Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT)

Learning Outcome: Students will be expected to demonstrate familiarity with the terms of Cultural-Historical Activity Theory and other important Activity Theory terms and concepts – this specifically includes the ability to use Activity Theory and other concepts as practical writing research tools for making decisions about new genres and writing situations.  (See Learning Outcome pages for more detail:


Learning About

Video:  CHAT: How Sweet It Is! Mapping Out the Activity of Writing

Description: This short, animated video is probably the best “first resource” for learning about Pedagogical CHAT, which is the framework the ISU Writing Program uses to connect Cultural-Historical Activity Theory to specific practices for thinking and learning about writing in real-world situations.  This video might be great to watch before reading the articles in the Grassroots Writing Research Journal (see some reading suggestions for archived article below).  Written definitions of P-CHAT terms and concepts can be found in our Key Concepts page.

Keywords: Cultural-Historical Activity Theory, Activity Theory, Actor-Network Theory

Author: Michelle Wright


Video: Activity theory: Because things are actors too

Description: This video provides a short, easily accessible explanation of the triangle model used to explain Activity Theory.  Activity theory is an important part of our Pedagogical CHAT model, although we don’t use the AT triangle specifically. However, the important concept discussed in this video, which is the relationships between humans, tools and activities, is a critical component of our program.  Although this video describes the Activity Theory Triangle, it’s really useful to think about how the concepts in this video match up with our program’s  P-CHAT terms.

Keywords: Cultural-Historical Activity Theory, Activity Theory, Actor-Network Theory

Author: The Word Bird


Video: History And Writing: Is Writing Ever a Solo Sport?

Description: This video challenges the idea that writing is just something a single writer does in a single place in time.  It uses concepts of activity theory to show how even the process of writing a love letter is mediated by tools and settings and other humans.  It also focuses on the idea that all the tools and activities of writing are complicated processes that evolve over time (which is a genre theory concept, so this video can also be used to discuss the idea that “genres are typified responses to reoccurring situations” (Carolyn Miller, “Genres as Social Action,” 1984).  This video doesn’t really explain what Activity Theory is, so you should watch the two video listed above before watching this video!

Keywords:  Activity Theory, genre

Author: The Word Bird


Podcast: Beyond 101 Series

Description: If you want to listen to CHAT in action, you can listen to any of the podcasts in our Beyond 101 Podcast series. These podcasts don’t give overviews lecture of all  P-CHAT terms we use in our program. Instead they offer some really interesting (ISU focused) stories about the different kinds of writing people (including ISU students) do in the world.  When you listen, notice how these stories illustrate how people/situations/tools/genres of writing are all inter-connected.  That’s why CHAT can be a useful tool for learning to write in the world.  No matter how simple a piece of writing may seem, there is always a complex history and context that shapes it’s production.

Keywords:  Beyond 101, Writing in the World

Author:  ISU Writing Program Undergraduate Interns (Various)


Our Favorite Grassroots Articles on CHAT

Articles – The Grassroots Writing Research Journal specifically focuses on using CHAT to explore a wide range of literate activities. Below is a list of our favorite articles that can help to explain and give examples of CHAT in action.


Issue 2.2 – Understanding Language and Culture with Cultural Historical Activity Theory 

Description: This article gives an overview of CHAT, and also explains a couple of different ways our PCHAT model can be used to explore writing in the world.

What’s it Good for?: Understanding CHAT!

Keywords: CHAT

Author: Tyler Kostecki


Issue 1 – Just CHATting

Description: Joyce R. Walker discusses cultural-historical activity theory and how it’s a useful tool for examining “how/why/what of writing (Literate Activity)

What’s it Good for?: Understanding CHAT!

Keywords: CHAT, Literate Activity

Author: Joyce R. Walker


Issue 6.2 – Cultural-Historical Activity Theory: Because S*#t is Complicated

Description: Joyce R. Walker discusses cultural-historical activity theory and how it’s a useful tool for examining “how/why/what of writing (Literate Activity)

What’s it Good for?: Understanding CHAT!

Keywords: CHAT, Literate Activity

Author: Joyce R. Walker


 Issue 7.2 – Gone to the Dogs (and Cats, and Rabbits, and Various Other Small Animals): Writing for Animals at HSCI 

Description: Heidi Bowman, an animal person who describes herself as “half-cat” and is only half-joking, uses CHAT to look at how human beings can use writing to help other animals. She focuses on the writing surrounding the animals at the Humane Society of Central Illinois (HSCI) in Normal,

What’s it Good for?: Uses CHAT terms in a real, live activity system, showing how our literate activities impact others.  This article doesn’t give a complete overview of CHAT terms, so readers might want to read other GWRJ article first, or watch videos (above!).

Keywords: CHAT, Literate Activity, Human Society

AuthorHeidi Bowman


Issue 8.1 – CHATting About Greatness: Applying CHAT to “the 46” Defense

Description: Using his antecedent knowledge about the game he loves (football), Braeden Weiss explores how cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) helped him to understand the creation of one of the most innovative defenses of all time.

What’s it Good for?: Like the Human Society article (above), this article doesn’t provide a complete overview of CHAT; however, it does illustrate how CHAT concepts can be used to understand literate activities that might not, at first glance, seem to employ much “writing.” Football as writing — who knew?

Keywords: CHAT, Literate Activity, sports

Author: Braeden Weiss


Issue 5.1 – Angela Rides the Bus: A High Stakes Adventure Involving Riveting Research, Amazing Activity Systems, and a Stylish Metacognitive Thinking Cap

Description: Using a visual style that remediates genres of children’s books, this article uses Activity-Theory to explore the process of researching and learning to navigate the Bloomington-Normal bus system.

What’s it Good for?: Rather than starting out with an overall explanation of CHAT concepts, this article uses the example of a common activity (riding the bus) to show how many genres we encounter — and how we use different genres to navigate activity systems.  The article doesn’t use the Literate Activity concepts of CHAT, although is does connect them to generally, “activity-based” CHAT models.  Great article, and an easy way to think about how we live surrounded by writing we never even notice.

Keywords: CHAT, Activity Systems

Author: Angela Sheets


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