How George Washington’s Winter at Valley Forge Inspired Memes in My Classroom

Okay, we’ve all been there.  We’ve seen that hilarious meme that gets posted on social media.  Then again, we’ve all been there, we see that borderline inappropriate (or over the line) meme that is neither funny nor witty. Unfortunately, sometimes people we known in our own lives may rely a little too heavily on proving a point by showing a meme that they had seen on Facebook.

Our students, too, see memes.  Some students even enjoy making them over the course of the day to day.  This led me to a few thoughts, why not harness this interest and try to spin it to allow students to express and enhanced their understanding of a topic by creating an appropriate meme.  I stress appropriate for a reason, as it leads to a digital citizenship discussion on what is an is not the proper way to utilize images on social media, and really, on the internet as a whole.

Enter Valley Forge.

No, really.  Valley Forge.  One of the most trying times of our young nation during the American Revolution.  Washington struggled to keep his men alive, let alone thrive as a fighting force to take on the British.

Enter primary source documents from Valley Forge.  There are many journals of the trials of soldiers at Valley Forge, paintings the support their struggle, and data to provide even more of a buttress for the idea that life was difficult during that winter in eastern Pennsylvania.

Enter memes.  Stick with me.

Stick with me like Washington needed his men to do at Valley Forge.  Why not have students display their understanding of the underlying message of the document by creating memes that would express the viewpoint of a soldier there?

Many of my students were familiar with memes.  Some didn’t know what they were until they saw some examples, and some still had never seen one.  This “teachable moment” allowed us to have a discussion about how using images in memes to “pick on” others was in no way being a good digital citizen, and moreover, led to students having the ability to make a meme highlighting what a soldier their may have been thinking in a creative, and humorous manner.

What resulted after was, put simply, awesome.  Students were asking to make two, three, four, five, six, or more memes to display different aspects of how life was harsh at Valley Forge.  Their favorite part was sharing these with the class, explaining the rationale of their meme if not immediately able to be discerned from their text tagline. There were lots of laughs, lots of “oh, I get it” comments, and, most importantly, lots of interaction with the primary sources to garner additional ideas.

It may not have caught the social media world by storm like the “Obama-Biden” memes, but, this is a tool that will now be a go-to when expressing an underlying theme of content in my class, and one the students will want to “wait out the winter with me” to experience some more of, just like those soldiers at Valley Forge.


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