October 2018
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Sara Nezami Nav, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA

Today, where technology is accessible even to very young children, written text is considered but one of the many ways through which people communicate. The affordances that technology provides give a new meaning to literacy by changing the traditional concept of writing (Elola & Oskoz, 2017; Jiang, 2018). Some of these affordances include the speed of sharing our files, the incorporation of different modes in one document, and the availability of different resources on the internet (DeVoss, 2013). These affordances also make it possible for students to include more than written alphabets in their writing in a very convenient process. This can have plenty of implications for teachers and curriculum designers specifically in second language (L2) writing, where different modes can compensate for deficiencies that L2 writers might have communicating through monomodal texts (e.g., words). That said, it is highly beneficial to design multimodal composition lessons with the goals, procedures, and assessment criteria defined and informed by empirical findings. The sources that I have found very useful for this purpose are Multimodality and Genre: A Foundation for the Systemic Analysis of Multimodal Documents (Bateman, 2008) and the first edition of Understanding and Composing Multimodal Projects: A Hacker handbook’s supplement (DeVoss, 2013).

One of the important points in DeVoss’s (2013) book is her reference to students’ need to have training in both analyzing and writing multimodal texts. Sharing the same concern, Bateman (2008) sees the importance of analyzing multimodal texts because they are complex in nature and we do not interpret the meaning that comes from multiple modes the way we do with monomodal texts. He says that multimodal documents send out a “signal” we must detect, and that we must avoid having any experiential preconceptions impact our making sense of these texts (Bateman, 2008). Inspired by this literature, my intent in this article is to describe a lesson plan for analyzing multimodal texts that I have used in my international academic writing course at Oklahoma State University. Influenced by the existing theories, I believe it is more effective for every writing endeavor to start with a kind of critical genre analysis to empower students by allowing them to understand what is expected of them in their essay writing assignments. In what follows, I describe lesson objectives and the three main steps of the plan.

The Lesson

Lesson Objectives

  1. Become familiar with the concept of multimodality.

  2. Distinguish the goals of different multimodal genres and compare them.

  3. Understand how different modes are combined in each genre to fulfill its purpose.

  4. Make connections between analysis and an essay assignment.

Step 1: Warm Up (10 minutes)

As a warm-up activity, you can show students two versions of the same essay side-by-side, projected on the screen: one with only written text and the other with some visuals accompanying the written text. Ask students, “Which text do you prefer and why?” After they respond, ask them how they think the two texts are different. Here, students usually refer to one of the texts having visuals, which can provide you with a smooth transition to the concept of multimodality.

Step 2: Introducing the Lesson (60 minutes)

Define multimodality (10 minutes): Define multimodality in a simple way for students and refer to the inclusion of more than one or two modes, such as pictures, charts, videos, and audio in the text. Ask students, “What happens when we put together all these different modes?” The response that students usually provide is that we understand the text that includes multiple modes better. Explain that texts serve different purposes and to achieve those purposes better they combine different modes, and as the purposes are different for every kind of text, the modes are combined differently.

Checklist (5 minutes): Distribute a checklist that contains the questions that guide students to identify each genre better and to be able to compare them. This checklist can serve as a tool for students to critically analyze the texts (Appendix A). Provide 3-4 minutes for students to check the questions on the checklist.

Figure 1. A poster.


Figure 2. A paragraph in a multimodal essay.


Show examples (15 minutes): Display three multimodal genres of your choice, such as a poster (Figure 1), a short instructional video, and a descriptive essay (Figure 2). Display the modes one by one and make sure to give enough time for students to fill out the checklist. Based on my experience, 5 minutes for every text is enough.

Group work (10 minutes): Depending on the number of students, group or pair students and ask them to discuss their answers to the checklist with their peers or group mates. You can devote 5 minutes to this task. After the students are done, ask them to share their analysis with the class. This last stage can take 5–10 minutes with the discussions that may arise.

Step 3: Tailoring Analysis to Assignment (20 minutes)

It is very important to tailor this lesson to students’ main assignment. In this class, students are required to write a descriptive essay. To assist them in implementing their understanding in their essay-writing process, ask them to use questions similar to the checklist to brainstorm for their own essay. Distribute the second checklist for students’ convenience (Appendix B). In fact, students can use the checklist they used to analyze different multimodal genres to decide the elements of their own multimodal descriptive essay. This activity should be done individually by students. It can take up to 10 minutes for students to think about the answers. In the last 5 minutes of the class, describe the lesson for the next session, which will be about the components of a descriptive essay. Ask students to bring their second checklist to class so you can build the next session’s lesson on this one.


My experience with this lesson was successful, and it engaged my students very well. I find this lesson and similar ones, in which students need to analyze texts before composing their own, highly critical. Often, writing lessons start with brainstorming and move on to the stage where students produce their own texts. However, composition courses need to incorporate sessions for text analysis before students start writing in specific genres. It seems that most composition classes skip this preliminary yet important stage. The necessity of such lessons is felt even more in teaching multimodal essays as an emerging multimodal genre. Therefore, I recommend this lesson to international composition course teachers.


Bateman, J. A. (2008). Multimodality and genre: A foundation for the systematic analysis of multimodal documents. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave MacMillan.

DeVoss, D. N. (2013). Understanding and composing multimodal projects: A Hacker handbooks supplement (1st ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Elola, I., & Oskoz, A. (2017). Writing with 21st century social tools in the L2 classroom: New literacies, genres, and writing practices. Journal of Second Language Writing, 36, 52–60.

Jiang, L. (2018). Digital multimodal composing and investment change in learners’ writing in English as a foreign language. Journal of Second Language Writing, 40, 60–72.

Appendix A

The checklist for multimodal text analysis (Adapted from DeVoss, 2013)


Text 1

Text 2

Text 3

What kind of text do you think it is?

Which modes are represented? (e.g. written words, pictures, videos, audios, etc.)

In your opinion, which mode(s) are predominant?

What do you think is the purpose of this text?

Who is the audience of this text?

Do you think the combination of different modes help the purpose of the text to be clear?

Appendix B

The checklist for students’ brainstorming

What kind of text will you be writing?

Which modes do you think you will be using?

In your opinion, which mode will be the predominant mode in your writing?

What do you think is the purpose of your writing?

Who is your audience?

Do you think the combination of different modes helps the purpose of the text to be clear?

Sara Nezami Nav is a PhD student and teaching assistant at Oklahoma State University’s TESL program. Sara’s research interests are second language academic writing, systemic functional linguistics, discourse analysis, and genre analysis.

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