Practicing Inferring by Interpreting Memes

Luann Pascucci, Kanda University of International Studies

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Making inferences, author stance/intent, discussion
  • Learner English level: Upper beginner and above
  • Learner maturity: Junior high school to university
  • Preparation time: Around 30 minutes
  • Activity time: 30-40 minutes
  • Materials: White/blackboard, a few memes sourced from the internet that are appropriate in terms of language proficiency and content. If printing on paper, take care to ensure the picture is clear. Memes can also be presented to the class on a slide if using a projector.

Memes are a key online communication currency, typically consisting of some text paired with a picture, GIF, or video. People create memes using a limited number of words to communicate their message in a humorous manner, relying on the reader to infer various pieces of information. Inferring information such as author stance, intent, and also author identity (for example, college student) is typically tested in exams such as the TOEFL or TOEIC, as well as required when writing a research paper and evaluating a source’s credibility. Having students evaluate memes is easy and enjoyable cognitive skills practice that requires little preparation on the part of the instructor.


Step 1: Prepare about 4-5 memes. It is more interesting to prepare memes that reference a variety of situations and authors, such as everyday vs. extreme situations, emotional states, college students vs. college graduates, and so forth. The picture content of memes is also a potential source of cultural education, with some memes referring to pop culture such as Mr. Rogers or Adventure Time. Memes can be prepared on a handout or a slide presentation if using a projector.

Step 2: For each meme, prepare a handout or a slide with questions related to the authorship, audience, and meaning of the meme. Refer to the appendix for examples.

Step 3: Prepare some possible answers to the questions in Step 2 for each meme.


Step 1: Arrange students into small groups of 3-4.

Step 2: Inform students that they will need to discuss a meme with their group members and agree on their answers to the questions.

Step 3: Distribute handouts with questions (and memes, if printed), and allow about five minutes for students to answer the questions about each meme. Invite each group to write their answers on the board for a whole class discussion.

Step 4: Direct students to examine each answer and evaluate if it is similar to or different from their answers, and then remind them that there is very likely more than one correct answer.

Step 5: Repeat the process with another meme. Repeat as much as time or student interest allows.

Step 6: To finish the activity, remind students that the skills practice they just completed can be done with any kind of text or message. Remind them that if they can do this with a meme, they can develop these skills with more text-heavy reading passages like those on the TOEFL, TOEIC, and other exams.


This activity can also be adapted by giving each group a different meme and presenting their interpretation and inferences to the class. Alternatively, students can create their own meme and explain or invite classmates to guess the audience, message, and author stance.


This activity uses a popular internet communication medium to create a relaxed environment in which to practice higher-order cognitive skills. It is a way to introduce this skills practice while mitigating linguistic input, allowing students to make a wide variety of guesses.


The appendix is available below: