensus appears to be that the comic ads from Tide took the prize for Best Ads in a Sponsoring Role. The Tide ads, of course, borrowed a page from the Energizer company, whose Energizer Bunny ads—first aired in 1989—employ a sophisticated advertising strategy that is essentially self-reflexive, parodying existing campaigns for other products, and, in so doing, appealing to an audience that has been so super saturated with advertising gimmicks that it has become skeptical of advertising in general.


But the big story of Super Bowl 52 was the relative lack of politically themed ads. Given the way that social politics—from #oscarssowhite to #metoo—have been playing such a prominent role in America's popular cultural main events recently, this may appear to be a surprising omission, but not when we consider how the NFL has been witness to an entire season of political protests that have tied it up in the sort of controversies it is not well equipped to handle. And given the ruckus that an immigration-themed Super Bowl ad made last year, one can see why politics was not on the agenda.


Not taking the hint, however, the ad folks at Dodge thought that they could enter the political fray in a way that would make everyone happy . . . and fell flat on their face with their Martin Luther King, Jr. spot. Dr. King, as at least one critic of the ad has put it, wasn't talking about trucks. In fact, as some careful readers of the actual MLK speech that Dodge appropriated have noted, King was warning his audience precisely against the power of advertising. Um, maybe a little learning is a dangerous thing.


In my view, the ad folks at Dodge tripped up in yet another way during the night, though I don't think that anyone else has noticed this. I refer here to the Vikings-take-Minneapolis Ram truck spot, which took a group of actual Icelanders—dressed up as medieval Viking raiders—from Iceland to Minneapolis in a thoroughly juiced-up journey, all set to Queen's "We Will Rock You." Now, some Minnesota Viking fans have taken the ad as some sort of dig at the football team, but I think the real story parallels what I've been writing here about the Thor movies. All those ferocious blondes, cruisin' for a bruisin' . . . . I don't want to press the matter, but I don't think that this is really a good time to so aggressively display what can only be called a demonstration of raw "white power."


Perhaps the biggest story of all, however, is that no ad really made that much of an impact. Oh, there are (as always) lists of favorites to be found all over the Net, but nothing really broke through the ad clutter in any big way. At five million dollars for thirty seconds of exposure (the cost seems to go up by a tidy million every year), that's something of an anti-climax, but perhaps that's as it should be. After all, there is still a football game somewhere behind all this, and, as games go, it was quite a good game.



Credit: “2018 Super Bowl LII Minnesota Banner – Minneapolis” by Tony Webster on Flickr 1/27/18 via Creative Commons 2.0 license.


In a New York Times op-ed piece, Thomas B. Edsall asks “Is President Trump a Stealth Postmodernist or Just a Liar?” Intrigued by the question, I scrolled through the article, finding that writers on both the left and the right have linked Trump to postmodernism. For the left, Jeet Heer connects Trump’s appeals to nostalgia (“Make America Great Again”), his fragmented and fragmentary tweets, and his conflation of make believe and reality as “the perfect manifestation of postmodernism.” And on the right, David Ernst sees the rejection of truth and embrace of relativism as clear signs of postmodernism at work.  


While it’s impossible to imagine Trump reading about—or knowing anything about—postmodernist thought (impossible!!), the popular understanding of postmodernism as positing a rejection of objective truth and as agreeing that “anything goes” or “everything is relative” is widespread and featured in various bouts of culture wars in the last couple of decades.


Edsall notes that “scholars of contemporary philosophy argue that postmodernism does not dispute the existence of truth per se, but rather seeks to interrogate the sources and interests of those making assertions of truth.” Had Edsall consulted scholars of contemporary rhetoric and writing studies, he might have learned much the same. Kenneth Burke spoke (and wrote) out repeatedly against what he called “vulgar relativism,” all the while showing how humans together make or construct or build truths that can be accepted as “true,” but “true” without a capital T. Rhetorical theory offers doxa as a useful way to think about knowledge and opinion, presenting doxa as that knowledge that can be taken for granted, or that is widely agreed upon. For Aristotle, doxa was a useful early step in the path to knowledge, a place to begin constructing what can be assumed true through the process of argument and counterargument. As such, doxa is important to the working of a democratic society.


