A few years ago, I discussed with an elementary school teacher the difficulties of engaging a new, technologically savvy (and often obsessed) generation of students. Above all, one particular pain point stood out to him: emojis. He’d received homework assignments, even essays, that included the ubiquitous little yellow faces. He hadn’t figured out how to eliminate the pictographic scourge, and his every one of his many efforts were in vain.
But, I countered, it seems both unwise and impractical to try to build such a wall around students’ self-expression. The language of social media -- abbreviations, gifs, and, of course, emojis -- is now an integral part of their dialect. I don’t believe this to be a bad change. Discourse evolves naturally over time, and many of us are left bewildered in the resulting dust. However, the written word does have advantages over emojis in many cases. Teaching students to understand these advantages, rather than pronouncing their method of communication inferior, seemed to me a much better way of proceeding.
It was this discussion that sparked the idea for the Emoji Lesson. Students are asked to translate back and forth between emojis and written words, exercising their writing skills while utilizing their most relevant cultural currency. This lesson allows teachers to not only emphasize the importance of language, but also teach vocabulary in a fun, effective manner. The lesson includes comments to guide teachers in administering the curriculum.