Emojis – adding personality to communication (and lessons!)

The BBC’s Word of Mouth is one of my favourite radio shows.  While listening to a recent episode, Emoji: The Future of Language, it was reported that UK adults now spend on average more than 20 hours a week online!1. One of the reasons for this is the use of apps in digital communication which has also led to more and more people using emojis. In 2015 an emoji, ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ was the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year (even though it’s actually a pictograph).

WOTY emoji banner

Emojis are a fun way for people to express emotion and empathy in online interaction.  Have you ever used emojis in class? I haven’t yet but it got me thinking as my students (adults, teens and kids) are likely to be using them every day.

Vyvan Evans highlightss that when we communicate we often use speech prosody to better transmit what we want to say; this includes intonation, tone, stress and rhythm to indicate sarcasm, irony, to show contrast and emphasize among many other things.  To compensate for the lack of this paralanguage in written communication we tend to use emojis which add ‘personality’ to our messages.  Vyv also mentions research that suggests the use of emojis in the digital age makes us more effective communicators.

The Emoji Code (UK edition)

I found a good idea for the use of emojis in the classroom from Tim at freeennlgishlessonplans.com.  He posted a lesson plan after attending a conference by Lindsay Clandfield.  I think it could be easily adapted for many different classes.

A final, interesting finding was the use of emojis in different countries; Canadians use the 💩emoji most, French 💕 emojis (four times more than anyone else!), Arabic users more 🌺 emojis, and Brits…. 🍺!

1. Ofcom Adults’ media use and attitudes report 2016.

Emojipedia – The emoji search engine. A fast emoji search experience with options to browse every emoji by name, category, or platform.


Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

Interactive immersive reading

This story is definitely for high level students, advanced or proficient levels.  It’s a fairly topical story this time of year.  I recently found myself teaching my elementary students the meaning, pronunciation and etymology of the word ‘avalanche‘ after the disaster at the Hotel Rigopiano near Gran Sasso mountain last month .  We attended a concert here in Doha which was arranged to help raise money for the Municipal Councils of  Fiastra and Acquacanina in Le Marche, Italy.  These two villages were affected by the recent earthquakes in Italy.


Included in the story are interviews with people affected, videos, maps of the area, and animations.


The New York Time: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek

Subterranean London

Students are always interested in finding more about English speaking countries, none more so than good ol’ blighty.  Most of my students here in Qatar have only ever visited London.  They enjoy the shopping, fancy restaurants, tourist sites, palaces and museums;  so why not teach them about the subterranean sewage system!?  Something different and not likely to be found in the old fashioned textbook.  Being serious, this story is interesting and has lots of short accessible written texts, sound effects and authentic native speech which is sure to engage and interest them.



(This could have helped us in our last pub quiz: Which city was the largest city in the world during the middle of the 19th century? We chose Istanbul.)

The Guardian: Subterranean London.

Immersive Interactive Reading

Multimodal media is another way of providing students with the authentic contextualised input that is required when learning a language.  Immersive interactive reading is now freely available online and uses images, music, graphic design, animation and videos of spoken and written language.

Richard Kern (2015:194) notes that multimodal communication isn’t new and has in fact been the norm for most modes of communication for a long long time; just think of those beautifully designed medieval manuscripts or rebus books, theatre performances, science textbooks, concrete poetry, comic books, newspapers, magazines, television, the list goes on.

I often read The Guardian online and have come across news stories or special segments which include multimodal media.  I have included some of these articles here as I think not only are they very interesting but can also be of great help to learners of English.

If you are interested in finding out more about the integration of reading material into classroom practice, I recommend reading the article by Klaus Brandl.

I have mainly used these interactive reading stories as homework exercises; we discuss some of the main issues in class and students can offer ideas on what they expect to find in the stories.  I’ll also pre-teach any interesting language.

Brandl, Klaus (2002) Integrating Internet-based reading material into the foreign language curriculum: from teacher- to student-centred approaches.

Kern, Richard (2015) Language, Literacy, and Technology.

Digital Fiction

I’ve always preferred holding a paperback book in my hands, turning the pages myself and watching as the book acquires its own creases as it ages in my possession.  It took me a while before I actually decided to buy an ebook reader which I could upload a wide range of books on my travels.  There are advantages and disadvantages to both formats and  I love them both.

Digital media does offer some interesting innovations to the way we read.  The reader can choose the direction they wish to take in a narrative.  I used to love those maze reading books in which you were given an option to jump to different pages depending on a particular decision you wished to take.  Audio and visual aspects can also be used in more creative ways.

In We Tell Stories, Penguin has chosen six stories which are specifically designed for the internet.  They are stories that are based on other famous classics but allow readers to interact with the stories differently from traditional print media.



Penguin Readers

I’m a big fan of graded reader or easy reader books.  When I was starting learning Spanish and Italian they were an important part of my exposure to authentic contextualised vocabulary.  I also really enjoy reading so these books were an excellent way of combining two hobbies.  I often tell students that they should find reading material related to their hobbies to develop their awareness of language conventions and get more exposure to the target language.


Don Camillo was a graded reader book which I fondly remember from studying Italian at university.  He is a fairly well known character in Italy, possibly a little dated now, but it introduced me to a popular cultural figure who has starred in a number of films and even a BBC television series.  I remember Lola Lago as the accompanying audio really helped develop my listening skill as well.  It’s a mystery story and was suitably interesting to keep me listening and then read again.

I try to get my students to read these types of books.  They are widely available in local book stores and are produced by the largest publishers, including the Cambridge English Readers from Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press Graded Readers.

Pearson’s Penguin Readers also come in graded formats and there are freely available sample chapters on the website.  To gain access you need to create an account – it’s free.


I currently have a pre-intermediate class which I would like to introduce to these types of books.  The samples on offer for this level include the following:


After carefully reading and listening to all of the material, I’ve decided to use the Braveheart sample with this particular class.  There are two audio files for the two introductory chapters and I can get more use out of it.  The theme is also more accessible for this particular class.

There is also a download area with worksheets offering activities for various chapters in the books.


Jamie Keddie

Jamie Keddie has a new book out. The ebook is available for download which will keep me occupied over the next few days..


Whilst working in Spain I had the opportunity to see Jamie talk on a number of occasions and they were very memorable experiences.  His presentations are always engaging and extremely interesting.  His 2009 book, Images, is one of the few books I’ve taken with me on my journey working in different countries.  It offers lots of ideas on how to exploit images for language learning in the classroom.


His latest book, entitled Videotelling,  focuses on the use of multimodal media in the classroom.  Arguably the best video video-sharing website online is YouTube which is why it gets a mention in the title.  Keepvid is a great website which allows you to download videos from YouTube and keep them on your computer in case you have any internet connectivity problems.


I’ve always used Lessonstream as a source of great lesson plans.   One of my all-time favourite video lessons is Mr W. which can be found on Lessonstream.  The theme of this lesson is the creative use of videos in advertising and it is great for getting students talking about their favourite adverts, past and present.

Another favourite advert relating to the benefits of a good English teacher is this one:

Would your students get it?

Stop Disasters!

Stop Disasters! is a disaster simulation game.  You can choose from five types of natural disasters: earthquakes, floods, tsunami, wildfire and hurricane.

Students have to think about what precautions can be taken to reduce the impact of natural disasters.  There are missions, challenges, students are given a budget etc.  It would be really interesting to use this in class or set it up as homework and students report back to class.