by Summer Boismier
In my almost four years of teaching secondary English, I’ve learned that one of my most valuable tools as an educator is the meme folder I keep on my desktop. Nothing can divide or unite a classroom faster than a well (or not so well)-placed “Bad Luck Brian,” “Salt Bae,” or “Cash Me Outside.” Want to get that student who is totally “not” sleeping in the corner engaged in your lesson on the majesties of the indefinite pronoun? Use a meme, or better yet, ask that student to use a meme to quite literally illustrate what he knows. Memes (and emoji too, for that matter) are flexible formative assessment tools that can help students relate just about any concept to something they perceive as vitally relevant in their own lives, the Internet.
Using memes in my classroom allows me as the teacher and meme master to differentiate and enlarge the expression of understanding for my various learners. I’ve employed memes in my teaching at multiple grade levels and for multiple concepts--everything from chapter summaries and main idea to theme and even logical fallacy. My students frequent meme generator tools online and often drag and drop their creations into a Google Doc; however, students can also search Google Images for already created memes or *gasp* draw their own if access to technology is an issue. Moreover, the Oklahoma Academic Standards forefront the multimodal literacies that memes encourage as well as the synthesis and choice that occur when a student applies a meme to an ELA concept or skill, such as a visual depiction of a text structure or passage analysis or characterization or just about anything a little teacher heart could desire.
Ultimately, memes are, as the kids would say, a pretty dank way to elicit and express student learning. Plus, when that corner sleeper later shares a meme he voluntarily made for the rhetorical appeals you’ve been studying, you know you’ve made an impact. It may be an impact predicated on the existence of the “Mocking Spongebob” meme, but it’s an impact nonetheless.