The system of emojis is clearly an example of human ingenuity at work. The site Emojipedia.org  states that "...there are 3,521 emojis in the Unicode Standard as of October 2020..." - and that represents an awful lot of creative imagination at work!

Emojis spring out at you in all forms of online written communication - but what do they actually mean? Do they enhance language, or do they deform it? The article that forms the basis of this page argues that emojis do not, indeed cannot, replace language - but they can complement language.

So, what we are setting out to do here is, firstly, to stimulate students to think about emojis and about how they use them; and then secondly, to consider carefully the theory behind emojis: the research reported in the article and what this tells us about the relation between emojis and language.

#1 - how emojis are used

This activity requires students to review their own personal use of emojis, widening out to considering the most popular emojis, and what they mean.

Step 1 ... Ask students which emoji they use most often, and then why they use, for what purpose, and in which context(s). Run this as a relaxed cheerful discussion, just exploring the subject in general - but emphasise that the discussion is about their real experience.

Step 2 ... Using the previous discussion as a starting point, collect from the students real examples of how they have used emojis. Ideally, you should aim to collect these examples online, and be able to project them in class, for detailed discussion.

Online collection - How can you do this? The most direct way will be to ask students to copy/paste their chosen example into an email, and then send the email to you, for you to edit into some projectable format.


Set the collection task as a small-group project, and get the students to collect and edit their examples ... and then you may have to collect these group products for projection controlled by you.

You may have to discuss this collection process with your students, to pool technological means in order to produce the end of efficient collection.

NOTE: the site Emojipedia.org  has a list of all accepted emojis - and there is a system for copying them easily, so that they can be pasted into normal documents, thus making the process of collecting and editing rather simpler

Step 3 ... Talk through the collected examples, concentrating particularly on what each emoji means in relation to the specific text / context. The key point must be to explore what emojis mean - whether they add to the language used, and if so, how, with what meaning.

Basically, what is the point of emojis - and what do they actually mean?

Step 4 ... Widening out from the students' own experience, you could project the following lists of 'most popular emojis', taken from the statistics section of emojipedia.org ...





You might ask them to consider, individually or in groups

  • Which emoji(s) seem to be the most popular?
  • And why? What makes an emoji so popular?
  • What differences do you observe between the two lists?
  • What explanations might there be for the differences? Consider #1 dates + #2 software : Twitter versus general use?

Finally ... if there is sufficient interest, provide the students with the link to the following website: Emojipedia.org - which, as the name suggests, provides encyclopedic information about emojis.

Ask them to do research into Emojipedia, and then produce some sort of report ...

EITHER an oral presentation (probably accompanied by a projection of some kind, to show the emojis)

OR a written blog

... and I would recommend the basic subject to be either (i) 'What are the most useful emojis, and why?' OR (ii) 'What are the wierdest, or most peculiar, or most useless emojis?'


#2 - research into emojis

This activity involves the reading comprehension of a fairly complex article about research into emojis. Here is the text...

The main purpose of the article is to present ideas about emojis to the students, and so the handout has an exercise in global comprehension: the student has to select the four 'True' statements out of twelve options. I have chosen the target 'True' statements to focus attention on the central ideas of the text.

Here are the expected answers to the 'True statements' exercise:

C... E... I... K

The language of the article is quite sophisticated, both in vocabulary and in relatively complicated compound sentence structure. You may find it useful, even necessary, to work through the text, making sure that students have grasped the complexities reasonably well - explaining words and checking that important individual sentences have been understood accurately.

Key ideas, for discussion

(1) The author's basic concept is that emojis function in written communication in the same kind of way as "the tone and pitch of the voice, facial expressions, hand gestures, body language" (lines 34-35) do in oral communication. They express attitude and emotion, thus adding to or emphasising the fundamental meaning communicated by 'proper' language.

So, as well as considering the relationships of emojis with written language, one can draw students attention to the importance of intonation in speech - and even, say, explore the different meanings of gestures in different language cultures. It will help students to develop fluency and effectiveness in speech if they are consciously aware of the whole field of non-verbal communication.

(2) A TOK element can be addressed through the author's proposition that "thinking in emojis may be possible" (line 49). For one thing, what does one mean by 'thinking' in this context? How might emojis help us to handle thought? And for another thing, consider the author's insistence that the communicative value of emojis is limited because the emoji system lacks grammar and so will never be capable of handling ideas that are "as structurally complex as the full-sentence constructs we’re capable of with language" (lines 51-52) - why is grammar so important?


And anyway, don't various languages have graphic elements... ?


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