Educational technology tips for teachers, librarians and schools.

3 Ways to Teach Digital Literacy With Multimodal Text

3 Ways to Teach Digital Literacy With Multimodal Text

By Matt Edwards

In the early 2000’s came Web 2.0, and with it a major shift in the way we consume content. Now we’ve transitioned into a “read/write” culture, where the lines between consumption and creation are becoming increasingly blurred.

To be active on the web in the 21st century means both “reading and composing, both understanding and producing multimodal texts.” A multimodal text combines two or more semiotic systems, including language, visual, audio, gestural and spacial.

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The power to create, repurpose, and share these types of texts is the very essence of what we now call “digital literacy.”

Digital literacy is not only increasingly important, but it’s “no longer a luxury” as Hicks & Turner argue in No Longer a Luxury: Digital Literacy Can’t Wait: “We simply cannot wait to build the capacity in our students and colleagues, as well as ourselves.”

However, in 2015, to be a digitally literate educator, to be a digitally literate student, and to have a digitally transitioned classroom, you must have an understanding of how multimodal texts are created.

An example of multimodal texts is a quote image, where text is layered over pictures, creating a combination of visual and linguistic systems.

In the classroom, turning presentations into podcasts joins audio and linguistic semiotic systems; creating video lessons combines linguistic, visual, audio spatial and gestural—these are all multimodal texts.

Luckily, the tools you need to teach digital literacy and create multimodal texts are readily available for laptops, desktops and tablets. Use these ideas and tools to bring multimodal texts into your classroom.

More: 8 Classroom Tools to Encourage Creative Writing

Mini Documentarians

One of Learning Bird’s top contributors, Eric Buffington uses math video lessons to connect everyday life with education. He teaches mean, median, and mode by counting eggs in his chicken coop and gives a lesson on measurement in his kitchen as “Chef Buffington.

This is a fun and simple way to use multimodal text in your lessons and assignments. The tools you need are:

  • Mobile phone
  • USB cable
  • Free movie editing software (iMovie for Apple or WeVideo for Windows)

Learn how to use these tools with your students and then assign them a non-traditional project or book report: a documentary. Students can re-enact a historical event, interview other students, or act out a scene from the book.


Podcasts are easy for students to create and the final product is one they’ll be proud of. Not to mention, the list of topics your students can tackle in this format is nearly endless.

The tools you need:

  • Microphone or mobile phone with recorder
  • Editing software (Garageband for Apple, Audacity for Windows)

Have students pair up to record each other for group project. Some fun projects to assign them include:

  • Act as a tour guide for the school, navigating to your favorite places on a playground or to favorite book in the library.
  • Teach a hobby or activity to the rest of the class.
  • Tell your family’s history (This is a great alternative to creating the traditional family tree.)

The audio can be imported into editing software, where there are many options to test and use. If the number of editing options seems overwhelming at first, focus on the scissor tool and the timeline. Chop out silences, drag pieces together, or switch them around for students to find the best flow for their story.

“To be active on the web in the 21st century means both ‘reading and composing, both understanding and producing multimodal texts.’ A multimodal text combines two or more semiotic systems, including language, visual, audio, gestural and spacial.”

Online Writing

The march of technology isn’t in opposition to the written word. In fact, digital has embraced writing and added fun dimensions to the traditional format, allowing students to engage with content in new ways.

There’s not a specific set of tools you need for online writing because there are many options available, depending on what you want to accomplish.

For example, you can use a standard blogging platform like WordPress or Medium for journaling, or a multi-textual writing tool like Atavist to make an average blog post explode using their custom options. Experiment to find the website or service that fits your and your students’ goals best.

Have your students use the platform to combine their audio or video work with a written report to create a multi-textual article like you see in online newspapers. For added thematic effect, have them record audio or video interviews. This is a fun way to brighten up a story about a local or school issue.

This digital format allows you to be more creative with your lessons and assignments than ever before, while teaching students about digital literacy. As you begin testing the various tools and ideas, keep an open mind and experiment.

Look for opportunities to incorporate digital texts and challenge yourself to start including these texts in your lessons where applicable—if you show an interest in this new form of writing, your students will too.

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