To meme or not to meme? Using memes to teach media literacy
As a social studies teacher, I struggle with the current political climate and the power and limits of the internet and modern media. Students come to class eagerly showing me the latest political meme. I appreciate her enthusiasm for the subject, but I always ask her where the meme got the information from. Can you give me a source, please? The situation repeats itself in the next period. Sometimes I feel a little guilty about interrupting a student’s earnest attempt to communicate with me through a medium they understand, but teaching them the basic literacy of citing sources takes priority.
When it comes to basic literacy, I mean basic: citing sources (even in memes) is just one component of the broader literacy skills that I emphasize in my students Find and identify Information. With the text, we start with the information hierarchy: headings, sub-headings, captions and visual aids. You will learn to find information in textbooks and encyclopedias, as well as primary historical sources.
These skills translate to other forms of media such as maps: find the title, legend, compass rose and scale. Most of all, they learn to be confident. My next step is to bring these basic reading and writing skills to the internet. I treat websites, applications, and memes like any other text. We look at how the text or information is organized, look for clues that indicate whether some information is sponsored content or clickbait, and play “find the author”. Nobody is allowed to answer the question of where information comes from with the think-killer “Internet”.
I struggled with teaching students media literacy, especially during and after the 2016 election. Friends of mine on both sides of the spectrum spoke of topics of conversation I’d just seen on social media – often without checking their sources or to quote. The lesson I learned from these experiences was that we Everyone need to get back to basics. I felt stressed because I was bombarded with memes all day and I saw the same stress in my students, so I decided to fight fire with fire and use memes for educational purposes.
To help my students explore the basics of literacy in relation to media, I decided to have my students approach memes, but this time as a creator. In civics, students had to use their political knowledge to make the best political stand. They used widely recognizable meme pictures like Bad luck Brian and Small mistake Marvin and came with their own captions. When I first ran this project in 2016, I used memeful.com, but since then there has been an explosion of new tools. The Rules: Be school-appropriate, creative, and make serious political arguments in a humorous way.
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