Eseta Tualaulelei

Making meaning

In today’s digital world, children have access to more technologies than ever to make meaning from and for their worlds. Young children see meaning everywhere in the world around them, and from a young age, children encounter and enjoy multimodal texts – texts that combine multiple modes of communication. These include storybooks made of words and pictures, or videos with animated characters and music, or online apps with colourful, responsive interfaces and interesting sounds.

Immersed in a multimodal world, children are also motivated to create texts for sharing. Early multimodal texts might be pictures drawn with various coloured crayons, with colours representing different ideas. It might be a fingerplay with the child imitating a rhyme they have heard repeatedly before. It might be a story that the child tells with a clay character that is formed and reformed as the story progresses. As the meanings children want to express become more complex, the opportunities for adults to guide them also grow. It is here, at the nexus of a child’s imagination and human creativity, that this book is positioned.

In this collection, pre-service teachers present their forays into co-constructing multimodal texts with young children. As part of their assessment for a post-graduate literacy education course, the fourteen authors here worked with children aged up to 8 years of age to bring their ideas to life through multiple modes of representation. The instructions for the assessment can be found in the Appendix but here are few key theories and ideas that the task relied upon.



Multiliteracies theory was first advanced by the New London Group (1996) in response to rapid technological developments offering new modes for communication and the increasing cultural and linguistic diversity of contemporary society. Multiliteracies went beyond traditional notions of literacy which emphasised reading and writing in standard forms of English, and it opened the way for literacy to be reconceptualised to encompass meaning-making modes that went beyond written text. Meanings conveyed by sound, space, gesture, colour and other modes enhance traditional textual meanings and combine with written or spoken text to form new and exciting ways of looking at the world.


Semiotic systems

Educators can help children learn five semiotic systems to understand meaning from multimodal texts and to create their own. These are Linguistic, Gestural, Audio, Visual and Spatial (New London Group, 1996). Linguistic refers to all aspects of written and oral language including features of delivery such as intonation and stress, coherence, cohesion and other elements. The Gestural system includes body positioning, facial expressions, proxemics, gestures and similar elements. Audio includes sound effects, music, silence and associated features. Visual refers to symbols, images, colour, perspective and other elements. Spatial elements are those conveying geographic and directional meaning. The multimodal texts in this book combine linguistic elements and one or more other systems to make meaning.


Sociocultural theory

According to sociocultural theory, social interaction is central, not ancillary to learning (Lemke, 2001; Vygotsky, 1978). Children can be motivated to create multimodal texts when they see people engaging in multiliterate behaviours around them or when they have positive experiences of multimodality themselves. When educators promote the social aspects of education and participate in learning with their students, this promotes situated learning whereby children become part of a community that engages in multiliteracies (Lave and Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998). In co-creating multimodal texts with an adult, children develop linguistic and cultural-historic repertoires that make them part of the wider meaning-making community (Rogoff, 2014; Rogoff et al., 2010; Rogoff et al., 2012). The chapters that follow exemplify how children learn by observation and social interaction.

Chapters by age and text type

While this book can be read from cover to cover, readers may wish to locate specific texts by age or text type.

This table shows the chapters by the age of the child co-author. Click on the chapter links to go directly to that chapter:

AGE OF THE CHILD Chapter Text type
11 months 14. Dear Zoo, Naomi Alberti Literary, narrative
19 months 9. My Easter Adventure, Kerry Chant Personal, recount
3 years 7. It’s Time to Mow the Yard, Kylie Saunders Personal, recount
5 years 1. Tiddler’s Late (Again)! Sophie Woodward Literary, narrative
5 years 3. Humpback Whales, Rhiannon Davis Expository, informative
6 years 4. Friends, Novi Ong Personal, recount
6 years 5. Our Day at the Beach, Melissa Meyer Personal, recount
7 years 12. Ellie’s Experience, Jayson Mullins Personal, recount
7 years 6. The Sleep Over Party, Louise Olsen Personal, recount
8 years 2. Saving Water, Sheridan Hill Expository, informative
8 years 8. How to Groom a Horse, Kylie Taylor Expository, informative
8 years 10. Trevor the Fibber, Kara Tew Literary, narrative
8 years 13. Why we Eat Anzac Biscuits on Anzac Day, Jamie Howell Expository, informative
11 years old working at Foundation/Prep level 11. Going to the Park and the Library, Julie Turner Personal, recount

This table shows the chapters grouped by the three types of text that were co-constructed – personal, literary and expository. Click on the chapter links to go directly to that chapter:

PERSONAL Expressive writing About experiences, events and people in one’s own life and about issues and topics that are of personal interest and concern. Eg diaries, journals, letters & learning journals
  Chapters 4. Friends, Novi Ong
    5. Our Day at the Beach, Melissa Meyer
    6. The Sleep Over Party, Louise Olsen
    7. It’s Time to Mow the Yard, Kylie Saunders
    11. Going to the Park and the Library, Julie Turner
    9. My Easter Adventure, Kerry Chant
    12. Ellie’s Experience, Jayson Mullins
LITERARY Imaginative/creative writing Purpose of entertaining. Eg. narratives, fairy tales, poems & play scripts
  Chapters 1. Tiddler’s Late (Again)! Sophie Woodward
    10. Trevor the Fibber, Kara Tew
    14. Dear Zoo, Naomi Alberti
EXPOSITORY Informative/factual writing Presenting facts, ideas, or opinions about non-fiction subjects. Eg. reports, explanations & procedures
  Chapters 2. Saving Water, Sheridan Hill
    3. Humpback Whales, Rhiannon Davis
    8. How to Groom a Horse, Kylie Taylor
    13. Why we Eat Anzac Biscuits on Anzac Day, Jamie Howell

The multimodal texts that children co-created with pre-service teachers for this book are inspired by creativity and wonder that can only be found in a child’s imagination. The pre-service teachers did a fair amount of planning and preparation, but more often than not, children took the co-construction to unexpected and unplanned-for places. We hope you enjoy reading about each pre-service teacher and their child co-author’s journey in learning with and from each other about multimodal literacy.


Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge University Press.

Lemke, J. L. (2001). Articulating communities: Sociocultural perspectives on science education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38(3), 296-316.

Rogoff, B. (2014). Learning by observing and pitching in to family and community endeavors: An orientation. Human Development, 57(2-3), 69-81.

Rogoff, B., Morelli, G. A., & Chavajay, P. (2010). Children’s integration in communities and segregation from people of differing ages. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5(4), 431-440.

Rogoff, B., Paradise, R., Arauz, R. M., Correa-Chávez, M., & Angelillo, C. (2012). Firsthand learning through intent participation. Análise Psicológica, 22(1), 11-31.

The New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher mental processes (A. R. Luria, M. Lopez-Morillas, M. Cole, & J. V. Wertsch, Trans.). Harvard University Press.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge University Press.


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