I was exploring different tools that we could use in today’s classroom and that would capture our students’ attention. The reality is that most students will automatically be reeled in by anything that is similar to what they are used to seeing on their social networks. This means tons of video content, animated GIFs and memes. I think as teachers, even with just YouTube, we have tons of options and ways of using video in the classroom, not to mention TED, English Central and Lyricstraining.com. But, what about memes and animated GIFs? Here’s a quick run through of how these two fun tools could become educational.
You can either create them yourself or simply find one that’s already made. All the same, you can spark conversations in your classroom and get students interested in what you have to say. A meme is a combination of an image and words, so you can use this to explore language, expressions, idioms, vocabulary or context. They can be funny, or serious and will still work to get the topic going. Here are some ideas of how you can use it:
- Get students to share: Have students use a meme to either share what they did over vacation, or to introduce themselves to the class. Choosing just the right image and the right words to place on it can be a more challenging task than you think. Now, of course, despite all of the misspellings and poor grammar usually seen on memes, my students are expecting to demonstrate their good use of the language.
- Report or summarize a book or project: While doing a summarizing activity or even during a debate you could have students make their own meme to express their ideas and ensure they give only the most relevant ideas. Post these memes around the room, and you’ll get a sort of visual summary, where you can then get students to group them into categories and explain the relationship.
- You can also create your own, or bring them in: As teachers you can also play around with making your own memes. Be it to show the rules of your classroom or as a warm up to a book or project you are going to do in class. One idea is to make an inference game with memes, where students have to infer the meaning based on the image and phrase that is given, you could give them options to make it easier at first. Another idea is to have a meme corner, where you place one image weekly and all of your students have to assign a phrase to the same image. You’ll get tons of different versions and it’ll make for great discussion in the class.
Here are some sites where you can get good memes to teach English, or where you can make them:
Animated GIFs are short looping videos and they have become very popular on social networks. We can also use them in the classroom in many different ways.
- Vocabulary: By presenting a short animated GIF you can solicit vocabulary words and brainstorming from students. By using an animated GIF you can give a full context of difficult-to-explain phrasal verbs, idioms, and collocations that an image just might not get across.
- Short story and prompts: Use animated GIFs as a prompt to get students to continue a story, be it in writing or as a speaking exercise. You can find tons of creative and fun prompt animated GIFs here.
- Get students involved: Give students a topic and have them bring in animated GIFs that are related to the topic. If you have access to collaborative tools like Google Drive, have students share them. You can even get students to vote on their favorite and find the favorite one from each topic. This can be a great warm up when starting a new unit.
- Reaction animated GIFs: Find three to five animated GIFs that express a reaction your students could have to something. These animated GIFs would represent if they agree strongly or don’t agree at all with a particular topic. Use these in class when having student weigh in, by having them vote. Or to make it even more fun, have students find a animated GIF that shows how they feel about a topic and then have them explain why they chose this animated GIF.
Here are some sites where you can make your own animated GIFs:
Giphy (My fav)
If you are ready to start using animated GIFs and memes, consider opening a closed Facebook group with your students. This will make it very easy to get students to share and vote on the animated GIFs and memes that you will be using for your activities. You can even make an album for each lesson or topic and that way easily revisit ones that you can reuse with other groups.
4 thoughts on “Using GIFs and memes in the ELT classroom”
Technically a GIF is NOT a moving image. It is any image that has been saved in GIF format. (Graphics Interchange Format). The ones that move are called animated GIFs.
Thanks for the clarification. Although in Colombia, people usually refer to it as a Gif even though it is actually called an animated Gif. But, you are right, so I have changed it so as not to confuse people. Thanks
I read your post and got more and more excited about using Memes and animated Gifs in class. You make such a valid point: ‘Students will be reeled in by what they see on their social networks.’ I totally agree, and now you have my creative juices flowing on getting my own kids to work on writing this way – they love Memes and animated Gifs, and I bet using them to express themselves in English will be fun – engaging – AND will help them grow their English skills. We homeschool, and both of our guys are using English as a second language – so this will be a great opportunity! I just really appreciate the way you explained this point.
I am so glad you liked it! You’ll find that there are quite a few ideas on my previous blogs about how to get students engaged and keep them that way. If you ever need an idea on how to teach them English or are just feeling stuck, please feel free to let me know, I love looking up and researching different topics. You can just head over to the “Ask Me” section. Thank you for your comment and words!