Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

“I See, I Do: Persuasive Messages and Visual Literacy” Seminar Prompt

July 7th, 2013 · 4 Comments

YouTube Clip (a mystery until tomorrow!)


We thought this short clip an appropriate lead-in as the article considers the way advertisements (among other visual media) are constructed and how the deliberate construction of visual media influences viewers often subliminally, as the advertising agents fell prey to in this short clip.

In brief: The article’s goal is to raise awareness about the constructedness of visual media and to promote visual literacy in students and their practice of the critical reading of visual forms. 

Manipulating visual media to achieve the desired effect on the viewer – advertisers take advantage of this all the time.

This article stresses the importance of students gaining critical skills to be able to work through visual media.

SOME PRINCIPLES OF BUILDING VISUAL IMAGES (these are important to the construction of visual art, says Farmer)

“- A dot implies a focus or location.

– A line signifies borders and movement. Lines may be strong, dynamic, tentative, wavy, erratic, etc.

– Scale shows relationship of size between two objects, with the larger one usually connoting more power

– dimension suggests three dimensions and perspective; well-executed images may seem more real and credible

– texture generated tactile and visual sensations: of roughness, luxury, softness, age, and even revulsion

– value shows the lightness or darkness of an image; light is often associated with goodness and airiness while darkness may connote power and doom.”

Interesting to keep in mind is cultural difference especially in terms of the use of colour in a visual piece:

– In some cultures, yellow may be the colour of royalty – in others, it may be the colour of cowardice

– In some cultures, black may be the colour of death – in others, white may be representative of death

— without a knowledge of another culture’s visual coding system, it is possible that students may mis-read the image

It is now possible, with technology, to easily manipulate and change an image:

– cropping images to manipulate the context of the image

– changing the value and saturation of an image to change the emphasis of the image

– altering the hue of the image to mislead a viewer’s interpretation

– changing the relative size of the image to change it’s relative importance and perceived power in a frame

– adding or eliminating images to distort the truth

— the author stresses that students must be aware of how an image is constructed and how an image can be manipulated

— it is necessary to have learning activities that help students read visual images, analyze the producer of the image’s intent and just what the image is trying to convince the viewer to do/think

– think analyzing propaganda (this is a direct example of image construction, which seems obviously biased and forcefully persuasive as we analyze it in hindsight), similarly advertisements and other forms of visual media have been constructed with directed intent to manipulate a target audience

Suggestions for Activities (pg. 31):

Farmer suggests a range of activities, most of which have somewhat political explorations. Most of these can be easily used in an English, Socials, or Art classroom.

• Ask students to critique the visual images found in school and local publications: newsletters, yearbooks, and videos. What content is represented or omitted (e.g., gender, ethnicity, subgroups)? What perspectives are represented? What messages are being conveyed? What visual principles are used to convey those messages?

• Teach students how to manipulate images using photo editing software. Ask student pairs to manipulate an image to send opposing messages (e.g., one pro and one con). Ask peers to analyze the resultant visual images in light of the visual principles used.

• Ask students to photograph or videotape their schools or neighborhoods, and then compare their photos in terms of subject matter choice, perspective, and visual principles used. They might focus on people and compare their images. Then ask them to edit and sequence the images to communicate a persuasive message (e.g., athletic recruitment, real estate enticement, clean-up campaign).

• Ask students to locate online images about a social issue, and then analyze images in light of the disseminator’s perspective and intent. Ask them to identify how visual elements and principles are used to convey the underlying message.

• Ask students to locate online images about an international issue; each student (or small group) might choose a different country or culture. Ask them what visual principles appear to be universally applied or culturally defined. To what extent does culture impact the message?

• Consider visual representations of Canadian History. Which perspectives are present? Omitted? Do any of the images seems propagandistic? How might the pictures be different if they were from an alternate viewpoint? (Based on gender, race, socioeconomic status, etc.)

• Download a video of a public event or political rally. Ask students to edit that raw footage to create a 30-second advertisement or political announcement that intends to persuade the viewer to respond in a specific way. Each student (or small group) could be assigned a different audience (e.g., single mothers, rural poor, big business, senior citizens) to target his or her message.

Tips for students (how to critically analyze images):

The article includes a list of suggestions as to what teachers can do to help their students be more critical viewers. The author draws on Silverblatt (2001), who has created a framework that prescribes the following questions for viewers to consider:

1. What is the premise? Is it logical? What assumptions are made?

2. What is the explicit or implicit content?

3. What is the historical and cultural context? What worldview is being represented?

4. What is the emotional response? (I would say what is your response and what is the desired response, do you think?)

5. What genres or conventions are being used?

6. What is the conclusion or inference? Is it logical?

Farmer also includes the Centre for Media Literacy’s suggestions (2005) for how to be an analytical, thoughtful audience for persuasive instruments.

