Skip Navigation
We use cookies to offer you a better browsing experience, provide ads, analyze site traffic, and personalize content. If you continue to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies.

Emojis in the Classroom

Discover how to use emojis as part of history assignments, daily check-ins, and more.
Published: August 5, 2021
First Appeared In NEA Today August 2021

What do emojis have to do with education? According to the SAMR model of teaching—which stands for substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition—the most basic step in the transition to digital learning is the substitution level, which is what teachers do when they upload assignments to digital platforms. The final step is redefinition, in which students become creators of their own content. By using emojis in the classrooms, we’re moving beyond the simple substitution model and into the more advanced aspects of digital learning.

Even as most students head back to school buildings this fall, educators may use some of their new digital teaching skills in their brick-and-mortar classrooms. Here are just a few of the ways you can use emojis to expand your digital teaching prowess.

Emoji exit ticket: Ask students to use emojis to explain their learning from the class. While it may sound low-level to have students use pictures instead of words to show learning, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Try explaining photosynthesis, the effects of World War II on the homefront, or the mood created in a Langston Hughes poem using only emojis.

Emoji check-in: Over the past few years, we’ve seen a major focus on social and emotional learning. Emojis are perfect for assessing the mental well-being of students. Some teachers create posters with emojis that represent various emotions. Students touch the emoji that matches their mental state on the way into the classroom, and the teacher has an immediate understanding of the energy and emotional level of the class.

Even educational technology companies are using this strategy in their platforms. Pear Deck, for example, has a “classroom climate” func- tion that helps teachers gather informal data about the mood of the class.

A few years ago, Monte Syrie, creator of, introduced me to a community circle strategy called “smiles and frowns.” At the start of each class, student volunteers pick “smile or frown” and describe why they’re feeling that way. It gives them an amazing opportunity to process their feelings in a positive way. And what better way to build a class culture than actually spending some time every day learning about your classmates or teacher?

Emoji understanding check: Similar to the exit ticket, this practice has students rate their levels of understanding with emojis. More informal than an exit ticket, this strategy allows teachers to gauge the level of understanding from their students at the end of class. Place a poster of emojis (or have students respond on their devices) and have students pick emojis that represent their level of comfort with the content or skills they learned that day.

Emoji feedback: Let’s be honest, most students ignore teacher feedback forms. But it’s much harder to do that when you have colorful emojis representing your compliments or suggestions for improvement.

Many teachers already use some form of shorthand for student feedback. By using a system of emojis to represent common respons- es, students will begin associating their growth with these colorful representations. This approach can also save valuable time since an emoji is much simpler to type than full feedback.

Overall, emojis can be a wonderful addition to any classroom from kinder- garten to high school. They tap into the zeitgeist of our time, allowing students to form deep and lasting learning expe- riences while improving their social and emotional well-being. They are easy for teachers and students to use and can spice up any lesson.

Andrew Kozlowsky is a teacher at Walter Johnson High School, in Bethesda, Maryland. He teaches AP U.S. History and Modern World History.

A History Lesson with Emojis

The “American Revolution Challenge”

Ask your students to narrate the causes of the American Revolution in 10 emojis or less. This requires the students to closely analyze the events leading up to the war with only visual representation. As a social studies teacher, my goal is for students to engage in this type of deep, critical thinking.

The activity should include an opportunity for students to explain why they chose that particular emoji and what it represents. A simple chart with sentence starters can be found below:

  • I chose the ______emoji. It represents ______.
  • The connection between this emoji and this event is _______.

Causes of the American Revolution in emojis:


A student’s answers might look something like this:

  • I chose the French flag emoji. It represents the French and Indian War. The connection between this emoji and the event is that after defeating the French, the British increased their control over the colonies.
  • I chose the arms crossed emoji. It represents the Proclamation of 1763. The connection between this emoji and the event is that the British restricted the colonists from moving west of the Appalachian Mountains after the French and Indian War, deeply upsetting the colonists.
  • I chose the money bag emoji. It represents the Stamp Act, a tax on paper in the colonies. The connection between this emoji and the event is that this tax angered colonists because it was one of the first times the British levied a direct tax on them.
  • I chose the skull and bones emoji. It represents the Boston Massacre. The connection between this emoji and the event is that five colonists were killed by British soldiers after an angry mob of colonists threatened the soldiers.
  • I chose a teacup emoji. It represents the Boston Tea Party. The connection between this emoji and the event is that colonists dumped British shipments of tea into Boston Harbor to protest the Tea Act.
  • I chose the banned emoji. It represents the Intolerable Acts. The connection between this emoji and the event is that the British closed the Port of Boston after the Boston Tea Party, leading to further anger among the colonists.
  • I chose the horseback riding emoji. It represents the ride of Paul Revere. The connection between this emoji and the event is that the British sent troops to confiscate the colonists’ weapons, but Paul Revere warned the colonists before the battles of Lexington and Concord.
  • I chose the dove emoji. This emoji represents the Olive Branch Petition. The connection between this emoji and the event is that the Second Continental Congress sent a letter to the King of England asking him to secure the colonists’ rights. The king rejected this petition and declared the colonists to be in open rebellion.
  • I chose the book emoji. This represents Thomas Paine’s famous pamphlet, Common Sense. The connection between this emoji and the event is that the booklet inspired the colonists to seek independence from England.

Emojis are becoming more diverse and inclusive. Find out why that’s so important to our students at

National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.