Memes the Scene! Using Memes in the Classroom.

Josh CD

Memes – An introduction (or rather explanation)

We’ve all seen them.  They propagate in our email in-boxes, fill our facebook update pages, tweet their way into our twitter feeds, spread across the blogosphere, and explode on myspace profiles at a Fibonacci expanding rate. I speak of course about Memes.  A simple google search reveals many definitions and examples of memes however I prefer the one offered by Wikipedia:

meme (play /ˈmm/, rhyming with “cream”[1]), a relatively newly coined term, identifies ideas or beliefs that are transmitted from one person or group of people to another. The concept comes from an analogy: as genes transmit biological information, memes can be said to transmit idea and belief information.

A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes, in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.[2]

So, what does this actually look like in practice?  Well, how about the ubiquitous iTunes memes in which people are asked to post the length of their total music collection, sort the order and list the first and last songs, list the longest and shortest song, etc. ?  Note:  for this complete meme (yes there is more to it than what I wrote visit Neil Turner’s Blog).  In essence memes are those forwards and posts which ask us to share information that, usually, entertains or informs us in one way or another.  While I’ve experienced the proliferation of memes as much as the next person, I never really gave much thought of their potential usefulness.

Memes are useful??? The evolution of an Edu-meme.

Memes can be useful.  With the right amount of creative energy and slight manipulation they can become highly educational tools to use within a classroom.  It simply requires thinking outside of the box and pushing the limits of the meme. I recently received a meme from a Facebook post that a graphic design friend forwarded to me. This post asked the participant to create an album cover using various random results from websites.  I saw this as an excellent opportunity to help my students learn about and embrace some of the free technology tools that are available at their fingertips.  I’ll walk you through this step by step…

Try the Meme yourself and make necessary changes

Okay, so I tried the meme. it worked but the instructions (like so many memes before it) are vague or poorly written. Adapting this for a 6th grade classroom required breaking the meme down into very clear and concise instructions.  It also required me to develop a method for assessing students’ progress toward the learning goals.  Oh, I suppose that also means I had to come up with some learning goals as well… don’t start a lesson if its not going to educate!  So here is the edu-meme as I implemented it.

Learning Goal

The goal of the edu-meme was to serve as an introduction to Web 2.0 technologies that are free for students to use.  It also served as a means of discussing Wikipedia and its appropriate uses in academia. It allowed for discussions of copyright and creative commons. And it introduced photo-editing and graphic design concepts.

The Edu-meme

Step I – I presented the class with a scenario.  I told them all that they were to play the role of graphic designer for a new band. I stated, “The band hired you to create their new album cover, but they have some very strict and unique methods they want you to use to design it”.  I explained to students that in the business world, sometimes you are hired to do a job and it may not necessarily be the method you prefer but it is the only way you’ll get paid.  This helps to keep students on-task and focused on the instructions.

Step II – I wrote the instructions on the white board and ran through a quick demonstration of the entire assignment using my projector.

Step III – (Okay here’s the actual edu-meme instructions):

1. Go to and click on the bottom right of the page click on “Interesting photos from the last 7 days” Click on the image and check the Licensing terms on the right side of the page try to find one that has the creative commons license that will allow you to make changes (this allows you to discuss creative commons).  You may also get into a discussion of Fair use copyright for education and work with images in this way.  This step is actually not the first in the meme I received, however teaching about copyright, creative commons, fair use, and finding actual images that can be used takes a great deal of time. You could actually spend an entire class period discussion this and finding the images, but its a good conversation and learning experience for the students.

2. go to and click on “english” (or whatever your native language is). Then, on the left side of the screen click on “Random Article”.  This is the name of the band (no you may not change it… the band forbids you).

3. go to .   On the left side of the screen click on “random quotes”.  The band has given you a little freedom here.  You can choose the last 4-5 words (only the last 4-5) of the final quote on the resulting page and this must be the album title.

4.  Go to and use all the above information and photo to create your album cover. is a wonderful free photo editor that the students really grasp and have a great time working with.

What was learned

  • Useful Web 2.0 tools
  • Copyright, Creative Commons, and Fair Use
  • Negative and positive uses of Wikipedia for academics
  • A quotations resource
  • A free photo editing website and how to use its tools
  • Graphic Design, and business lesson

Your Experiences….

So, what are your experiences?  Have any of you ever adapted a meme or thought about adapting one for education?  Share your thoughts, questions, and experiences below by commenting. I’d love to hear what you have done in your own classrooms!