March 21

Meme me up, Scotty

Friday 17th March

The previous two sessions on images and videos have surfaced a number of thoughts, mainly related to practical classroom affordances. Through outside reading and in class discussions I have explored thoughts that have arisen, and how I may incorporate them in the classroom as useful learning tools. One such thought has been that of ‘memes’ and how they can be used in the classroom.


Memes are a current internet sensation that will be a familiar concept to nearly all teenage learners. These are images that are captioned and shared before being edited with a slightly different caption. The point is that the general theme remains the same (perhaps the photo and sentence opener) but an aspect is changed (the second clause).

Richard Dawkins (1989) originally coined the term ‘meme’ as a “noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation”. In short, a meme is a unit which holds cultural ideas and significance, such as a picture, gesture, ritual etc that is spread through a culture, replicating and mutating. Early examples of the meme include the word ‘abracadabra’, a running joke of kinds that has no real meaning but holds cultural significance with its own stylised information. Another example is the ‘Kilroy was here’ image which spread globally during the 40’s, appearing on everything from bathroom walls and school lockers, to monuments and even the moon (or so it is believed). Whilst originating in English, the picture was replicated around the world and modified (mutated) into numerous other languages.

More recently, memes have become very popular in digital format. Using forums such as facebook or 4chan, these images are spread globally in very short amounts of time. On the subject, Richard Dawkins defined an internet meme as one deliberately altered by human creativity rather than through Darwinian mutation.

I have used memes successfully in a number of ways in the classroom, however, these are typically non-pedagogically driven and rather are for amusement. Various memes have been used in presentations, class displays etc to convey information in a more jovial and attentive as manner. I have used the idea of memes slightly more formally in the classroom in two ways; as a discussion point, forming the basis for students to share cultural and personal information, and as practice of a language focus, providing students with a meme including the opening ‘If I were you’ or ‘I was your girlfriend’ and asking them to complete the sentence, hence using the 2nd conditional.

Surfing through google, most of the recommended uses for memes in the classroom seem to be that of creating rapport; including memes in presentations, in the classroom, to display rules etc. There were, however, a few practical ideas that may be useful in my future teaching practice. These include using memes as writing prompts; providing the students with a popular meme without the writing and directing students to write a short story or passage detailing the possible context behind the picture. There are also ideas and suggestions for a number of language foci that can be practised through memes.


Dawkins, R. (1989). The Selfish Gene. Oxford: University Press.