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Create a Meme Assignment: English 150

shared by tballard on April 25, 2016

Activity Summary:

This activity works well between Assignments 4 and 5 in English 150. Use it to help students bridge the divide between writing about a place and designing text and images about that place.

Instructions:

This activity is perfect for a computer lab day (or any day in a laptop classroom) after students have completed Assignment #4 and before they are full swing into Assignment #5. It serves as a good transition between the two assignments. I personally make this a graded, small assignment (see grading below), but you may want to use it as a participation activity. Please click here to download the PowerPoint that you may use to introduce this assignment to your students. Click here for the assignment sheet that I use for this activity.

Theoretical Background

First, here is a little theoretical justification for having students create memes in the classroom (refer to the PowerPoint attached to this activity for what you can tell your students). Although Internet memes may seem silly and not worth serious attention, they do serve an important role in discourse on the Internet. Internet users hesitate when they encounter a wall of text. Even a well-reasoned and well-written argument can be glossed over if the text seems too long and not worth the investment. You may have hesitated to read this section of this activity, for example. A short, pithy response to such texts is “tl;dr”, which stand for “too long; didn’t read.”

Internet memes, specifically image macro or still image with super-imposed text memes, like this activity calls for, provide rhetors on the Internet with a visually engaging device for drawing readers into a discussion. Image macros refer to a prior-existing discourse, much like McGee’s ideograph (1980), and have the power to instantly call on an inside joke and discussion surrounding the image.

This activity asks students to construct such a discussion about their organization (Assignment #3) or artifact (#4) by using an image that they have collected and referring to what they have learned through the research they conducted.

Activity

Since your students will have either taken photographs or collected images of their organization (#3) or artifact (#4), they should have a decent selection of pictures to work with for this assignment. Ask students to bring or have access to (such as through Google Drive or CyBox) their Assignment #3 and #4 papers and any other picture files they may want to use.

Use the PowerPoint to explain

  1. What a meme is. I’ve found that once I’ve explained the term meme and shown students a few examples, they quickly realize that they’ve seen them all over the Internet before, typically on social media sites. This comes fairly naturally.
  2. How to create a meme. Although the process is fairly simple, the video below, which is also embedded in the PowerPoint, demonstrates how to do it in Adobe Photoshop, which will help students gain familiarity with a powerful image editing program. Encourage students not to use imgur, createameme, or any of the easy-to-use meme creators on the Internet; these programs detract from the design skills students can otherwise learn through this activity. If I can tell that a student has used one of these simpler tools, I give them a 1 out of 2 for the assignment.
  3. Ways to come up with a clever or insightful phrase about the organization or artifact. Your students do not have to be funny or witty with this project (though most feel compelled to be anyway). The text they choose to super-impose should be relevant to their topic, however.

After students understand the activity, allow them time in class to create their meme. For those struggling to come up with a clever statement, offer freewriting and other creative thinking ideas. I recommend allowing students a couple of days to complete the assignment outside of class in case they can’t come up with something on the spot. Also consider lecturing on this assignment before your lab day to allow time for students to prepare ideas.

Video Demonstration of Photoshop

The PowerPoint includes a screencasted video demonstration of creating a meme in Photoshop. You may also watch it or download it here:


This video is intentionally imperfect. While there are certainly better demonstrations of Photoshop out there, I wanted to simulate a bit of what students may need to figure out as they try to create their memes. Although the video demonstrates how to compile four images, most students will be working with just one; however, the skills of cropping and moving images are helpful during Assignments #5 and #6, so principles from this video still apply.

Grading

After students submit their memes, I tend to go through them quickly and grade them on a two point scale. This becomes part of the student’s participation grade.

0 = Didn’t do it/two class periods late

1 = The text is irrelevant/the student used an easy editor (the name of the service is displayed on the meme)/one class period late

2 = The text is relevant and the meme looks like the student’s own work

If students take the effort to make a meme that was created with an easy online meme generator look like it wasn’t, I figure they have at least learned something about image manipulation, which is the point of the assignment. So no, I don’t worry that much about cheating.

Assignment #5

Now students have an image that they can truly call their own. Their memes should work well in a brochure or poster because the text discusses the organization or artifact that the brochure or poster is about. The memes can add some humor, interest, and/or creativity to their documents. Concise visual messages like memes can also serve as a sort of summary statement for a larger document; see the discussion about tl;dr above. Encourage students to use their memes in Assignment #5; however, you may choose to make this optional. (Some students may not be satisfied with how their memes turned out, for instance.) Also encourage students to include their meme with their -OVE artifacts in their portfolios.

Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read through and consider using this activity. Since this all comes out of and is part of my dissertation project, I am happy to consult with you about it. Please email me at tballard@iastate.edu if you have any questions about this assignment, and I’m happy to consult with you further on using this fun and engaging activity in your classroom.