Incorporating Media into Classroom Writing: Using Personal Media to Initiate Writing

By: Meredith Saville
Dr. Timothy Shea
Millersville University
May 7, 2014


This WikiSpace page will argue and focus on the importance of digital media literacy in terms of creating and understand writing prompts. With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, teachers may feel as though they cannot dedicate time for students to explore the beauty of writing. Rebecca Wallace-Segall’s powerful article with a just as equally powerful title, “A Passionate, Unapologetic Plea for Creative Writing in School” demonstrates what teachers have been feeling about the Common Core as of late, by stating, “Some teachers have made an art of teaching narratives. Others are frustrated because they’ve been stuck with a curriculum that they know is not best for their students” ( However, what teachers do not realize, is not allowing students to indulge themselves in writing, hinders let; let alone on a media interface. From Catherine Coker Rumfelt’s Thesis titled, “The Necessity of Narrative: Personal Writing and Digital Spaces in the High School Composition Classroom”, she stated the importance of writing in general with saying “Our students are people with backgrounds, cultures, and experiences…The way they experience life is informed by their views of themselves, so personal writing can help explore those views” (22). Although this Wiki will be mainly about the incorporation of media into the classroom, the digital space is important for students to get involved in. Rumfelt’s argument in her thesis, calls for authenticity within the classroom through the source of a digital space and media:

As writing teacher, we also face a continual struggle to create authentic writing situations for our students. Digital spaces can provide that authenticity, because the audience is real and often immediate. When students publish something in online writing communities, their audience is widened beyond the classroom. These types of communities emphasize the public nature of writing and emphasize the idea of writing as a social activity. The audience is no longer only the teacher. Networks also provide a place where the role of the instructor is decentralized (30). It’s a teaching world that we want to explore; a world in which the media and students take over the classroom, and not the Peanut’s teacher lecturing.

Responsive teaching is a concept that Renee Hobbs brought up in her book we read in class, "Digital and Media Literacy: Connecting Culture and Classroom". Hobbs breaks down Responsive Teaching in these concepts:
  1. Activate students' prior knowledge - In this Wiki, I advocate for students to use their prior knowledge in terms of their culture to create and demonstrate the unique individual they are. This prior knowledge will allow the students to produce what they identify with, and not just what the teacher wants.
  2. Use digital media, mass media, and popular culture - All of the sources that I have proposed throughout this Wiki, falls until digital media, mass media, and popular culture to exhibit the openness of writing.
  3. Are attuned to the teachable moment - By allowing students to indulge in digital texts, it allows teachable moments, to express and notice the differences between students. This can also help with the classroom environment in terms of understanding students and building a rapport.
  4. Provide structure and scaffolding - The media units can either be used as a springboard for scaffolding, to be integrate throughout the unit as a scaffold.
  5. Ask "why" questions - This opens up a dialogue between students and teachers as to why the media that they chose, describes them the best in terms of creative writing.
  6. Value well-reasoned, independent thinking - When students are given independent assignment, independent thinking occurs.
  7. Use collaborative multimedia composition to produce authentic communication -
  8. Respect learners - In the classroom, respecting a student's media choice, and lead to even more respect in terms of creativity, culture, and individuality.
  9. Honor the learning process - Students will create better assessments, when they are proud of what they've done. Let's use this to our advantage!
  10. Use authentic assessment - The instructor can measure the developmental growth of students by how they manipulate the media.
  11. Participate as citizens of the world - Why should we excavate the media, when students are surrounded by media? This brings the real world, and therefore relevance, into the learning community!
  12. Build a sense of community - Not only will you learn more about your students, but the entire classroom will learn more about their peers!
(Hobbs, 185-186)

Throughout this Wiki, you will find that I mention music probably ad nauseum in terms of using music as a spring board for the beginnings of creativity of self and writing. Neil Andersen who wrote “Making a Case for Media Literacy in the Classroom: Impact of Images” agrees with my argument over the incorporation of media by arguing, “…we have recognized that the media is not just a source of entertainment and information, but as an experience that defines our lives” (

Media Helping: Thesis Statements

Remember the first time you wrote a thesis statement? It was quite overwhelming then, and even now, I stress about a thesis statement. I mean, it is what you’re defending throughout your whole paper. Graduate students: My hat’s off to you; I’ll wait my turn.

