“Mrs. Poling, do you snap?”

I have to confess to being confused for a minute. I looked at the fingers of my right hand, raised them in front of my face, and snapped them.  “Do you mean snap my fingers?” I asked, still a little befuddled.  My class of 27 juniors started laughing good naturedly.

“No!  I mean are you on Snapchat?”

Our students live their lives in a virtual world of Snapchat, Instagram, and a host of other social media outlets I have probably never heard of.  They are bombarded with image-based texts and it has become our job to teach them how to read and respond to this new world of visual rhetoric in an ethical and responsible manner.

In AP Language, visual rhetoric is a major component of the curriculum, but in a world where image-based media has become a go-to means of communication for our students, the ability to evaluate and respond to images has become a necessary life skill.  We want our students to be aware of their cyber presence and we want to help them become responsible members of our online society; understanding visual rhetoric can help to achieve that goal.

When I introduce visual rhetoric to my students, I explain that we will be studying images and “reading” them in much the same way we read a written text.  Using the SOAPS mnemonic, students can analyze the rhetorical situation of a text.

  1. Subject: What is the topic of the visual text?


  1. Occasion: What is the time and place the text was “written”? The occasion exists within a specific context, helping students to understand the exigence as well.


  1. Audience: Who is the intended viewer of the text? How does the intendance audience’s values affect the speaker’s purpose?


  1. Purpose: What is the goal the speaker wants to achieve?


  1. Speaker: Who is the person or group who created the text?


The SOAPS mnemonic allows students to quickly work through the rhetorical situation of an image-based text, and provides a means of completing a closer reading of the piece.  Understanding the rhetorical situation allows students to draw appropriate conclusions about the nature and scope of images in advertising, media, and social media.  The skill of visual rhetoric is one that transfers far beyond the scope of our classrooms and into the global digital society in which our students spend much of their time.  When I explain the real-life connection to visual rhetoric, my students become excited as they begin to understand the need for this skill.

After introducing this concept to my AP Language class last week, I noticed one student taking a photo of his SOAPS chart completed she completed on a visual text.  When I asked what she was doing, she smiled and said, “Adding my SOAPS to my Snap Story.”

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