Emoji Literacy, Face with Tears of Joy, Domino's, and Urban Dictionary

When I did my MA in Linguistics, I spent a year studying urbandictionary.com, a collaboratively authored online slang dictionary. While students and parents continue to use that resource as an arbiter of meaning for the evolving lexicon of the masses, emojis have since supplanted many slang words as daily topics for debate, but as with slang, emojis seem to evade codification.  Even Oxford Dictionaries 2015 word-of-the-year, the "Face with Tears of Joy" emoji, did not produce universal understanding among my students.

"Face with Tears of Joy" emoji. Oxford Dictionaries 2015 word-of-the-year

Recently, when I asked my students to associate an emoji with the feeling they got when thinking about the American Dialect Society's 2015 word-of-the-year, singular they, they did not agree on the meanings for the various smiley faces.

Here is how students reacted when I queried them on polleverywhere.com. Notice where each student dropped their green pin (see what I did there with singular their?): sunglass face, smirky face, tongue-wag face.  Perhaps these are self-evident emojis, but others caused fierce debate. Is a droplet of water always a tear or always sweat or neither? Do emojis perspire due to emoji exertion or emoji despair?  Is there emoji existential panic?  Why do emojis fume with emoji nasal blasts?  Do purple devil emojis only get the benefit of two emotions?



Some distinctions in meaning are moot. Does the red face mean 'angry' or 'perturbed' or 'fuming'? Is a rosy-cheeked kissy face caused by puppy love or a passion more amorous?

But other emojis, my students demonstrated, demand scrutiny and debate.  Is an upturned smile always sinister? Is a flat mouth neutral -- that is, halfway between a smile and a frown -- or something else entirely?

To solve this mystery, I engaged -- of course -- Domino's Pizza.  In 2004, it was a student who turned me on to urbandictionary.com ("Mr. Damaso, you're in the dictionary.").  A decade later, two students came into class early to give me a playing card deck, a stack of cards imprinted with the Domino's logo depicting single emojis or sometimes strings of emojis with corresponding definitions and usages on the back.  I guess I'm turning to giant pizza retailers now for all of my pictographic standardization and codification needs.  Yes, there's the Emoji Dictionary and Emojipedia and Wikimoji, but I'm going with Domino's because Domino's.

Domino's reports on its companion website that demand was great for these decks, and they're all out. (Don't worry: You can still print your own.)  The deck promotes "Emoji Literacy," but in the end, of course, pizza sales become the clear objective of this promotion. Apparently, there are many ways to eat pizza and many reasons why.

 Left to right: 'hey girl, hey,' 'relaxing,' 'trying to work out,' and 'speechless.'

Here are a few of my favorites in the Emoji Literacy deck from left to right: 'hey girl, hey,' 'relaxing,' 'trying to work out,' and 'speechless.' 

Use a Coordinate Axis PollEverywhere Question to Start Engaging Conversations in Class

Last week I learned from Derek Bruff that I can create a scatterplot x-y coordinate axis poll in PollEverywhere. I've been using these graphs to stimulate conversations in class about guest speakers, readings, and even the podcast Serial.   Multiple choice and free response questions and even the newer discourse feature of PollEverywhere allow students to express opinions, but there is something about dropping a pin on a plane that allows for nuance of expression. With coordinate axis polls, I can challenge my students to assess a writer's bias, a speaker's believability, a story's dynamics, an essay's coherence,  etc.  Here's how I do it:

Step 1: Create the x-y axis graph

Using directional arrows and some text boxes in Word, I place oppositional words at the top and bottom of the y-axis and left and right of the x-axis. I take a screenshot, and then upload the .jpg as a clickable image to PollEverywhere. 

Step 2: Deploy the poll and freeze the screen (or "hide click markers") 

I make the poll full-screen and project it for student view.  Students can navigate to the poll on their smartphones or computers.  You can allow them to drop multiple pins, but for this exercise, I limit them to a single pin.  They read the question and drop a pin.   Was the keynote speaker very relatable but just a bit vague? Was she hyper-detailed but not relatable to the teenage audience?

Step 3: Small group share

Students share their screens with a nearby peer or two and justify the exact placement of their pin on the x-y axis. I invite students to share their answers in pairs or triads for just 2-3 minutes before returning to the large group.

Step 4: Large group share

I then ask students to share the profits of their small group discussions. You may even ask them to predict where most of the pins will appear when you unfreeze the poll. Perhaps a particular quadrant.  PollEv allows you to designate a square as the "correct" answer if you wish.

Step 5: Unfreeze screen (or "Show Click Markers")

PollEverywhere has a button that allows you to reveal or conceal the dropped pins, so a teacher can either "freeze" the screen (using the remote for the projector) or simply select the pin icon to show/hide the dropped pins.

Here are some examples from this week of teaching. Notice how clustering of viewpoint may occur. Students can be randomly called upon to stand and justify their pin's placement. Students could move to the four quadrants of the classroom to represent the quadrants of the coordinate axis graph and continue the conversation that way.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Bias and Thoroughness in the reporting of Sarah Koenig in the hit podcast Serial

Relatability and Detail in a character's experience in Cormac McCarthy's The Road

How do you use continua or scatterplot data to help students investigate the grays of seemingly black and white questions?

On the Edge of their Seats: Using polls, backchannels, and games in student response systems to create durable student engagement

Last month I delivered a presentation at Educator Day 2014 for the Diocese of Phoenix Catholic schools.  I wanted to convey that with so many student response systems available for free, teachers always have a way to give students a voice during each and every lesson.  The presentation below, "On the Edge of their Seats: Using polls, backchannels, and games in student response systems to create durable student engagement," provides case uses for the following edtech tools:

  1. PollEverywhere
  2. TodaysMeet
  3. Socrative
  4. Kahoot!

UPDATE: These tools change frequently. Since this presentation, PollEverywhere, for example, has added a "discourse" feature that allows students to see each other's free responses and "up" or "down" vote them (like on Reddit).