1. Who created the message?

2. Why was the message created and disseminated?

3. What visual techniques are used to draw attention to the message?

4. How might people experience the image differently?

5. What values, lifestyle, points of view are represented or omitted?

Both these are useful frameworks to consider. The second one is a bit more intuitive, as it follows the “who, what when, where, why?” model that students may already be familiar with.


     intro activity by showing imgur variations on a picture challenge to make posters for different movie genres:

original image:

as rom-com:

as a novel:

as horror:

     give groups of students different pictures/ ads from various magazines

     challenge students to manipulate/ change the photos to target a different demographic of their own choosing (e.g. male vs. female, kids vs. adults, teens vs. 40somethings, etc.) — OR to change the ad so that it’s advertising a completely different product/ idea

Discussion Questions:

1. Is it possible to overcome the power of subliminal messages? If not, what danger to the individual, if any, might this imply?

2. Do you think you would use any of these activities in your own classroom? Have you ever used activities like these in the classroom before?

3. How do you empower students to take visual literacy tools with them from the classroom into their daily lives? How do you ensure that building an awareness of visual image construction doesn’t stop with classroom learning?

4. How might you introduce your students to the “tips” for critical viewing we’ve covered? Do you think they’re worth sharing?

Works Cited

I See, I Do: Persuasive Messages and Visual Literacy. By: Farmer, Lesley S. J., MultiMedia & Internet@Schools, 15464636 Jul/Aug2007, Vol. 14, Issue 4


By: Allison Dixon, Ashlee Petrucci, Ilana Finkleman, Shannon Smart

Tags: Presentation · Seminar Prompts · Visual Literacy

4 responses so far ↓

  • natasha108 // Jul 8th 2013 at 9:36 pm

    This article and your group’s presentation today has made me, quite frankly, think long and hard about everything around me. The video clip you showed at the start of your presentation really pushed me to reflect on the thoughts, ideas and concepts that I am subconsciously (and constantly) inundated with, and how easy it is to assume that they have no influence on my actions and thinking. They most definitely do, and I need to start reminding myself of this more often.

    The topic of not recognizing the fact that certain images have been altered because we may have nothing to compare them to (due to never having seen the person/object in person) was brought up in class today, and it made me think about the first time it came to my attention that almost all magazine covers were photo-shopped. I was watching an entertainment news show about celebrities, and they were reporting on how a certain magazine was getting flack for the extreme alterations they were making to women on their covers. The story then touched on other photo-shopping controversies, and showed a slideshow of before and after shots of photos that had been retouched. To say I was shocked would be an understatement, and to say that I was simply naïve about an obvious fact would simply be incorrect. Up until that point, I had never been taught to critically assess magazine covers or the women on them, and I had also never been enlightened on the concept of photo shop. Furthermore, as I obviously did not know these women in real life, and thus could not point out the differences in their appearances, my lack of knowledge should be understandable. I truly believe that if one is not taught to critically assess, one will simply accept what they have seen and move on – the occurrence of which happened to me in this case.

    This article, and thinking back on my experience of realizing that I must question what I am consuming, further emphasizes the important job we have as teachers to caution young minds to critically assess the media that is put in front of them. If this is not done, students may start a pattern of accepting everything at face value, the act of which is incredibly worrisome.

  • allisond // Jul 8th 2013 at 11:56 pm


    I hear you. When I first saw that video, I was amazed at what our brains soak up while we think we’re not paying attention. As Teresa said in class, that carries a lot of weight for us as educators, since our students will bring into the classroom what they see, learn, and absorb outside of it.

    One of the things that rang true for me today was the point somebody brought up in class that, if you see and are inundated in something often enough, you begin to believe that it’s normal. In other words, even if we know that magazines are Photoshopped, the simple existence and abundance of Photoshopped images of models in magazines, and myriad other forms of media, might negate that understanding. This is especially exacerbated by your point that we likely don’t have a non-Photoshop reference point for most of these images. We only see the post-production result, and we see it very, very often.

    Your story about the entertainment news show reminds me of an extreme Photoshopping scandal involving Beyonce. I think it was this one, in which L’Oreal was accused of racism for apparently whitening Beyonce’s skin tone several shades:

    While we’re on the topic of Beyonce, I’m reminded of another Beyonce-related controversy, in which the singer’s management recently attempted to have all unflattering pictures of her removed from the internet. As we can see from the following link to a Google Image search, management has been less than successful:

    It may seem like I’m getting off topic, but the point I’m trying to make here is that Beyonce’s management is explicitly trying to remove these non-Photoshop references. If we only have the post-production image, then we come to believe that it’s the truth.