I’m sure we remember the whole “it’s what you’re going to write about and how you need to go from broad to specific and you need to mention your topic without completely giving away what you’re saying oh! but give the reader enough information for them to decide if it’s what you want them to read” Yeah, okay. Got it.

During my placement, my students had to write a paper on “Are people are inherently good or evil?” as a final summative assessment to our Holocaust/Anne Frank unit. I was given the duty of grading some papers one afternoon during my co-op’s prep period. After a few papers, she looked at me and said, “Listen to this thesis statement: People are inherently evil because bad things happen.” We both just stared and said, “they don’t get it.” Another teacher next door to us, showed this clip to her students, and it seems that her students understood how to create a convincing thesis statement better than my students; at least, I didn’t see this other teacher hang her head in disappointment.

This other teacher showed Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar acceptance speech from this award season ceremony. Here’s the video:

YouTube; LatestNews yt

Let me give you a timeline of how McConaughey basically created a thesis statement:

  1. 1. Thank you… 00:00:47 à topic/what he’ll be talking about
  2. 2. What he’s thankful for 00:01:18 à his 3 supporting details
  3. 3. Goes back to points and explains them
    1. a. Point 1: 00:01:32
    2. b. Point 2: 00:02:02
    3. c. Point 3: 00:02:53

Throughout this timeline of the YouTube video of his Oscar acceptance speech, McConaughey starts off with his broad point of thanking everyone, narrows it down to his 3 points/instances he needs to be thankful for, and then he explains quickly WHY he is thankful for these 3 points.

If we were to write McConaughey’s speech into a thesis statement it may roughly look like this:

My success in winning the Oscar for Best Actor, is all because of God who strengthens me, my family who keeps me grounded, and myself for pushing me to get better.

If we can imagine McConaughey writing an essay with this above thesis statement, his three points, would then become the topics for his body paragraphs.

How would this help students? First of all, the students are automatically drawn into the lesson on the ever-so-riveting lesson about thesis statement (can you smell my sarcasm over there?) due to the fact, it's a recent occurrence in media. Secondly, it's a text in which the students can revert back to for review, help, and to model their thesis statement off of it.

Media Helping: Narrative

From Catherine Coker Rumfelt’s Thesis titled, “The Necessity of Narrative: Personal Writing and Digital Spaces in the High School Composition Classroom”, she stated the importance of writing in general with saying “Our students are people with backgrounds, cultures, and experiences…The way they experience life is informed by their views of themselves, so personal writing can help explore those views” (22). The question I propose to you is, why shouldn’t we integrate media into the student creating a narrative?

The music that we listen to allows our backgrounds, culture, and experiences to unfold and define who we are. For this Wiki, I will use music that defines myself due to my upbringing, my personal taste in music, and my culture. However, this exercise can most definitely go throughout cultures and experiences.

Below are a few examples of songs in which I grew up with, that have a narrative sense to them:

James Taylor "Fire and Rain" ; Charlie Chapin "Cats in the Cradle"

(YouTube, lameplanet) ; (YouTube, ETWETWFANS)

John Mellencamp "Jack and Diane" ; Tracy Chapman "Fast Car"

(YouTube, JohnMellencampVEVO) ; (YouTube, cristian orrengo)

To implement in the classroom, I would most certainly create a lesson plan around this. The students would directly be interested in a lesson about narrative when music is included. Even using songs as a mentor text, can create a way for the students to model their own narrative story, short story, vocabulary, and tone. Students learn best when they have a model to base their own work off of, and Corbett Harrison’s article about mentor texts demonstrates the importance of them in a classroom by stating “A mentor text is a published piece of writing a teacher uses during a writing lesson to either a) teach a writing skill or to b) motivate the students to want to write something creatively similar” ( Instead of using a written piece from a book as a mentor text, students can integrate their culture, background, and experiences with the music they choose. Individuality of students should NOT disintegrate because of the Common Core. As teachers of our students, we want them to acknowledge that where they come from and their own self discovery, is just as important as a standardized exam.

