Multimodal Literacy

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The illiterates of the future will be ignorant of the use of camera and pen alike…

              —  Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1937)


Composition and literacy are changing as the Internet becomes a more ubiquitous and central part of our literate lives.  It is not enough to use digital media to teach print literacy.  Indeed, the significance of print literacy is not decreasing; it is ever more important as literacy expands and becomes multimodal. We are not witnessing a replacement of one mode of literacy for another but rather a multiplication of the media. To be literate in the 21st century is to master multimodal communications. As educators, this means that we must develop our multimodal literacy, then develop a certain facility with producing multimodal compositions and finally combine this knowledge and skill with our pedagogical content knowledge to develop assessments of multimodal compositions.


For this exploration, we will develop our multimodal literacy or multiliteracies by learning rhetorical analysis of multimodal texts. The exploration is organized by a series of readings and required exercises. The readings, listed below, were carefully selected to introduce you to multimodal literacy in the context of K-12 literacy development. It is essential that you prepare in advance the specific readings assigned for each class session.  Additionally, I recommend that while you read keep two or more multimodal texts near at hand for ready reference, comparison, and analysis.

Exercises in Multimodal Literacy

Detailed below, there are two sets of required exercises integrated into this exploration. Please organize your work in a series of webpages.  At the highest level available from your main menu, produce and design a page titled: Multimodal Literacy. Use internal hyperlinks to provide navigation between and among this webpage and the other webpages that you produce.

1. Rhetorical Analysis of Multimodal Texts

This exercise combines a written text with an online tutorialix visualizing composition 2.0, 2e. As you read the selected chapter from Arola, Sheppard, and Ball (2014), it will instruct you to engage with the sections of the tutorial. In all, the ix tutorial is divided into 13 sections. [Note: the book does not instruct you to engage the sections of the ix tutorial in the order they are found online. You can always review a section, as needed].

The ix visualizing composition 2.0, 2e tutorial costs ~$10.00.

Each section of the tutorial has three parts: Define, Analayze, and Respond. Each part is well conceived. However, instead of doing the third part (Respond) of each section, please complete the write/design assignment on p.39 of Arola, Sheppard, and Ball (2014).  Furthermore, I have made an adjustment to that assignment as follows: when directed to choose three examples of multimodal texts to analyze, choose multimodal texts appropriate for, or representative of, the types of multimodal texts that you could expect your students to be reading.

Post your write/design assignment as BlogPost 5 and link it to AND from the Multimodal Literacy page of your ED386 Website. 

[Note: if you are using a Mac, use the FireFox browser to insure that the tutorial runs smoothly!]

The description and instructions included with the tutorial are as follows:

ix visualizing composition is a concrete introduction to the fundamentals of multimodal composition. There are thirteen tutorials.  Each tutorial moves through the following three steps:

  • Define. Illustrated definitions help you visualize principles of layout, design and composition: element, contrast, purpose, text, framing, audience, alignment, context, emphasis, color, proximity, organization, and sequence.
  • Analyze. Guided readings of real-world texts—such as photographs, movie clips, comics, and animation—model how writers of different texts put theory into practice.
  • Respond. Interactive assignments invite you to make your own rhetorical choices—determining font face or color, image hue, and the placement and organizational of visual and textual elements—and to write about the impact those choices have.

2. Responding to Multimodal Texts: Meaning Construction Across Semiotic Systems

As literacy becomes more and more multimodal, educators must develop learning experiences that involve their students in the study of how meaning is constructed across all five semiotic systems: linguistic, audio, visual, gestural and spatial. To this end, the storyboard becomes a significant tool because it involves students simultaneously in the analysis and production of multimodal texts.

In this exercise, you are to make a storyboard analysis of relations between the visual, linguistic, gestural, audio, and spatial semiotic systems. (I made a reference page with more information about storyboards that you might find helpful).


1. Select a relatively brief multimodal text (fiction or non-fiction) such as a picture book or a magazine article, etc.

2. In the storyboard you create, represent and discuss:

  • The salient aspects or unique contributions of each semiotic system to the multimodal text.
  • The interplay of the semiotic systems in the construction of meaning including the development and progression of the narrative.

The storyboard that you create is NOT a complete outline of the multimodal text. Instead, it is an exploration of how meaning is constructed through and between semiotic systems. To this end, use examples from the multimodal text to include in your storyboard.

There are any number of storyboarding apps to choose from including apps dedicated to the iPad.  Prezi is particularly effective to this end. You might also consider Google Slides. (Please note: the application you choose for your storyboard needs to be well suited for representing the semiotic systems you are exploring).

Please embed your storyboard in or otherwise link it to your multimodal literacy page.

Post your storyboard analysis as BlogPost 6. (The multimedia equivalent of ~750 words).  


Anstey, M., Bull, G. (2006). Teaching and Learning Multiliteracies: Changing Times, Changing Literacies. Chapter 5: The Consumption and Production of Text.  Newark, DE : International Reading Association. pp. 100-116.

Arola, K., Sheppard, and J. Ball, C.E. (2014) Writer/designer : a guide to making multimodal projects. Boston : Bedford/St. Martins. Chapter 2: Analyzing Multimodal Projects. pp. 20-39.

Anstey, M., Bull, G. (2009). Developing new literacies: responding to picturebooks in multiliterate ways. In: Janet Evans (ed.). Talking Beyond the Page: Reading and responding to picturebooks. New York : Routledge. pp. 26-43.


The ix visualizing composition 2.0, 2e Rhetorical Analysis tutorial

Visual and Multimodal Literacy Standards

Visual Elements and Principles

  1. The Artist’s Toolkit: Visual Elements and Principles
  2. Elements and Principles of Design in Photography
  3. The elements and principles of design for drawing
  4. Elements of Cinematography | Shot Sizes; Camera Angles; Camera Moves

Web 2.0 Applications

About Gesture

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