Should teachers use emojis in the classroom?
Some teachers have found the integration of emojis to enhance student understanding. Source: Shutterstock

Emojis are part and parcel of daily communication; the influence of our modern day pictographs is far-reaching, so much so that Oxford Dictionaries named the “face with tears of joy” pictograph its Word of the Year in 2015 due to its extensive use.

These digital images are able to convey our thoughts and feelings so succinctly that it’s no wonder they’ve made their into our classrooms. Despite that, their use in academia has divided educators, but advocates belive that emojis can facilitate students’ learning.

Charlotte Hodgson, an English teacher at Avonbourne College in Bournemouth, UK, said everyone in the English department of her secondary school uses emoji, adding that she has gotten students to summarise the points from scenes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in two main emojis before explaining it.

Hodgson added that symbols can help pupils link ideas and can lead to greater understanding, engagement and learning.

Another educator, Dawn Cich, uses emojis in the classroom to help her primary school students use precise language to describe the emotions of characters in the stories read in class. She notes that teachers can help students identify the emotion with a word (e.g. frustrated, aggravated, etc.) and pick a matching emoji.

Meanwhile, linguistics professor and author of The Emoji Code, Vyvyan Evans, told TES that there is a range of ways in which things like emojis can be used in the curriculum.

“For example, for feedback, some schools use emoji charts to signal how well students are doing. Although that was received dimly, there are ways in which ideas can be conveyed more effectively with emojis.

“There was an abridged version of an ‘emojified’ Shakespeare text that caused absolute horror for some, but in terms of helping understanding of content that can be slightly inaccessible at times, I think there’s a role for emojis,” he said.

In the same vein, Marissa King, a 5th-grade teacher at Tulsa Public Schools, opined on Edutopia that emojis can help students analyse text more effectively.

“Internet-inspired trends may not seem important next to English 101’s selected texts, but the way students seamlessly navigate emoji usage is similar to critical reading skills we practice in class. I’m not about to throw out traditional texts, but emojis offer an engaging opportunity to transfer digital skills to a written context,” she said.

Via Giphy

For example, King asks students to analyse examples of the same emoji being used in different ways and have students create social media guides for new emoji users.

This includes explaining how to determine which meaning is intended before challenging students to write generic directions for emoji comprehension, allowing novices to unravel a whole new set of emojis.

Colm Boyd, a materials writer and British Council teacher in Barcelona, suggests that educators can help students practise narrative tenses by showing them “a story that is ‘written’ in emojis” before asking them “to translate it into ‘real’ English”.

“Once the learners are familiar with this type of activity, you can take it further. Ask them to ‘write’ their own stories in emojis (on their phones, laptops or just by drawing). Then, give their story to a classmate who will interpret it in written or spoken English,” he said.

Clearly, there are many ways to integrate emojis in the classroom to help students learn. While there are educators who are divided over their use, there’s no denying that some teachers have found success integrating them into their lessons.

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