Emojis, Newer Literacies, and Digital Writing


Dr. Troy Hicks is a professor of English at Central Michigan University and a Teaching and Learning Consultant with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. He focuses his work on the teaching of writing, literacy and technology, and teacher education and professional development. A former middle school teacher, he collaborates with K–12 colleagues and explores how they implement newer literacies in their classrooms.

In the annual tradition of the Oxford Dictionaries “Word of the Year,” — for the first time ever — something other than a word was chosen. That’s right, the 2015 word of the year isn’t really a word.


This year, the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji was picked. As they explain on their blog:

There were other strong contenders from a range of fields, outlined below, but  tears-of-joy-emoji was chosen as the ‘word’ that best reflected the ethos, mood, and preoccupations of 2015.

On the one hand, this seems outrageous! How is it that an image (or, as Oxford Dictionaries state, a “pictograph”) be chosen as a word? An image has no letters that form it into writing and no corresponding sound in speaking. It doesn’t seem right that this could be a word, right?

On the other hand, when we look at Oxford’s definition for pictograph, we can see that they “were used as the earliest known form of writing.” And, as this video from Bill Nye suggests, pictographs have, indeed, been a significant form of human communication. In fact, ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Maya, and other cultures used pictographs to communicate with one another and, they believed, with their gods.

As you consider the Oxford Dictionaries’ choice, you might have students compose a piece of digital writing such as:

  • An infographic using survey results and quotes from your classmates. You can use Google Docs to generate a brief survey asking your peers about their use of emojis, and then compile the results into a compelling infographic with Piktochart.
  • A podcast where you interview some adults and peers about their thoughts related to using emojis and other forms of “digitalk.” Record their interviews with your smartphone and then compile the answers into a single audio file with Audacity, Garageband, or Twisted Wave.
  • A text-message conversation where you communicate with a friend only with emojis. After the conversation, take a snapshot with Skitch or Snag It and then annotate it to describe what you think your friend meant. Have your friend do the same. Then compare what each of you thought about the conversation.

Emojis are probably here to stay, so we better figure out how to communicate with them in sunglasses  and graduation ways!



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  1. Emily Connor said:

    That’s write, last year saw a lot of change – from “dis styl of wrtng” to emojis.
    Wondering when will stationery shops sell pens and stamps to use emojis in the school work too. 😛

  2. Wesley said:

    We’re returning to basics. But it’s funny to use emojis. One day we’ll use them even in serious cases such as writing essays. It’ll look like a joke if you find here essayscorer more pictures than words.

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