Later in his article, Edsall notes the work of Lyotard, who defines postmodern as “incredulity toward metanarratives’” rather than as an abandonment of any semblance of objectivity or truthfulness. He also refers to Andrew Cutrofello, a professor at Loyola University Chicago, who says that “In the present political climate truth and power have become uncoupled to a certain extent” so that it’s natural to wonder whether the notion of truth has been undermined. But Cutrofello suggests instead that rather than losing the category of objective truth, we are mired in “a battle over who has objective truth on their side.”


Which brings me back to the President and his seeming indifference to truth and to the norms that have guided writers and speakers for generations. As E. J. Dionne, Norman Ornstein, and Thomas Mann put it in One Nation after Trump, we’ve never had a president

who aroused such grave and widespread doubts about his commitment to the institutions of self-government, to the norms democracy requires to the legitimacy of opposition in a free republic, and to the need for basic knowledge about major policy questions and about how government works. 


Rhetoric, so often maligned as “just hot air,” is the discipline and art that helps us to understand how norms develop, whose ends they serve, and how they can be used in the pursuit of knowledge and action that come as close to truth as it’s possible to get. As a rhetorician, I took the lessons of postmodernism that made sense from a rhetorical perspective (that truths are constructed, that our understanding is often flawed and fragmentary, and that grand narratives and essentialism are dangerous roads to travel). But I did not give up attempts to build knowledge that aims at truthfulness, that tries to establish common ground on which people with opposing views can stand, and argue, and counterargue. 


While President Trump seems to understand, viscerally, how to say what he believes people want to hear, and while he employs some rhetorical techniques effectively, he does not do so in the pursuit of truthfulness. He does not use doxa to build toward such informed and agreed-upon knowledge. So perhaps rhetoricians would agree with Johanna Oksala, professor of social science and cultural studies at the Pratt Institute, who wrote in response to Edsall’s question, “I don’t think Trump should be called a postmodern president, but simply a liar.” For all his power, neither should he be called a rhetor or a rhetorician.


Credit: Pixabay Image 166853 by PDPics, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License

Reichsstraße 135 number.svg by 3247's Image Wizard, on Wikimedia CommonsLast week, I wrote about Online Identity Revision Plans. Today, I want to share a focused activity that fits online identity revision as well as revision in any writing classroom. This activity is modeled on the 1–3–5 rule used in planning and to-do lists. The goal is to change revision from an overwhelming challenge to fix everything into a targeted plan to improve the document.

The 1–3–5 Rule for To-Do Lists

Using the system, you divide your to-do’s into three categories:

  1. Simple tasks that are easy to complete.
  2. Medium tasks that take a little more work.
  3. Large tasks that take more time and require more effort.

As this Post-It Note article explains, “A small task might be washing dishes after dinner, while a large task might be preparing your garden for spring.” After you prioritize your tasks, you create a to-do list for the day that includes one large task, three medium tasks, and five simple tasks. The Muse shares a simple template to structure the to-do’s in their article “A Better To-Do List: The 1-3-5 Rule.”

Applying the 1–3–5 Rule to Revision

It’s fairly straightforward to adopt the 1–3–5 rule as part of a revision activity:

  1. Ask students to prioritize their revision tasks into the three categories:
    1. Simple tasks
    2. Medium tasks
    3. Large tasks
  2. Choose tasks to complete: one large task, three medium tasks, and five simple tasks.
  3. Focus on those nine tasks in your revision.

Easy-peasy, right? Students determine what counts as simple, medium, and large, and then they follow their plans to revise their drafts or online identity. As teachers, we know that what is simple for one writer may be quite large for another, so this system works well for differentiated instruction. Students are in control, choosing what fits their needs. With the same structure as the to-do list version of the rule, students can even use The Muse template (above) as a handout.