As an example of how I would use a Narrative song for my own writing, I’ll use “Jack and Diane” by John Cougar Mellencamp; a song that was played ritually in my house growing up (Thank you for your great music taste, Mom and Dad!).

“Jack and Diane” even opens up with “Little ditty, about Jack and Diane. Two American kids growing up in the heartland” Right away, the listener of the song knows that it’s going to be a story (“ditty”), about two people (Jack and Diane) in a state which is considered a Union state. Right away, students are learning vocabulary (show me a 7th grader who knows the term “ditty”), associate with who the “Two American kids” are, and their location of living in the heartland.

I won’t go through all of these examples, but each song has the narrative plot structure. As a refresher of the narrative plot structure, it encompasses:

  1. 1. Expository
  2. 2. Rising Action
  3. 3. Climax
  4. 4. Falling Action
  5. 5. Resolution

Here is the graph associated with the narrative plot structure:



Instead of boring you all with the breakdown of the narrative plot structure, of all the rest of the aforementioned songs, I’ll demonstrate how I would use this in my own secondary classroom, in an activity other than a mentor text. I would try to create an activity out of analyzing the songs and placing lyrics that indicate the exposition, conflict/rising action, climax, falling action, and the resolution. I would then make the students jumble the lyrics, to see if the narrative makes any sense in terms of the presentation/writing.

You may still be asking yourself: what about the media? Rumfelt demonstrates how easily personally writing can be implemented in the media through a source we used during this semester: a blog. Through integrating media not only as a mentor text of music but also as a digital space in which we can call our own,
Essentially anyone with access can publish online, so a new set of writers and thinkers can share their ideas. Students are more apt to share their personal narratives in the digital spaces that they are accustomed to, and they don’t feel restricted by writing rules. Writing is no longer privileged to the academy, and the absence of a barrier allows for unique voices (Rumfelt 29).

Rebecca Wallace-Segall’s article “A Passionate, Unapologetic Plea for Creative Writing in Schools” does exactly that—it calls for arms to enhance creative writing into the hub-bub of every school. Narrative is essential to have within the classroom, and Wallace-Segall exemplifies it by explaining the natural call for self-expression, “There’s a reason fiction and narrative nonfiction outsell all other genres in the U.S. It’s the same reason there are 56 million WordPress blogs and 76 million Tumblrs” ( I admit that I am 1 of those 76 million Tumblrs that floats around in cyberspace. It’s a timeline of my thoughts of self-expression, images that I find interesting, and everything you could ever image. I reblog what I find on my Dashboard because it’s what defines me; it’s my narrative. Wallace-Segall continues with, “Human beings years to share, reflect, and understand one another, and they use these reflections to improve the state of things, both personal and public” (

Media Helping: Poetry

It’s a given when I say that everyone listens to music at SOME POINT during their day. If you’re like me, I need it non-stop by either physically listening to it, or humming it. But what if I told you that the lyrics that you are listening to, is poetry? Are you now “turned off” by your music because it’s now considered the “flower, girly, and emotional” form of writing called poetry?

But what if I mentioned that poetry, is a fantastic way to hone in on specific literature tactics like analyzing. We are constantly analyzing every moment in life, whether it be advertisements, television, film, or literature, the skill to pick apart words and meaning is looked highly upon and a building block for literature reading.

Let’s look to my favorite artist of all time, Bon Iver. I always say that I wish I had Justin Vernon’s (lead singer/vision for Bon Iver) thesaurus because his lyrical writing is so analytical. Let’s take his song “Re: Stacks”:

(YouTube, yurksemesh)

This song as perplexed me for years with stanzas like:

This my excavation and today is Kumran
Everything that happens from now on
this is pouring rain
This is paralyzed


I keep throwing it down two-hundred at a time
It’s hard to find it when you knew it
When your money’s gone
And you’re drunk as Hell

Media Helping: Symbol, Theme, and Mood

Symbol is most certainly a poetic term that has been drilled into our brains ad nauseum, and people have the perception that everything in poetry in a symbol. Once again, I’m delving into music for poetry in reference of searching for symbols.

