Reuse, Recycle, Re-appropriate

As I began sifting through the materials in the sandbox, I realized that it would be interesting to have students re-appropriate images in class. Images hold so much symbolism, so it would be interesting to have students choose classic images (think: American flag, diamond ring, graduation cap, a cross, a heart) and deconstruct them. For example, students could write about what these images represent to different people, and which messages are usually paired with specific images. In addition, they could discuss where these images usually appear, and find examples of different ways these images are used within media.

Once students chose a “classic image” they could find an example to modify using the creative commons search, or a Google filtered search. Their job would be to modify the image, to somehow alter its “typical” meaning. For example, a diamond ring might become part of a set of handcuffs, or a cross might become a sword, or text might be added to prompt the viewer to consider the symbol in a new way. Students might even pair typical images with typically associated language, like you see in my image of the American Flag.

I found a very “glorious” image of an American flag shining in the sunlight, and used to add a “ghostify affect”. This drained the photo of its color, and gave it a bleak connotation. Whereas before the flag looked beautiful, and almost holy; now it looked ghostly and had an almost “looming” quality. I chose to drive home the idea of American patriotism by using red, white, and blue text, and also including a key line from the “Pledge of Allegiance” (liberty and justice for all), but I re-appropriated the phrase by replacing “all” with “some”, and I made a point to use white text for “some”, while leaving the other text within that line blue. My picture now reflects a new message; one that calls into question current social issues, especially in regards to the experiences of people of color within the justice system.

This type of exercise not only asks students to analyze how symbols are used to spread messages across media, but it also asks them to think critically about propaganda and author’s purpose. I think students will get more out of the activity if they focus on a social issue they want to address, and make their modifications purposefully in order to create a specific message; rather than just modifying an image just to change the style, or make it funny.

This activity might work best for 8th -12th grade as it does ask students to consider controversial issues, and may prompt more adult discussions. However with differentiation, and the right facilitator, I think it could work at any grade level.

I felt the image I chose worked well for my design because it personified the ideal image of America. It was also well above Reynolds’s suggested 1180 x 720 pixel size minimum for photographs (105). After modifying the image in, I also modified the image within Microsoft paint. I enhanced the saturation and the brightness of the image, to increase the intensity of the photograph. Just as I wanted the flag to appear looming, I wanted the brightness of the sun to appear blinding. The saturation increase seemed to deepen the stormy mood of the photo, creating contrast between light and dark. I chose the Gill Sans font, because it is mentioned as an essential font in Presentation Zen Design (39), and I wanted to get a feel for it. I also chose to make my font large (48-72pt font), in hopes that someone in the “back of the room” would be able to read my image clearly on the screen.

Two other ways I could imagine students using tools from this weeks sandbox are:

  1. Students could use PicMonkey to create colleges that tell short stories. Almost like a 6-word memoir, but with images and text.
  2. Students could use Big Huge Labs to study text features, and practice with main idea.

If you want to know more about these ideas just leave me a comment 🙂


Image Credit: Jnn13 (2009).  Flag of the United States of America, backlit, windy day. Retrieved from: CC BY-SA 3.0.


Reuse, Recycle, Re-appropriate

10 thoughts on “Reuse, Recycle, Re-appropriate

  1. I love what you have done here. I teach eighth graders, and I think that they would really be able to appreciate the way that the flag, which commonly symbolically stands for certain values and ideals, is shown in a light that reflects perhaps how those same values and ideals may be somehow extended to some and not all. Your use of color establishes a somber mood for your powerful message. Well done.


  2. Thank you! I like the activity because there are so many different directions it could go. It really gives students a chance to think critically and make their own choices. Even in the 6th grade my students want to talk about recent events with police brutality against African American citizens, this is what kind of sparked my idea.


  3. This would be a perfect accompaniment for my senior research papers, which are either controversial issue or conspiracy theory papers. Thanks for the tip! I love the sharing aspect of these classes; I’m getting some GREAT stuff!


  4. It’s amazing how an image with limited text can evoke feeling and communicate meaning. Your use of color on the text “some” really expresses your opinion about how some people are treated in the United States. I could see this graphic used in National Geographic or The New Yorker. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for that awesome compliment! I like that images are open to interpretation too. While the message is clear its also open enough to encompass a number of social issues…and could reference different things depending on the context.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow…as a person of color, this really spoke to me. Also, as a woman it spoke to. Everyday I have my students stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Some of them don’t want to. I ask them to at least stand up. They don’t feel like this country is really there for them and it breaks my heart. They are only in 6th and 7th grade and they feel this way. Then when you see so much in the news where people of color are shot by police, it’s caught on tape, and they are still found innocent, you have to ask yourself, “can you blame them?”

    My students recently did a service learning project on the Syrian Refugee Crisis and could see using this technique with some of the photos we saw of people on homemade rafts trying to escape what was going on in their country. Those images had a profound effect on my students. Some of them I chose not to show them.


    1. I teach 6th grade too. Mostly students of color. We spend a lot of time talking about police brutality because already at 11 and 12 they have been exposed to so many examples of it in the media, and in some cases their own lives. I’m amazed by how insightful they are and how much they want and need to talk about these important social issues with their peers and teachers. I think it’s awesome that you have your students pursue service learning. I’m sure they’ve learned so much from that. It’s important to do so that students can begin to understand that we all need to work together to make a more peaceful world, no matter what our color or gender! Thank you for your thoughtful comment. It’s sad that some of our students don’t feel that they can be proud of their country because they don’t feel like their country is proud of them, bug as educators we have the honor and privilege of getting to be the cheerleaders and say, “We can make change together, and you guys, our youth, can lead the way!”


  7. What a wonderful tool to teach students not only the power of a photograph, but also the impact words can have when added to the picture. I know students would find many ways to be creative and it gives them a chance to add their own voice – something many students don’t feel like they are ever able to do in other environments.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I really like the before and after effect of your pictures. It would be very interesting to use this with students regarding a shift in interpretation of a particular character in a novel, short story, or play.
    Thank you for sharing this great idea.

    Liked by 1 person

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