How To Use Emojis for More Meaningful, Mindful Classroom Discussions

Emojis, which originated in Japan, have become an omnipresent aspect of digital communication across the globe. As more students rely on technology as a primary form of learning and communicating, it only makes sense to incorporate these small digital images into the classroom. 

While some educators see emojis as distracting or detrimental, they can be harnessed to help students connect to their emotions, improve communication and deepen understanding. Here’s a look at the benefits of using emojis in the classroom, plus how to use them in lesson plans. 

Understanding Emojis in the Classroom

Emojis are a crucial way that young people interpret and share emotions in the digital age. They can also be used to connect ideas, boost engagement and promote deeper learning. For example, primary school educator Dawn Cich says she uses them to help students interpret and describe the emotions of characters in books. 

Emojis can also help students of different backgrounds and languages connect, as the meaning behind many emojis differs from country to country, says Ryan Eyers at Babbel Magazine. Rather, emojis are used to supplement words and phrases to reinforce meaning. However, as long as people have a shared understanding of what an emoji means (which is easy with simple emojis, like the heart or smile), it can be used to bridge cultural and linguistic barriers.

Emojis may also represent a societal shift toward more visual communication. According to art educator and illustrator Catherine A. Moore, emojis are working alongside other digital mediums to advance our ability to communicate with pictures. While seemingly simple in nature, they can communicate complex emotions and abstract ideas.

Tips and Tools for Classroom Emojis 

When using emojis in the classroom, it’s important to reach a universal understanding of what the main emojis mean. This will prevent any misunderstanding that can lead to hurt feelings or confusion. 

Colm Boyd at British Council suggests using just 20 to 30 of the over 2,000 emojis that are available for use and ensure the meaning for each is understood. The blushing face, for example, denotes that the sender is embarrassed. These descriptions should include adjectives, feelings, physicality, expression, and narrative tenses to ensure that students fully grasp their meaning.

Another strategy for introducing emojis into the classroom is to do an activity around emojis and tone of voice. Middle school teacher Erin Beers at Classroom Tested Resources suggests printing out emojis with their associated emotions and putting them on popsicle sticks. Then, each student reads a sentence in the tone that corresponds with their emoji on a stick. 

The tone helps them understand the message being conveyed by each emoji, and goes to preventing miscommunication. This is important when introducing emojis for use in the classroom because it ensures students know how to use them correctly.

One tool that teachers might choose to employ is an emoji keyboard. Using a browser extension, such as this one for Chrome, makes it easy to use emojis in grading, emails and other student communications directly from your computer. Emojis become part of the academic process regardless of the program or device you’re using and beyond specific lesson plans.

Teachers who want to expand beyond emojis might also use a tool like Bitmoji or Mojicam. These tools enable students to create their own personalized emoji, helping them represent themselves visually, explain educators Sam Weigle and Kathryn Caprino at International Literacy Association. Bitmojis are a jumping point for “about me” activities where students can introduce their culture, hobbies and passions.

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Feedback and Assessment

One of the most common ways today’s teachers use emojis in lesson plans is as a tool for feedback and self assessment. Teachers using Google Classroom can use the comment feature in Google Drive to add emojis to their comments.

Students may also benefit from using emojis as a tool for academic self-assessment, writes teacher Lucie Renard at Book Widgets. For example, there may be an assessment rubric handed out after an assignment that features a number of questions such as “I can start an answer with an introduction.” Each of these questions would be accompanied by a smiley face, an uncertain face and a sad face, symbolizing agreement, uncertainty and disagreement, respectively. 

From an emotional perspective, emojis can be used to assess feelings and attitudes about a particular topic, says Byron L. Ernes, Ed.D., director of educator development and partnerships at Noble Education Initiative. They provide a quick check-in for teachers who want feedback on how students are feeling on a daily basis. 

Emojis in English and Writing

Emojis can be used to advance student writing too. Educators Suzanne Crowley and Jennifer Fischer says teachers can challenge students to take risks in their writing by using figurative or academic language, for instance, and highlight these phrases with emojis. The “smiley strategies” make the teachers aware of the compositional risks, and help students identify them in their own writing, they explain.

Another simple strategy uses emojis to practice the past tense with younger students. Online elearning consultant Lindsay Clandfield at Cambridge University Press calls it emoji weekend. Start on Monday by asking students to describe their weekend in just five emojis. Then, students pair up and try to decode the emojis to determine what their partner did that weekend.

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Emojis for Mindfulness

Emojis can be used to foster more mindfulness around feelings and emotions. They can also serve as a launching pad for meaningful discussions about emotions and feelings — especially among children. 

University lecturer, researcher and registered teacher Jennifer Fane led a study that sought to better understand the well-being of preschool children. After showing these young children a variety of emojis and asking for their responses, it was found that more neutral faces demonstrated greater ideas, discussion and debate. This suggests that neutral emojis could be used by teachers to spark discussions around emotions and long-term mental wellbeing.

One lesson plan that can use emojis to foster mindful, emotional discussion comes from teacher Christine de Guzman. After introducing emojis and gauging students familiarity with them, she asks older students to discuss situations where a friend might use a certain emoji, and how to respond to such a message. She also asks students to share about the last time they used an emoji, and why. 

This helps cultivate meaningful discussion around emojis and create mindfulness by helping students tap into their feelings. De Guzman points out that students of different ages may respond differently to emojis, so it can also be a learning experience for the teacher to see how certain icons elicit specific emotions — and how that influences students feelings.

Images by: rawpixel©/123RF.com, Alina Grigoreva©/123RF.com, rawpixel©/123RF.com

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