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Practicing Visual Invention

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Brief Assignment Overview: 

This in-class assignment asks students to construct a visual version of a written or spoken argument. By asking students to first translate an existing argument into a visual form, the assignment eases students into processes of visual invention to prepare them for a more substantive multimodal composition. 

Type of Assignment: 
Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Rhetoric: 
Pedagogical Goals - Writing: 
Pedagogical Goals - Digital Literacy: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 

This exercise introduces students to the process of multimodal composition, asking them to begin thinking about how images can persuade a particular audience.

Required Materials: 


  • A projector and media console for the instructor
  • Computers for each student
  • Photoshop

This exercise could also be adapted to use pens and paper rather than Photoshop.

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

Students will read through a brief argument about an issue with which they are already familiar. I like to use opinion pieces from the Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper, because they are short, simple, and do not require students to have a great deal of background knowledge. Students read through the piece, then, in small groups, use Photoshop to build a visual version of the argument. Depending on the piece, the visualization might be in the form of an infographic, a printed PSA, or a collection of related images. Groups then share their pieces with the class and discuss the choices they made. 

While I was initially reluctant to ask students to translate an argument from one medium to another, I think that this activity, particularly early in a multimodal composition unit, helps students begin to understand how arguing in other media works differently than arguing in text. Asking them to think in images without having to generate an argument independently can both show the limits of translation and offer an opportunity to practice visual invention. Additionally, students have the opportunity to experiment collaboratively with Photoshop.

Prompt for Students

Read through the article and then, in groups, use Photoshop to produce a visual version of the author’s argument. This argument may contain a small amount of text, but should rely primarily on images, and should target the same audience (UT students) as the original argument. Be prepared to share what you have made and talk about your choices. 

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

This activity is designed for students who are already familiar with rhetorical analysis of alphabetic texts and, to some degree, visual and multimodal texts. Students should be able to describe how a written argument persuades its audience so that they can translate it more effectively. Additionally, it would be helpful if students had a brief introduction to Photoshop before beginning this exercise. The instructor could do a hands-on introduction for some or all of the previous class. 

Instructions For Students: 

In addition to the prompt above, I ask students to take turns "driving," or actually making the Photoshop edits, so that each student has time for hands-on practice.

Evaluation Suggestions: 

For a course that has classwork grades, this exercise could be given a completion grade. Since the exercise is supposed to provide a safe space for experimenting with visual invention, I would not advise giving letter grades. 

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

This exercise could be adapted for a classroom without technology if students were given pens or markers and paper and asked to translate an argument into a poster. Students have fewer options in this version (since they cannot alter images the way they could in Photoshop), but they would still have the opportunity to think in images. 

Course Description: 

RHE 309S, Critical Reading and Persuasive Writing, teaches students how to analyze and write arguments, but it also introduces students to rhetoric as a civic art, one that prepares them to write to and for specific publics. My version of this course asks students to look at arguments within and about online communities. The course is designed for students who have credit for the department's introductory Rhetoric and Writing course, but who still need or want a lower-division rhetoric and writing course.

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