“The Systemic Approach to teaching visual texts emphasizes explicit teaching of the generic features of visual texts and introduces the common multimodal strategies used to engage viewers. It aims to provide a set of pedagogical scaffolds, informed by Systemic-Functional Theory and insights from multimodal research, to provide students with a structure and appropriate meta-language to interpret visual texts.”

“The Systemic Approach is named as such, given its roots in Systemic-Functional Multimodal Discourse Analysis (SFMDA) (Jewitt, Bezemer and O’Halloran 2016 ; O’Halloran and Lim, 2014 ), which is an application of the Systemic-Functional Theory developed by Halliday (1985) . As O’Halloran and Lim observe, “The term ‘systemic’ also describes the underlying organization of semiotic resources which enable the resources to be used for different purposes. The systems of meaning are typically modeled as inter-related ‘system networks’ (Halliday and Matthiessen 2004 ; Martin 1992; Kress and van Leeuwen, (2006) to describe the meaning potentials of semiotic resources (O’Halloran and Lim, 2014 : 138).”

Lim, F.V., & Tan, K.Y.S. (2017). Multimodal Translational Research: Teaching Visual Texts. IN Seizov, O. & Wildfeuer, J. (EDS.), New Studies in Multimodality: Conceptual and Methodological Elaborations (PP.175-200). London/New York: Bloomsbury.


The Systemic Approach pedagogy to the teaching of multimodal texts involves students learning the different system choices available in language and images. This is done through the introduction of the system choices available to the producer of the text via system networks.

Students are taught to identify these choices in the selected multimodal text and to explain how these choices lead to certain meanings being made. This can be facilitated to varying degrees by annotating the text with the technology tools listed below.  More advanced tools, such as the Multimodal Analysis Image/Video, also provide options for visualisation of the analysis.

Students are encouraged to support their interpretations of the multimodal texts by citing textual evidences from their analysis. This is achieved through worksheets  designed with questions to lead students from textual description to textual analysis (see Lesson Exemplar).

Finally, students are given opportunities to articulate their views and discuss the ideologies in the multimodal text by identifying the strategies used to appeal to the reader. Students may be invited to present their analysis and defend their interpretation of the text to the class.


Jewitt, C., & Kress, G. (Eds.).  (2003). Multimodal literacy. New York: Peter Lang.Kress, G., Jewitt, C., Bourne, J., Franks, A., Hardcastle, J., Jones, K. & Reid, E. (2005). English in urban classrooms: A multimodal perspective on teaching and learning. London, UK: RoutledgeFalmer.Lim, F.V. & O’Halloran, K.L. (submitted for publication). Teaching Multimodal Literacy: An Exploratory Study. In Journal of Information Technology Education: Innovations in Practice.

Lim. F. V., O’Halloran, K. L., & Podlasov. A. (2012). Spatial Pedagogy: Mapping Meanings in the Use of Classroom Space. In Cambridge Journal of Education, 42:2, 235-251.

Lim, F.V. & O’Halloran, K.L. (2012). The Ideal Teacher: Analysis of a Teacher-Recruitment Advertisement  in Semiotica.Vol 189. No 1/4, pp. 229-254

O’Halloran, K.L. & Lim, F.V. (2014). Systemic Functional Multimodal Discourse Analysis. In Norris, S & Maier C. Text, Images and Interactions: A reader in multimodality. De Gruyter

O’Halloran, K. L., Podlasov, A., Chua, A., Tisse, C.-L. and Lim, F. V. (2015). Challenges and Solutions to Multimodal Analysis: Technology, Theory and Practice. In Y. Fang and J. Webster (eds). Developing Systemic Functional Linguistics: Theory and Application. London: Equinox

Tan, S., E, Marissa K. L., & O’Halloran, K. L. (2012). Multimodal Analysis Image (Teacher Edition and Student Edition). Multimodal Analysis Company: Singapore.

Walsh, M. (2009). Pedagogic potentials of multimodal literacy. In Tan, W. H. L., & Subramanian, R. (Eds.), Handbook of Research on New Media Literacy at the K-12 Level: Issues and Challenges. US: Science Reference, Hershey.


[1] Halliday, M.A.K., and C.M.I.M. Matthiessen (2004). An introduction to functional grammar, 3d ed. London, Arnold

[2] FY 2012 Committee of Supply Debate: 1st Reply by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Education on Student-Centric, Values-Driven Education: Nurturing an Inclusive and Stronger Singapore http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/speeches/2012/03/08/fy-2012-committee-of-supply-debate-1st-reply.php

[3] O’Halloran, K. L., Tan, S., Smith, B. A., & Podlasov, A. (2010). Challenges in designing digital interfaces for the study of multimodal phenomena. Information Design Journal, 18(1), 2-12.

[4] O’Halloran, K. L. & Lim, F. V. (2011). Dimensioner af Multimodal Literacy. Viden om Læsning. Number 10, September 2011, pp. 14-21. Nationalt Videncenter for Laesning: Denmark.