Another one of my favorite songs, is Bright Eyes’ “Poison Oak”. This was basically the song of my junior year of high school, because at that age, it’s not normal if you’re not melodramatic. Luckily though, “Poison Oak” is filled with symbols. Here are a few:

“There’s a muddy field where a garden was
and I’m glad you got away, but I’m still stuck out here”

“And I never thought this life was possible
You’re the yellow bird that I’ve been waiting for”

“The end of paralysis, I was a statuette”

Breaking away from solely music as a form to instigate meaning in poetry, other forms of media such as spoken poetry and film can also be used to accentuate symbol, theme, and mood.

Spoken poetry is simply an art. If you haven’t quite dabbled in listening to spoken poetry, I truly suggest you check it out. There are a plethora of spoken poetry that can be found on YouTube. My all-time favorite is Neil Hilborn’s “OCD” in which he speaks about how his OCD enveloped his love life. It’s more powerful than it may seem.

Here is Neil Hilborn’s “OCD”:

(YouTube, Button Poetry)

Piggy-backing on the concept of symbol, Neil Hilborn’s “OCD” spoken poetry, exemplifies the symbol of what Hilborn’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder does for his love and how chaotic love is for him to hold onto. In this instance, the symbol of OCD is something that is more abstract because it’s different for everyone and it’s a disorder.

In Sean Penn’s “Into the Wild” (2007), it would be implemented in the classroom through a multiple disciplinary form—by killing multiple birds with one stone. However, for this project, I want to focus on the symbol of Christopher McCandless’ life. If you haven’t seen the film, it’s spectacular. It’s about Christopher McCandless who is a recent college graduate, who is trying to find what he really wants out of life. He decides he’s going to get from Virginia to Alaska by foot (or, as much as he can). He makes it there, and finds a home within a used, abandoned school bus. The symbol in this film, would be, to my interpretation, that we may want to get away from home, but home is always where we originate this from. I personally gathered this by how a bus is supposed to move, but in this case, the bus has been abandoned and lost all forms of movement.

One of my favorite bands are The Lumineers. I saw them in Camden last summer and let me tell you, if you want to stomp your feet all night long, go to a Lumineers concert. You won’t regret it. Especially when Dr. Dog is the opening act. Anyway, I digress. One of my favorite songs by them, is “Dead Sea”. Here’s an excerpt of the chorus:

(YouTube, lafleurdumalx)

“I’m like the Dead Sea,
The finest words you ever said to me,
Honey, can’t you see,
I was born to be, be your Dead Sea

Dead Sea,
You told me I was like the Dead Sea
I’ll never sink with you are with me
Oh, Lord, I’m your Dead Sea”

The first time I played this song for my mother in the car. I was singing and bopping along with pleasure. While my mother, looked quite perplexed. “Why is it a good thing to be called the Dead Sea? I wouldn’t want someone to think of me as dead.” This is when I found out two things about my mother: 1) she’s terrible at geography 2) she didn’t think more in-depth about the symbol of someone being the Dead Sea to another person. I recoiled back and said, “Okay, English major hat on mother. The Dead Sea is a symbol and a metaphor for how the person A thinks of person B in either a romantic way or of a best friend way.

The example of being the Dead Sea is mentioned in the song a plethora of times, therefore creating a symbol in the text. Once I explained to my mother the symbol of the Dead Sea and what it meant to the song, my mother read the song completely differently. By seeing symbols and therefore metaphors within a text, it opens up a window of what our perception of the poem/song analysis.

Media Helping: Expression

Think back to the last time you creatively wrote. If you’re like me in any fashion, you write creatively from time to time, but I need to be of course, inspired to do so. Sometimes, I get tired of writing about the same thing over and over again: a moment in my life, how the sunshine feels on my skin, and so forth. However, I feel like there are not many instances in which creative expression can take place in today’s classroom. A part of me thinks that this is because teachers feel like if it’s an activity/assessment/instruction that cannot link up to a Common Core State Standard, then it should automatically get kicked to the curb. HOWEVER. Have you looked at the Common Core State Standards? Although searching for a standard can be like searching for a needle in the haystack, the likelihood that you can link up a CCSS to expressive/creative writing. This doesn’t even MENTION the benefits of creatively writing.

