Multimodal analysis: Deconstructing the semiotics of a power point presentation

The fact that students should work with a variety of texts and genres is a relatively clear in the Knowledge Promotion (UDIR, 2006). The salience of this is lent to several competence aims. However, the word multimodal is not used, and the interpretation consequently becomes more open (as seen in curriculum analyses, e.g. Vattøy 2014). However, the aims about modality are implicitly formulated. In the English subject curriculum, students should be able to “produce different kinds of texts suited to formal digital requirements for different digital media” (After VG1). As shown, although not explicitly formulated, making use of different digital media multimodality will most likely be a feature. In the elaboration of digital skills, nevertheless, the idea of modality is more explicitly formulated: “Formal requirements in digital texts means that effects, images, tables, headlines and bullet points are compiled to emphasise and communicate a message” (UDIR, 2006).

PK (2010), spectral bicycle and train - with sound. Flickr, Creative Commons License

PK (2010), spectral bicycle and train – with sound. Flickr, Creative Commons License

The notion of multimodality

Multimodality implies applying different modes in the creation of an artefact. Van Leeuwen (2005) argues that the notion of semiotic resources, as introduced by Halliday (1978), is the basis for multimodality with its focus on meaning-making through different signs. Kress and van Leeuwen (1996) use children’s drawings as an example to highlight their notion of visual grammar. Still, multimodality could be understood in a much wider sense than simply the traditional idea of text, picture, and sound. Iversen and Otnes (2010) thus apply the term multimodal grammar to expand the limits of the semiotic resources available (p. 178). In their lyrical montage analysis of students’ power point presentations they apply the framework of Kress (2003) with the key notion of functional load. Kress (2003) understands functional load in terms of what affordances each mode carries and what salience it is given.

Multimodal analysis of a power point presentation

In this post, I will analyse a power point presentation I made last year in a the British Culture and Society part of the ”English VG1” subject at an upper secondary school. I will use screenshots of selected slides as basis.


Opening slide, Slide 1

The opening slide of the power point is an interesting one, and I chose it as material for my analysis because of its associations to a badge. The text that is added over and below the image, complements the image of the British coat of arms in a very beneficial way. My initial association is to a badge someone would wear on one’s jersey or sweater. I decided that the opening slide should be static, and I chose not to add any animations and movements for several reasons. First, the honour and importance of a national coat of arms is not to be used in an informal manner. Second, as an opening slide it should give some sense of a solid point of departure. The image of the coat of arms has the functional load (cf. Kress 2003) considering its central position. The text functions then arguably as an extension of the most salient modality. The function of the modalities is informative.


Henry VIII slide, Slide2.

In this slide, however, the informative function of the language is challenged by the expressional trick with the genre mixing. Making an old painting into a comic strip is an anachronistic and unusual feature. Digital texts carries the potential to allowing students to use their creative imagination when producing multimodal texts. I found the comic genre applied on photos and paintings quite interesting, and the meaning affordance alters. My students laughed out loud when they saw this slide, and I wanted to utilize the animation functions of the Power Point software. I started in the reading direction (from top) with the title and first bullet point. The two components came sliding in. Then, I let the Henry VIII painting come spiralling down on the slide with the speech bubble lightening down diagonally. This comic element dominated the whole slide after being introduced, and the students dwelled at this extension of textual information. Van Leeuwen (2005) uses the term rhythm in explaining how semiotic combinations such as animations could enhance the multimodal cohesion (p. 179).

Educational use of multimodal analyses

Analyses such as these, where students apply a framework on different multimodal texts could empower students with an enforced meta-analytical awareness. With tools for deconstructing multimodal texts, students are more able to consciously create their own multimodal texts. From a teacher’s point of view, one possibility is to assemble a framework with key terms, such as, e.g., rhythm, composition, information linking, and dialogue (cf. Van Leeuwen 2005).

Once again, I just feel I have to show one more comic-inspired power point slide, seeing as this was a feature I especially fell in love with.


Cameron Ministry, Slide 3



Halliday, M. A. K. (1978). Language as social semiotic. London: Arnold.

Iversen, H. M., & Otnes, H. (2010). Multimodale lyrikkmontasjer–teknologibruk og tolkende tekstskaping. In J. Smidt, I. Folkvord & A. J. Aasen (Eds.), Rammer for skriving. Om skriveutvikling i skole og yrkesliv (pp. 175-187). Trondheim: Tapir Akademisk Forlag.

Kress, G. R., & Van Leeuwen, T. (1996). Reading images: The grammar of visual design. New York: Psychology Press.

Kress, G. (2003). Literacy in the new media age. London & New York: Routledge.

UDIR. (2006). Læreplanverket for Kunnskapsløftet (LK06). Oslo: Utdanningsdirektoratet.

Van Leeuwen, T. (2005). Introducing social semiotics. London: Routledge.

Vattøy, K. D. (2014, Jan, 28) Curriculum analysis of the English subject (LK06): Looking for Digital Competence [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 24.03.2014]

6 thoughts on “Multimodal analysis: Deconstructing the semiotics of a power point presentation

  1. This is interesting. What you said about “rhythm, composition, information linking, and dialogue” caught my attention as I believe we need to broaden our vocabulary when talking about multimodal texts (along with hypertext etc). I am reminded of the passing of time; when I took the “PPU” year ten years ago, the only digital element was creating PPTs – and I found it by no means necessary to attend to that seminar…

    • Thanks. When reading literature on multimodality I became aware of my own narrow understanding of the term. I think a broad definition is in keeping with multisensory teaching as well as Howard Gardner’s notion of multiple intelligences. But as you point out, too often the solution tends to be a convenient PPT presentation.

  2. En veldig god analyse, KD! Takk for interessant lesing. Du bruker begreper og referanser på en overbevisende og relevant måte. Jeg liker også tegneseriemontasjene dine.

  3. Pingback: Obligatory Blog Posts | Kim-Daniel's Digital Didactical Blog

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