HomeDigital technology & Multimedia4 Ways To Teach Multimodal Literacy In The Language Classroom

4 Ways To Teach Multimodal Literacy In The Language Classroom




For an introduction to multimodal literacy and why it is important, read part 1.

It’s becoming increasingly unusual for our students to encounter media using only written or spoken language. Most texts our students are exposed to also have elements of visual design, images, and moving images and soon many of these texts are likely to be experienced in 3D virtual environments. Yet much of the skills teaching we do in the classroom still focuses on single skills such as reading and listening, rather than exposing students to and exploiting the multimodal environment where these texts naturally occur.

Even when we do use media such as video, this is often used as a substitute listening activity rather than helping to focus students on the many other visual aspects of the moving image that contribute to creating and understanding meaning.

In this short article, I’d like to introduce you to four simple ways you can integrate a multimodal approach to exploiting materials in the language classroom.

Silent viewing

Silently viewing video is a great way to focus on multimodal literacy and help your students develop useful comprehension strategies. We know that students are very fond of video, but using authentic video with students can sometimes be overwhelming, especially for lower levels. They have to cope with both the sounds of the language and a range of different accents as well as watching what is happening.

By muting the audio and playing the video silently the first time students watch, we can help to reduce the cognitive load and use the visual to focus more on other aspects.

Viewing tasks can include:

  • trying to guess the relationships between different people.
  • trying to decide what people in the video are thinking or feeling.
  • looking for different aspects of culture and how they differ from our own.
  • identifying genre and what typical aspects of genre are displayed.
  • looking for specific signs and artefacts that locate the video geographically and in time.
  • looking at the body language used by the characters and what it implies about their attitudes to one another.
  • trying to guess what people are saying at specific points and creating a script.

Focusing on these visual aspects helps to develop our students’ multimodal literacies. It acts as great scaffolding for listening comprehension once you play the video with the sound on.

Short animated clips, or video clips where there’s a lot of interaction between people tend to work well for these kinds of activities.

I have a collection of video shorts on Pinterest that I like to use for these kinds of activities: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/nikpeachey/video-shorts/

Viewing diaries

Many of our students, as their English develops are likely to start using it to view the types of short videos that are often shared through social media. We can encourage students, and focus and validate the time they are spending doing this by asking them to keep an extensive viewing diary. They can do this simply by making a few notes about any useful videos that they watched that were in English. You can ask them to record the title and URL as well as what they liked about it and anything they felt they learned from it. Then you can give students some time at the beginning of a lesson to work in groups and share some of the clips they have been watching. In this way, their enjoyment of the clips can become viral and other students can be encouraged to watch more in English too.


Multimodal literacy isn’t just an aspect of understanding video it also has a role in understanding images and particularly graphical information such as infographics. Infographics combine imagery and icons with text to convey dense information. This kind of information is often quite difficult to read as text. But by converting it to an infographic we can make the information much more accessible.

When analysing infographics, it’s good to get students thinking about the colours, fonts and types of images and how they impact on how the information is perceived.

I have a large collection of infographics that I like to use with students on Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/nikpeachey/infographics-for-students/

It’s good to give students two or three different graphics that have different styles and layouts to compare. Get them to think about why a specific design was chosen and how it impacts our understanding of the information.

This is also a useful activity to help prepare students for creating their own infographics. Multimodal literacy isn’t just about understanding content students also need to be able to produce multimodal texts.

Infographic creation activities can be based on research that students have done, data that they may have collected through a survey or questionnaire, or on text that students have read. Students can work together and decide which type of layout they should use as well as choosing fonts and images.  There are lots of free tools that students can use to create their infographics. These are some of the best:

All of these platforms provide example templates as well as image and icon resources that students can simply drag and drop into their creations.

Digital narrative

In today’s media-rich environment, we are surrounded by different kinds of digital narratives from advertisements to news reports, and from cartoons to documentaries. Narrative can be used as an effective means of conveying information, teaching, selling products, as well as entertaining. Students’ abilities to create digital narratives can have a strong impact on their future academic studies, employability and personal success. Creating a digital narrative can be a complex process. However, it can also make for a very rewarding classroom project featuring a lot of language use and a variety of skills. Digital narrative projects can be developed around a range of different topics. Here are a few suggestions.

Students can create:

  • An advertisement to sell a product.
  • A news report based on an issue that matters to them.
  • A presentation that outlines the solution to a social/environmental problem.
  • A true story about something that happened to them.
  • A historical report about a significant event.
  • A product pitch.
  • An introduction to an aspect of culture.

When doing these projects, students can follow a 10-step approach:

  1. Decide what the topic is for their digital narrative project.
  2. Research the topic and find information about it.
  3. Write a script for the narrative.
  4. Share the script with someone and get some feedback on it.
  5. Evaluate the feedback and use it to edit and rewrite the script.
  6. Create a storyboard which visually shows the different sections of the narrative.
  7. Find media and create the various parts of the narrative.
  8. Edit it and arrange the various parts of the narrative into a finished form.
  9. Share it with others in the classroom, online or through social media
  10. Reflect on what was learned from the project.

The finished objects can then become part of their digital portfolio.

As you can see, developing multimodal literacy can be really engaging and creative. It can incorporate a lot of language use as well as some useful learning skills and digital literacies. I hope you enjoy trying some of these activities with your students.

If you want to learn more about multimodal literacy and how to implement it in your classroom, you can download our position papers.

Download the paper

Nik Peachey is Director of Pedagogy at PeacheyPublications, an independent digital publishing and consultancy company that specializes in the design of digital learning materials. He has been involved in education since 1990 as a teacher, trainer, educational consultant, and project manager. He has more than 25 years’ experience of working specifically with online, remote, and blended learning environments. Nick has worked all over the world training teachers and developing innovative and creative products. He is a two-time British Council Innovations award winner and has been shortlisted six times. He is also editor of the Edtech & ELT Newsletter: tinyletter.com/technogogy. Nik is a consultant on our multimodal literacy paper.

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