We all have a few songs that we listen to, in which we can actually FEEL the emotions of the writer. We can sense what they were experiencing, and although what I feel might not necessarily match up with what my perception of the song, but expression and having a feeling towards a piece of music, is moving.

Some of my favorite songs, don’t have any words, because they allow myself to connect with them in the way that I want to; not what the writer wanted me to.

My two favorite bands that are strictly musical are Explosions in the Sky and This Will Destroy You. Here are songs by them:

This Will Destroy You’s “Quiet”

(YouTube, Tanner Rogerson)

Explosions in the Sky’s “The Birth and Death of Day”

(YouTube, FairyBrownie6)

As a viewer of this Wiki, I challenge you to write any medium of writing, with these songs. Using mentor texts in another fashion from mentioned before, these mentor texts are equipping the writer with a mood and a tone, instead of a written structure of narrative that they can follow.

Media Helps: For the Public

Now that we have written all of these pieces, how can we expand our audience? During class, we discussed the importance of media literacy, and Rumfelt examined the importance of media literacy by acknowledging, “Students are immersed in this new culture of technology and we as composition teachers need to help them understand as writers and reader what they are experiencing on a more critical level” (35). We want to live in a world in which people think critically about the world around them, and by incorporating the digital world and media literacy into the classroom, the students are thinking even more critically because they are using the media literacy as a form of expression.

Wallace-Segall exhibits the phenomenon of allowing students by writing for themselves with, “Their [teachers and administration] detachment is not helping students become better writers. Instead, it is sending a message that nothing they have to say is worthwhile, especially if it is about something personal.” What better way than to exhibit to students even more over how important our writing and creation is, than by introducing it to the masses: to the Internet cyberspace.

But why should we still make our work public on a blog, when writing is for the writer? Neil Andersen brings up a fact that many of us have discussed “Media literacy can empower students to interact positively with their society. This empowerment can occur when they realize the possibilities of their interaction and develop the tools with which to interact”. By having students upload their work onto the web, their work can take flight, and as Andersen, the possibilities of their interaction is undeniable.


Andersen, Neil. “Making a Case for Media Literacy in the Classroom: Impact of Images” Center for Media Literacy 2002-2011. Web. <>.

Button Poetry. “Neil Hilborn – “OCD” (Rustbelt 2013)” YouTube. July 22 2013. Web.

FairyBrownie6. “Explosions in the Sky – The Birth and Death of the Day” YouTube. Mar 17 2009. Web.

Harrison, Corbett. “Mentor Texts”. Corbett Harrison, Education Consultants. 2014. Web.

Hobbs, Renee. “Digital and Media Literacy: Connecting Culture and Classroom” Corwin, 2011. Print.

JohnMellencampVEVO. “John Mellencamp – Jack & Diane” YouTube, Oct 5 2009. Web

lameplanet. “James Taylor – Fire and Rain, Live 1970” YouTube, Oct 23 2008. Web

LatestNews yt. “Matthew McConaughey WINS Oscar 2014 For Best Actor Acceptance Speech” YouTube. March 2 2014. Web.

Orrego, Cristian. “Fast car – Tracy Chapman” YouTube. Mar 8 2007. Web.

Rumfelt, Coker Catherine. “The Necessity of Narrative: Personal Writing and Digital Spaces in the High School Composition Classroom”. Georgia State Univerisity. 2009. Web.

Rogerson, Tanner. “This Will Destroy You : Quiet” YouTube. Oct 29 2009. Web.

Wallace-Segall, Rebecca. “A Passionate, Unapologetic Plea for Creative Writing in Schools” 2012. The Atlantic Monthly Group. Web. <>.

Yurksemest. “Bon Iver – re: Stacks” YouTube. Jan 30 2009. Web.