"Show and Tell": The Relationship of Visuals and Language in Argument

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SWBAT recognize the variety of ways language and visuals work together to create arguments.

Big Idea

Visuals can be used to develop rich arguments in a variety of ways; the key is being understanding which way is most appropriate for your purpose.


In teaching an AP course, one of the most challenging decisions for me is how much to stray from tasks or skills that won’t be directly tested on the AP exam (mostly because the students worry about the test, and I, ultimately, will be judged at some level by student success on that exam—fairly or not).  Creating a multimedia argument is certainly not directly tested.  However, using visuals and language together to craft compelling arguments, particularly through film, is a particularly important 21st century skill that I want students to explore.  Additionally, developing an argument through a means other than an essay will differentiate learning to write arguments by allowing students to think about them visually and spatially, from the organization, building of central ideas, to use of evidence in considering audience and rhetorical purpose.  Given this, I will spend a couple days of class exploring the interaction of different media in building an argument, and then the students will create a multimedia argument of their own as an independent project (I debated a lot whether to spend significant class time on this, but in the end thought that this is an AP course with college-level expectations, so they should be able to handle the responsibility of doing this on their own, with a few check-ins from me).

Exploring the Interaction of Language and Pictures

50 minutes

To explore the variety of ways visuals interact with language, we will read an excerpt from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics anthologized in The Language of Composition, 2e (p. 805) titled “Show and Tell.”  After the first few pages, this piece does a great job of categorizing the different distinct ways visuals and language relate with each other (as seen in this video:  show and tell mp4.mp4).

So we can stop frequently to look at the specific frames and categories and consider the ideas individually, we will read the piece out loud.  For the first section, I will ask for two volunteers—one to be the child in the pictures, and the other to be the teacher.  After that scene, we will go around the room, with each person (including myself) reading a box.  For some parts, the student will read the narrator’s part, then I will prompt them to silently read the boxes (as seen in the video here).  With each category, we will talk about how the comics depict the idea of the text.  As we read and stop for discussion, the emphasis will be on the specific technique McCloud presents in the section for using pictures and language to develop ideas, using the piece as a tool for learning the techniques rather than reading the piece as an argument.  I will also encourage students to write down the different techniques in their notebooks for future reference as they develop their own multimedia arguments.

Introducing the Multimedia Argument Assignment

20 minutes

After going through this piece and understanding the central idea regarding the complex and nuanced interactions language and visuals can have in a multi-media argument, I will introduce and discuss their prompt for developing their own multimedia argument (as you can see in the assignment Popular Culture multi-media Argument Prompt.docx, it is very similar to their argument essay prompt Popular Culture Argument Prompt.docx, though I've expanded the possible topics by eliminating the quote from the other prompt.  My thought is that they will already have a strong direction to head because they've been thinking about this topic already, so they can really focus on using the multimedia tools and learning how to use them).

I want to encourage the students to try using video (I will show them Microsoft Movie Maker, a free download for Windows; while I won't spend too much time teaching how to use the software, I'll talk through some basics so the students get a sense of its simplicity), because it is such a prolific tool now, and explain that the evaluation will be done using the same rubric as their written argument, with the focus being on the argument itself.  Additionally, they will have the opportunity to explain what rhetorical strategies they were trying to accomplish through their visuals--all of this is to let them know they will not be penalized for taking a risk and learning a new skill.  This will be a challenge, because while I want to encourage the video use, I also don't want to discourage a student who really wants to explore comics or some other medium.

I will also list on the board some strategies for approaching this, starting with writing a "script" (I will point to the script of the Clint Eastwood Halftime commercial and the Paul Harvey speech as models of length), and story-boarding the visual part (I will define this) to both get a sense of organization and what visuals they will want to use as evidence or as enhancement of the script.  These discussions will help them develop their ideas and narrow down their strategies.

Next Steps:

Tomorrow we will revisit a number of short videos we watched earlier in the semester as models, looking at the different approaches and uses of language and visual, then take a good chunk of time consulting to kick-start the project.