Customizing 1–3–5 Revision

If students in the writing classroom need more structure than the open version of 1–3–5 Revision provides, you can easily customize the activity to fit your course. Rather than simple, medium, and large tasks, describe kinds of revision. For instance, focus on the difference between surface-level changes and deep revision with this 1–3–5 Revision schema:

  1. Conceptual Change: Think about changes to your overall idea and development. You might change your thesis or supporting paragraphs. This change will require working throughout the draft to change the way the ideas are conceived.
  3. Structural Changes: Consider how the document is put together. You might rearrange ideas or work on how sentences work together. For instance, you might set a goal to work on sentence variety in your introduction.
  5. Surface Changes: Focus on style and mechanics. You might look at word choice or a particular comma rule.

Another option for 1–3–5 Revision activity focuses on where the revision effort is centered, like this example:

  1. Paragraph Level: Think about changes you can make to your paragraphing that will strengthen your draft. For instance, you could think about a way to unify your paragraphs or about a strategy that improves paragraph openings.
  3. Sentence Level: Look at how sentences work together to improve the draft. For instance, you might set a goal to work on sentence length by combining sentences, or a goal to make the phrasing concise and direct.
  5. Word Level: Examine the individual words in your draft with a goal to increase their effectiveness. You might consider whether the words in your draft are concrete and specific, and make changes to improve the phrasing, such as deleting filler words.

These custom versions simply help students with the process of prioritizing their revision plans by showing them which kinds of revision are valued and the amount of effort that they should apply. Surface changes should be simple tasks while conceptual change should be a large task. Like the 1–3–5 Rule for To-Do Lists, the specific attention to prioritizing according to guiding categories should increase the effectiveness of students’ revision plans.

Keep Revision Active and Specific

No matter what kind of 1–3–5 Revision strategy you try, encourage students to keep their 1–3–5 plan active. ProfHacker’s “3 Ways to Makeover Your To-Do List” begins with the suggestion to “Start Each Task With a Verb.” This strategy stresses the action involved in the revision task rather than the end result or a need that should be met. Rather than adding “details” as the one large revision task, for instance, begin with a verb that says what to do about or with details. The actively-phrased task on the 1–3–5 plan might be “develop concrete details in the body paragraphs.”

Active phrasing has to be paired with specific and well-focused ideas. A writer might list “work on concise phrasing.” While that idea begins with a verb, the writer still has to figure out how to “work” on that phrasing. What exactly is she going to do? She could strengthen her revision plan by specifying exact strategies to apply to the draft, such as “delete unnecessary filler words, such as really and very.”

Final Thoughts

The 1–3–5 rule structures revision in a way that asks students to think more deeply about the work they need to do on their drafts. The strategy requires that students move beyond the idea of making corrections. It requires them to choose tasks that are more than simple editing and proofreading. While making the revision process move beyond surface errors in concrete ways, this 1–3–5 activity also makes the revision process specific and manageable. There are just nine tasks to complete, and at the end of the activity, the student should have the satisfaction of a checked-off list of to-do’s.

What do you think of this revision activity? Are you willing to give the 1–3–5 Revision strategy a try? Do you have revision activities that work well with students? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.



Photo credit: Reichsstraße 135 number.svg by 3247's Image Wizard, on Wikimedia Commons, used under public domain.


President Trump’s recent State of the Union Address was the 95th annual state of the union message delivered in person by a President to the American people. (In the past, some were written messages.) The State of the Union Address is an event shaped by rigid protocol. It is also an event colored by symbolism, especially this year, when members of Congress used their attire to make silent statements about the state of our nation.


Anyone who had watched recent awards shows already knew that this is the year of wearing black as a statement against women’s abuse by men, particularly in the entertainment industry. The #MeToo Movement gave a solemn tone to events like the Academy Awards red carpet, where both men and women wore black clothing and pins declaring “Time’s Up” for the abusers. The members of the Democratic Working Women’s Caucus decided to wear black to the address, according to Representative Lois Frankel, one of the group’s chairs, in solidarity:  “We want to show solidarity with the #MeToo movement, really to first basically thank the victims of sexual harassment who have had the courage to come forward. To have solidarity with…folks who are fighting for a cultural shift that enables men and women to work side by side in safety and dignity free of sexual harassment.” All members of Congress were invited to wear black.  “We’re not trying to make this partisan,” Frankel said. “Sexual harassment knows no party.”