    That said, I’m increasingly suspicious of these CELEBRITIES WITH NO MAKE UP!! images. Who knows, maybe the “no makeup” pictures are just as Photoshopped to look horrifying as the other ones are manipulated to look perfect. We have no way of knowing since there isn’t a reliable reference.

  • TMD // Jul 15th 2013 at 7:51 am

    Dear Ilana, Allison, Shannon, and Ashlee,

    Thanks for your excellent presentation on persuasive visual media. The video you selected as a lead-in was powerful. As I mentioned in class, this is highly relevant to teaching insofar as it demonstrates how the things learners encounter out of class may influence their thinking in a creative/learning scenario. It would be interesting, as well, to locate examples of subliminal messages in the context of advertising itself. There are a number of sites with examples of “subliminal advertising” on the Internet. Here, for example, is an article on the topic on CBS News offering 10 examples: . The article also argues that such an approach doesn’t work and points to some evidence. An activity for students would be to have them try to spot examples of subliminal advertising and then debate the question of whether or not it is effective. I think your example — which demonstrates that we absorb many ideas subconsciously or subliminally in our worldly encounters and that this will influence our disposition to learning — is at least as important a point to get across in the context of the study of persuasive media as examinations of ploys used in creating effective advertising.

    Your activity was engaging. I particularly like the set up in the written notes, with the poster examples. It’s too bad we didn’t have time to review those before engaging in modifying our own images. They provide excellent examples of what Ernesto later discussed in relation to practices of modifying “what is given” through processes such as addition, subtraction, etc.

    I made a couple of points in responding to your presentation orally on the day: first, I wondered about the term “logical” — whether it represents a particular knowledge framework based in traditional scientific approach and the search for “truths,” and whether it is something we need to interrogate. As well, I also suggested Mariatu kumara’s _Bite of the Mango_ as a poignant study of media manipulation in the aftermath of disaster. In some respects it constitutes a study of the commodification of foreign aid — how acts of aid are political and used to bolster the “standing” of countries offering aid in the eyes of the international community. Korf, Habullah, Hollenback and Klem (2010) argue that “gifts are not just material transfers of ‘aid’, but also embodiments of cultural symbolism, social power, and political affiliations.”

    Again, thank you for leading the seminar in such an interesting and engaging manner.

    Best regards,


    Works Cited

    Kamara, M., & McClelland, S. (2010). Bite of the Mango. Bloomsbury Publishing.

    Korf, B., Habullah, S., Hollenbach, P., & Klem, B. (2010). The gift of disaster: the commodification of good intentions in post‐tsunami Sri Lanka. Disasters, 34(s1), S60-S77.

  • irenek13 // Jul 23rd 2013 at 12:44 pm

    That link to Beyonce’s banned photos… hilarious (did she really get a nose job or is that just terrible contouring?)

    Joking aside, I appreciated your group’s response to this article and wanted to add a few of my own thoughts and questions. Upon reviewing this piece, I found myself connecting Farmer’s article to Kress’s thoughts on the role of the English teacher in preparing students to succeed with new forms of communication and design. Kress cites our subject area as the only one likely to deal with visual literacy as an issue in young people’s lives. He posits that the English curriculum is probably the best place to make aesthetics more overt while taking up questions about the principles of design. While I agree with him in part, I wondered about this while reading I See, I Do. I understand what Farmer means when he says that underlying visual elements and principles are “universal understood and culturally defined” in their existence. Teachers of all disciplines inherently understand that a line signifies some kind of movement and a dot implies focus, for example. However, maybe that knowledge isn’t as second nature as Farmer’s article makes it seem. I know that in my own learning, I discovered the most about elements of design when I chose to take a visual arts course as an elective throughout my undergraduate degree. Had I not taken a few art history and visual arts courses however, I would not have known how to “read” images deeply or even be aware of the politics, history and purpose driving a piece of visual art. I wonder how much the curriculum and aims of the English discipline (as a high school subject) needs to change in order to encapsulate broad objectives like the teaching of visual literacy. If it were to remain in the domain of the Art classroom only, then a great majority of students would miss opportunities to explicitly investigate and develop visual literacy skills. Yet the old English curriculum focuses on aesthetically outstanding works of literature. Perhaps Kress is right to argue for a new curriculum of communication in which teachers explore multiliteracies with a focus on “ensembles of communication” rather than language alone. If so, it would seem that our jobs have changed a bit. It will take a great deal more creativity and new learning to approach the instruction of “communication” as opposed to the English model of the past. As “the visual mode may be coming to have priority over the written [… and] modes of communication move in predominance from image, to writing and then talk”, it seems that whether we like it or not, the tasks for the subject remain the same even as the (re)conceived subject of “Communication” emerges through the persuasive messages and visual literacy of media culture.

You must log in to post a comment.