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Be like Bill.

January 24, 2016

Does anyone else have a Facebook newsfeed that is completely filled with 'Be like Bill' graphics? I haven't generated one for myself, but I have seen lots and lots and LOTS over the past few days. The app that creates them notices a trend in your Facebook activity and turns it into a snarky meme that ends with either "Be smart. Be like [your name]." or "Don't be stupid. Don't be like [your name]."

Be Like Bill for Language Acquisition

Deirdre Kelly emailed me yesterday and suggested that it would be a great to find a way to use the "Be like Bill" posts to generate comprehensible input for our students, and I agree!

Now, here is the important part. "Be like Bill" memes are usually passive aggressive (read: not nice). A meme that says "Jen doesn't post pictures of everything that she eats on Facebook. Be smart. Be like Jen." communicates that people that DO post pictures of everything they eat on Facebook are not smart or otherwise obnoxious. As we re-create this activity in our classes, it is important to leave behind the subtle--or sometimes not-so-subtle--unkindness.

Generating "Be like Bill" memes has tons of potential because of its flexibility. Essentially, each meme that you generate will be a mini-story. You can create a story "script" or "frame" using any core vocabulary structure that you want. If you want to focus on a new structure, you can use the same script to generate similar memes for many different students, or you could use many different meme scripts to provide repetitions of old structures.


Before class, plan a story frame. There are a bunch of frames (provided in Spanish and in English) in this editable file. I formatted the frames in the same way that I write all of my story scripts, à la Matava, and you can read a tutorial on how to use my story scripts here. Basically, anything that is underlined is a detail that is to be determined by the class. Anything that is NOT underlined is a pre-determined part of the story. The "Be like Bill" meme frames that I put together do not contain target structures in boldface font because you will be targeting anything that is new to your students. If you use the frames that I put together, remember that you can do anything that you want with them! You can change the language completely, or you could swap out synonyms that allow you to review structures that you've already targeted or to target NEW structures if your students have already acquired the ones in the meme frame. It all depends on whether you want to use this as a recycling activity or an activity for new content.


In class, have a copy of the frame that you want to use in your hand, but don't let students see it during the activity!

Begin by bringing a student up to the front of your class and introducing him or her. In the target language, say, "This is [student's name]". *If you are able, download this simple template and project it throughout the activity. Type each new line into the template so that students can see the meme being generated throughout the activity. 

Next, ask the first line of the actual story. In the example pictured here, the first line is "Bill went to Japan." To "ask" the line, you turn that statement into a question, remembering that "Japan" is a detail that will be decided by your class, and will most likely be different than whatever is written in the frame. In this case, you would ask, "Where did [student's name] go?". Accept suggestions from your students and circle them, and once an interesting answer is given, take it and affirm it. "Yes! [student's name] went to Costco".

Ask the next line(s) of the story in the same way. In this case, "What did [student's name] learn to do at Costco?"

Most of the frames that I wrote contain a 'logical consequence' as the last line of the story before final admonition. In the frames, almost the entire line is underlined. That means that your class needs to come up with a logical (or not-so-logical) consequence for the action of the story on their own. In the example pictured, Bill had gone to Japan and learned to be a Ninja. To prompt your students to come up with the next line, you could ask questions like, "Bill went to Japan and learned how to do karate. What is the result/consequence of these events/of this decision?" Or, using the Costco example, you could ask, "What did [student's name] do after he learned how to [buy lots of toilet paper] at Costco?" You might end up with something like, "He covered Trump Tower in toilet paper".

End the story with an admonition, either positive or negative: "Be smart. Be like [student's name]", or "Don't be silly. Don't be like [student's name]." In Spanish, this is a wonderful opportunity, because those are both irregular, informal commands. Choose the positive or the negative form based on the last line of the story, and discuss it with your class: were the student's actions smart or silly, and why? *While the original meme is done with the informal, singular command, you could absolutely make it a plural command.

I must reiterate the importance of keeping the activity light hearted and somewhat whimsical. If you use real-life things that your students do and have opinions about, you run a very real risk of bullying a student in your class, even if unintentionally.


Instead of doing this activity all day, every day until all students in the class have a meme, I would spend a small amount of class each day generating memes for 3-4 students. If you use 3-4 different meme frames, you would have the opportunity to repeat each one every day until you've covered all students in your class. That provides you with MANY potential repetitions of the target structures in each frame. If all of the meme frames that you choose contain new structures, it would be quite overwhelming and ultimately incomprehensible (too much, too fast) to introduce all of them on the same day. So consider this plan:

If only one of the meme frames contains all new target structures, or if each meme frame contains just 1 new target structure, it would be reasonable to introduce several meme frames on the same day and continue to repeat that same set each day in class until all students have a meme.

The day after you create a meme with your class, show it to them again to review it. I would also recommend printing out a copy and giving it to the subject student and/or posting one in the classroom or hallway as a bulletin board. (Posting them in the hallway is awesome because they will turn into school-wide mock-PSAs--great publicity for your awesome language class--and will be a great  opportunity for your students to review the structures throughout the day. Students in your classes will see the memes from other sections and will be able to understand most of each one because the frames will be similar, and they will be asked what they mean by other students in the school that are not in your classes.)

The slides carry a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license, so you can edit, use, and share them however you want as long as you credit the original source (this post) and share anything that you create with the same license (for example, you can't slap a copyright on it and start selling it).

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