Implementation of ‘Meme-ing the Great Masters of European Painting’ (SOI-GR-147)

My name is Sofronia Maravelaki and I teach English in Iraklia’s Junior High School. The school is situated in Iraklia, a small town in the Prefecture of Serres, Central Macedonia, Greece. The school comprises a diverse multicultural environment with students coming from the local population, Roma families and migrant families from Albania and Bulgaria.

Why this learning scenario?

The learning scenario I chose to implement is called Meme-ing the Great Masters of European Painting, by Maria Skiadelli. The original scenario focused on Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt van Rijn, two of the greatest masters of classical European paintings of the 17th century who painted lots of portraits of common people and scenes of everyday life instead of mythical or religious themes.

The scenario aimed to develop students’ language and ICT skills, enrich their knowledge in the subjects of Art and History as well as enhance 21st-century skills development. As it was addressed to younger students, I decided to change the topic and the focus of the lesson in order to match my own students’ learning preferences and interests.

The adapted scenario was implemented with the 9th grade (3rd grade of Junior High School, 14-15 years old) in the context of the EFL classroom, in 2 sessions of 45 minutes each.   

Adaptations

Memes were selected for their ability to create multiple opportunities to develop visual and critical skills in the language classroom since they are virally-transmitted cultural artefacts with socially shared norms and values (Domínguez & Bobkina 2017).

The focus of the adapted learning scenario revolved around Greek Mythology and how this topic is depicted in paintings by various 16th, 17th and 18th-century European Artists. The idea for this adaptation came from the students themselves due to our recent English lessons based on Greek Mythology. Students had already watched four Greek Myths: “Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: Greek Myths” series, as they are featured in the IMDB database, and did some comprehension activities which included drilling as well as creative writing exercises. In the stories, a storyteller in a labyrinth, tells his dog the stories of Perseus and Medusa, Icarus and Daedalus, Theseus and the Minotaur, and Orpheus and Eurydice. After watching the videos the students decided to make memes and gifs featuring some of the characters from the stories.

Session 1: Discovering Greek mythological characters in Europeana

The first session took place in the computer lab and the students worked in groups. They were introduced to the Europeana platform and browsed the various collections, topics and galleries to get acquainted with the online environment and find some inspiration for the project. They were also instructed how to refine their search by using criteria such as media and copyright status of digital items.

They searched the Europeana platform for paintings that depicted heroes or mythical creatures from the stories. Each group had to find an appropriate image concerning one of the Greek Myths they had already been taught. They found seven paintings under the Public Domain Mark 1.0, free of known restrictions of copyright law.

They downloaded paintings of Caravaggio, (Italian painter, 1571-1610) (Ceres, Bacchus and Venus), Andries Cornelis Lens (Flemish painter, 1739-1822) (Zeus and Hera), Adriaen van der Werff (Dutch painter, 1659-1722) (Venus and Cupid), Benedetto Gennari II (Italian painter, 1633-1715) (Theseus and Ariadne), Carl Goos (German-Danish painter, 1797-1855) (Orpheus and Euridice), Giuseppe Cesari (Italian painter, 1568-1640) (Perseus and Andromeda) and Paul Rubens (Flemish painter, 1577-1640) (Medusa).

Session 2: Meme-ing Greek mythological characters

During the second session, the students worked in groups of four in front of a computer. They did not use a PowerPoint presentation as in the original scenario but online tools in order to make memes and/or gifs with the images they had downloaded from the Europeana portal. There are many online tools for the creation of memes and gifs such as the following:

Memes

Gifs

Making the memes and gifs was a fun activity and the students really enjoyed it a lot. Their ability to manipulate images and transform them into something new is impressive. Some students used punchlines from the stories, others used phrases they had encountered in memes in the social media. The students mostly used Giphy for their gifs and I Love IMG for their memes, as they were more user friendly. Here are some examples of their work:

Venus and Cupid, Chev. V. Werff fec. 1709, Nottingham City Museums and Galleries, Nottingham, Rights: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Zeus wird von Hera auf dem Berg Ida eingeschläfert, Andries Cornelius Lens (Künstler), 1775, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Rights: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Venus and Cupid, Chev. V. Werff fec. 1709, Nottingham City Museums and Galleries, Nottingham, Rights: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Venus and Cupid, Chev. V. Werff fec. 1709, Nottingham City Museums and Galleries, Nottingham, Rights: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Perseus befreit Andromeda, Giuseppe Cesari, gen. Cavaliere d’ Arpino (Künstler), 1602, Publisher: Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Gemäldegalerie, Rights: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Perseus befreit Andromeda, Giuseppe Cesari, gen. Cavaliere d’ Arpino (Künstler), 1602, Publisher: Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Gemäldegalerie, Rights: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Ceres, Bachus și Venus, Caravaggio, Sec. XVII, Contributor: Janssens, Abraham, NP - National Heritage Institute, Bucharest, Rights: Public Domain Marked
Ceres, Bachus și Venus, Caravaggio, Sec. XVII, Contributor: Janssens, Abraham, NP - National Heritage Institute, Bucharest, Rights: Public Domain Marked
Haupt der Medusa, Peter Paul Rubens (Umkreis)Frans Snyders (Künstler), 1617/1618, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Gemäldegalerie, Rights: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Haupt der Medusa, Peter Paul Rubens (Umkreis)Frans Snyders (Künstler), 1617/1618, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Gemäldegalerie, Rights: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Final comments

As Domínguez & Bobkina (2017), rightly point out “Today’s students live in a visually rich world where they permanently encounter and create meaning and knowledge through images. Visual literacy has become an essential learning skill in the 21st century by generating multimodal meanings that include written text, visual images and design elements from a variety of perspectives. For this reason, it’s no longer enough to be able to read and write. Our students must learn to process both words and pictures. They must be able to move gracefully and fluently between text and images, between literal and figurative worlds”.

In light of the above discussion, the intention of the adapted learning scenario, apart from enhancing comprehension of the myths the students had watched and inspired their creativity and humour, was to raise awareness of the need to treat EFL language learners also as viewer learners who need to acquire visual literacies that will enable them to treat multimodal texts in such a way so as to facilitate their actual acquisition of language as a continuum and not as an act in itself.

Working in groups
Working in groups
Collaborative work
Collaborative work

References

Domínguez, R. & Bobkina, J. (2017). Teaching visual literacy through memes in the language classroom, in K. Donaghy and D. Xerri, (Eds.), The image in English language teaching. Malta: ELT Council.

Europeana Resources

Did you find this story of implementation interesting? Why don’t you read about the related learning scenario:

Meme-ing the Great Masters of European Painting by Maria Skiadelli

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