Throughout the past two years, many of us have been teaching language courses remotely, either synchronously or asynchronously. Even as many institutions move back to hybrid and in-person courses, there are many useful tools we can incorporate from online learning!
One quarantine class activity that I particularly enjoy is creating memes with my students. The memes they create are hilarious. I look forward to this assignment every semester, and there is generally a high level of engagement.
I’m including some anonymous student examples, with permission. These particular examples are from a B2-level intermediate French course, but I have used this activity successfully with all different learning levels, from A1 to Advanced Conversation, and even in literature classes!
Memes are a useful tool for several reasons. For one thing, it is a format that is easily recognizable and easy to create (there are even free meme generator sites and apps available for the intimidated or uninitiated.) Secondly, there is a visual component. By using an image in conjunction with text, students have an immediate clue to help them to interpret their classmates’ memes, which is helpful in building confidence.
Additionally, while appearing simple on the surface, the limited space for text layered over an image requires the creator to be able to express meaning succinctly and clearly.
Finally, creating a meme gives students a (too rare) opportunity to practice using humor or irony in the target language, as well as to express other emotions, concerns, or frustrations that might be difficult to share otherwise.
While I use Slack for this activity, it can be done on any platform that allows students to share images with the group. I generally have students create two memes, which they send to me, and then have them choose their favorite to share with their classmates in a shared Slack channel (any shared forum or discussion board will do).
I give small grammar corrections on this assignment when needed, but I generally use this project as a low-stakes homework assignment for increasing student comfort with and practicing tricky concepts such as the subjunctive or irregular verbs. Importantly, it also increases connection between students, who often comment on and engage with each other’s work. Especially when remote, building classroom community is crucial!
As a way to engage beginner language learners, who often feel stifled and isolated by their inability to communicate their feelings and concerns in the target language, I’ve found it a useful tool to have them create memes in English, but about (the difficulties of learning) French as a homework assignment. If similar frustrations are repeatedly raised in the images they create, it gives me a chance to consider shifting my strategies or focus to better address classroom needs.