When President Trump addressed Congress last year, the Democratic Working Women’s Caucus wore white, a visual link to the women’s suffrage movement.


This year, a number of members of Congress, most of them members of the Congressional Black Caucus, used a different look to make their symbolic statement. They chose to enhance their formal wear with items made of kente cloth, a colorful type of silk and cotton fabric native to South Ghana.  They were protesting President Trump’s recent offensive remark about underrepresented countries in Africa and Temporary Protective Status nations, including Haiti, whose people he condemned as the type of immigrants not wanted in this country.


Republicans were encouraged to wear red, white, and blue as a symbol of patriotism. According to USA Today, “A female member emailed her colleagues saying it was an idea from a constituent ‘to show our support for the flag, and the country and the troops and to be a contrast,’ Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., told USA TODAY . . . . McSally was the first female fighter pilot to fight in combat and said that the State of the Union should be a celebration of ‘the accomplishments of the past and a vision for the future and I think it’s something we should all be honoring and participating and be positive about as opposed to turning it into some sort of partisan spectacle.’”


The one outfit that has drawn the most attention and the most speculation as to symbolic meaning is the cream (not white—not after Labor Day) Christian Dior pantsuit worn by Melania Trump, who arrived separately from her husband. Vanessa Friedman of the New York Times termed it “the final piece of what appeared to be an unprecedentedly politicized use of dress during a State of the Union.” The contrast with what was worn by most others in attendance was noticeable, especially given the white suits worn the year before, and by Hillary Clinton. Some interpret the First Lady’s choice of outfit in light of recent stories about her husband’s infidelity with Stormy Daniels just months after the birth of the Trumps’ son. Friedman continues, “But given that clothes became a symbolic dividing line during this State of the Union like seemingly never before . . . it’s hard to believe that the potential (and, indeed, probable) interpretations of her choice escaped the first lady. And especially given the almost elated reception that greeted her decision to wear a bright pink pussy bow blouse for an appearance during the campaign after her husband’s previous public sexual shaming, the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape in which he made vulgar remarks about women. If she has paid any attention at all to public reaction (or if her team has), she cannot be ignorant of the fact that when she seems to use clothing as a subversive tool to suggest what she presumably cannot say, it provokes a groundswell of support. Though it was unclear at the time whether Mrs. Trump really understood the implications of that blouse choice, wearing a white suit to the State of the Union indicates that, indeed, she did.”


Though Trump delivered this year’s State of the Union, the symbolism of attendees’ attire ensured that their voices, too, were heard.

Recently, New York Times reporter Jonah Bromwich asked “Why Are All Our Words in Bubbles?” In a brief article appearing in the Technology section of the Times, Bromwich notes that Twitter and Facebook introduced “softer and rounder elements” in redesigns of their bubbles late last year because showing comment threads in bubbles seemed “a more conversational way to comment on posts.”


Interested in this new wrinkle in online communication, Bromwich contacted some design experts, who noted that the shape of the bubble can indicate mood or attitude: for example, a jagged bubble suggests anger or irritation. Scott McCloud weighed in, calling speech bubbles the visual equivalent of “quotation marks.” And Will Eisner referred to them as part of a comics artist’s attempt to invoke sound on a silent print page or screen.


The question of how to represent emotion, mood, or stance in a medium without sound is one worth talking about to students. Asking how they perceive such use of rounded or jagged or sharp-edged bubbles—and how they account for these perceptions—can lead to lively class discussion, at the very least. When body language isn’t available, as it is not in lots of social media communication as well as in traditional print texts, it’s important to ask students to think about how they create “tone” in their writing. Word choice, punctuation, even sentence structure all can help to build a certain tone in writing, as can the use of images. Do our students think that the use of speech bubbles might also be helpful, not just to signal dialogue or conversation but to suggest an attitude or emotion: Do round or rounded text bubbles make for a fuzzy, friendly feeling? Do sharp angles to bubbles suggest sharpness of tone, even anger? How might students not just answer these questions but go on to use text or speech bubbles in their own writing?



Credit: Pixabay Image 3042585 by pencilparker, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License