Nov 15

Trying Too Hard?

Yesterday I received an email from a teacher that really started to get me thinking about how we teach and discuss current events in school. Thanks for the inspiration Kathryn!

I dreaded current events when I was a student. Each time a current event was assigned for one of my classes, I spent an inordinate amount of time reading newspapers and magazines to find a topic that piqued my interest, only to write a boring paper and give a dry report on my topic in class (“And remember class…always  include the following: Who, What, When, Where, and Why”). Granted, I learned a decent amount from this process, and came to appreciate being well informed, but it was still boring and unimaginative work.

When I first entered the classroom as a teacher, I vowed to make current events more interesting for my students. I searched for articles that directly related to the historical topics and essential questions we were discussing in class, brought in articles that I perceived to be relevant to the students’ everyday lives and experiences,  and created discussion forums (live and on the web) where students could engage in dialogue on a topic, rather than solely presenting on the “5 W’s.” But despite trying to to make current events more relevant, some of my students still complained that the assignments were boring, just like I did when I was a student.

A lesson is most effective when students see relevance in what they are learning, and appreciate the application that classroom experiences have to the real world. However, I’ve come to realize that sometimes we try too hard to display this connection. I started thinking about this a couple weeks ago after reading a great blog post 1 about what students think of “real-world learning.” Maybe sometimes (not all the time…) we just need to forget about making the real-world connection explicit to our students, and instead just make our assignments more fun!  If the students are having fun and enjoying the time spent on an assignment, they’ll begin to make their own connections with the material and experience the information in a new light. And when students are having fun learning, they’ll begin to appreciate the process of learning as well.

So here’s the basic idea… Why not have students create internet memes to discuss current events? Before having your students attempt this, you would have to do a little lesson on what makes an effective meme. Show the students some great and not so great examples of memes and discuss the criteria of the best memes (short and to the point, an interesting relationship between the images and text that is often ironic, etc.). 2 Another important discussion to have with your students is how the message of a meme can change with small alterations. For example, here are two memes I created that discuss the electoral college, but both have very different messages. I apologize in advance to any devout Katy Perry fans…



Question for the class – Both of these images contain the same exact text and focus on the same individual. How do the varying images change the message behind the meme?

After students start to grasp the difference between a meme and a picture with text, they can begin creating their own. Here are two possible lesson formats that involve memes.

Lesson 1:

Each student chooses a current event and creates a meme that makes some commentary on that event or the individuals involved in that event. Post the memes in a format where students can view each other’s work (blog, discussion board, etc.) and facilitate a class discussion on the following topics:

  • What current events do each of these memes portray?
  • What is the author’s message behind the meme? Explain your answer using specific criteria from the image and text.

Many teachers use current events as a way to integrate writing into their class, which could be incorporated into this assignment as well. Rather than writing solely on the “5 W’s,” each student could explain his/her artistic choices in writing, including the following information:

  • What was the image you chose to represent this current event?
  • Why did you choose this image?
  • What text did you incorporate into this image?
  • How does this text relate to the context of the image?
  • What is the message you are attempting to convey in this meme? Explain your answer using specific examples from the image, text, and article(s) that you read for your research.

Time permitting, this is a great activity to have the students self-evaluate their work. Have the students create a common rubric for their memes and then vote on the best ones each week. This voting could be facilitated through a tool like a Google Form or by using clickers/responders such as ActivEngage.

Lesson 2:

I prefer this lesson format because it incorporates daily research opportunities into the classroom, which I believe are often ignored…

Provide the students with an image that relates to a current event. Your goal as the teacher is to find an image that provides opportunity for hilarious, yet poignant captions. The students would then research the image to determine its origins and context using the following method…


From that point, students can use their knowledge of search terms 3 and source evaluation techniques 4 to complete additional research on the topic. After completing enough research, have a caption contest!

Memes could be a great way to inject some fun into the classroom, and they could work for more than just for current events. You could realistically have your students create memes on anything. Here’s an example for a Civics class..

Assignment: Diagnose a problem that you see in the checks and balances system or something you see as an issue within one specific branch of government. Create a meme that highlights that issue and informs viewers of your perspective.

Student Example:Why do Supreme Court judges get to serve for life? Positions in the other two branches of government are limited in some way, shape or form. Officials must be reelected or new officials are appointed when a new administration enters.

Have fun with your social commentary!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.