A meme is formally defined as: an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.
While this definition (coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins) is particularly philosophical, for most of us the term ‘meme’ instantly conjures images of grumpy cats and videos of Charlie biting fingers. But how can this culturally significant phenomene be used for learning? How can we use the popularity of memes to engage our students? Let’s take a look.
A Quick Look
What is it?
This video from How Stuff Works’ Jonathan Strickland, gives a very neat history of how memes have evolved and just what they mean in popular culture.
How to create a meme
There are a number of ways to begin creating memes. You can use nearly any painting or word processing program, or, choose the quick and easy option and try one of the many free online tools:
1. Relevant lesson content
Whether you are introducing a new topic or trying to add some life to an old one, a meme is a very quick and simple way to inject some fun into a discussion. Try using a meme at the start of a lesson and you will find that something as light hearted as a Bad Joke Eel can lead to some much deeper conversations, discussion and thinking.
2. Fill in the blank
A much more interesting and engaging way of asking questions, try creating a ‘half-meme’ that is relevant to a classroom topic or subject. Ask your students to use their own thoughts on the subject to fill in the blank. Not only can you gear this to push your classes critical thinking, but you will find that students have much more thoughtful opinions when questions are presented just a little differently.
3. Rules and advice
Setting and enforcing rules is a necessary but not particularly cheerful or friendly side of running an effective classroom. One excellent idea from educator Tracee Orman is to use memes for delivering class rules or procedural messages: Instead of your traditional class rules poster, use memes to deliver your message with humor.
4. Create their own
Using the tools mentioned above, your students can very quickly create their own memes based on topics and areas of study. The concise and generally witty nature of memes will require your students to think carefully about their subject and the visual nature of memes makes for colorful and captivating classroom displays. It is worth noting that some memes can verge on inappropriate for students, so a level of supervision is recommended.
5. Classroom ‘Likes’, ‘ReTweets’ and ‘Upvotes’
This activity is a nice way of providing peer feedback to your students while also replicating the viral nature of memes in your classroom. Have your students pin all of their self created memes up on a board or wall. Then, give each student ten post-it notes or stickers and explain that each note is their personal ‘Like’, Retweet or Upvote button. Students can then look at each others work and stick notes to their favourite memes with a small positive message written on the back. The meme with the most notes is then declared the ‘viral’ hit.
Links and Next Steps
- Know Your Meme – Number one resource for understanding individual memes
- Grammar Catz – Brilliant collection of grammar memes from ‘EdMeme queen’ Laura Gibbs
- Go Proverbs! - Laura Gibbs’ forays into the wide world of proverbs
- Using Internet Memes in the Classroom – Fantastic Prezi by Instructional Technologies Coordinator Stephanie Richter
- Five Ways to Use Memes to Connect With Students – Brilliant blog post from teacher Mrs. Orman
- Meme Assignment Your Students Will Love – Lesson idea from Hunger Games Lessons
- Teacher meme prints for your classroom – Classroom poster collection
- Heck Yeah, Educational Memes! – Large collection of education memes
- Advice Animals – The Internet’s largest meme sharing community: reddit
Could you see memes working in your classroom? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.