Internet Memes and Learning

A few weeks back I wrote about teachers using humor in the classroom. And, as cool as it is, do you know what is even cooler?

Students using humor.

Having students generate the laughs is much less teacher-centered, but can be risky. They already do everything they can to make class more “fun”!

Here’s one safe and easy way to have your students explore a topic and explore the complexities of making people laugh.

We were studying the creation of the US government. It was pretty dry (insert yawn here) and involved lots of note-taking and exploring complex new ideas. To make things more engaging (and to tap into critical thinking and creativity) I had the students reflect on what they learned through comedy.

Students were challenged to create funny memes about the topics, events and individuals we were looking at.

What’s a meme, you ask? The official definition concerns the spread of ideas within a community. But today, memes are much more specific. Memes, in today’s cyber world, are popular  images accompanied by text. They are generally funny (or at least they are supposed to be) and tend to follow existing formats and reflect recurring characters/characteristics. Bad Luck Brian, for example, is used to communicate a situation where someone experiences very bad luck. Scumbag Steve is always used to tell the story of someone behaving badly. Students, as internet regulars, are very familiar with these archetypes and many are familiar with the meme-generation sites necessary to make them.

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Students linking memes to their learning would seem to be a no-brainer recipe for laughter. The journey, however, was surprisingly an uphill one. More students than I thought struggled with the mental and creative connections necessary to convert dry knowledge into something interesting and funny. It was definitely not a rote memorization activity! I overheard one student complaining “Wow, I need to be so creative!”

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Despite the challenging nature of the activity, I am sure some may think the exercise is academically light. Nevertheless, it definitely supported key Social Studies standards, including

  • Time, Continuity and Change
  • Government
  • Access, Organize, and Evaluate and Use Information in Various Formats

In addition, this activity deepened 21st Century skills, such as Creativity, Critical Thinking, and Communication, as well as Information, Media and Technology skills. And, it did so in a way that students were already familiar and engaged with.

In terms of humor, the transformation of dry knowledge into something funny was an important part of the challenge. Humor, although often taken lightly, activates (and builds important connections between) key parts of the brain. Dig further into this blog and you can read more about humor and the brain.

If you are not familiar with memes, check them out. And, if you already are, consider ways you can use them to more-easily communicate to your students or have your communicate their ideas to others.

Hi 5!

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One thought on “Internet Memes and Learning

  1. Kelli Horner says:

    Great project idea! I might incorporate that into my next music history unit, which can also be surprisingly… dry. My favorite history project EVER was in 10th grade when my teacher said, ‘Go forth and make a video about something or someone we learned about.’ And that was the criteria. We got to be as completely creative as we wanted, which was more difficult than we thought it would be! But I loved it and still remember it to this day. Sounds like you’re creating that kind of classroom, too.

    Like

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