Not too long ago, one of my 8th graders came to speech therapy visibly upset. I asked her what was wrong and she replied, “My friend hates me and I have proof! Here! Look!”
It all started with a text message.
She showed me her iPhone and pointed to a recent text message that she received from her friend. It was a happy birthday message that simply read HAPPY BDAY but there was something that came after the “word” BDAY that caused my student to think that her friend hated her. It was an emoji.
Emoji? Huh? What’s an emoji?
As stated on Emojipedia.org, an emoji is a type of emoticon (emotion + icon) used on iPhones, iPads, Androids, Macs and Windows devices. The term emoji originated in Japan and means “picture letter” in Japanese. So in short, an emoji is a symbol or a picture that’s used to communicate something to someone. For example, you know how when you text message a friend and then at the end of the text message you sometimes type characters that, when combined, look like a happy face (a colon, a dash, and then a closed parenthesis)? Well, that’s sort of an emoji. Through those combined characters, you were able to positively communicate your friendship to that person in the form of a picture.
Back to the text message in question.
The emoji that her friend added at the end of HAPPY BDAY text message was a sad face and NOT a happy face. One would’ve thought that a happy face should’ve been added to the end of that message but that wasn’t the case. So you can see why this 8th grader thought that her friend hated her. My student couldn’t help but think that her friend was sad or even mad about the “BDAY.”
A possible miscommunication?
I asked my student if she thought that maybe, JUST MAYBE, her friend might have mistakenly put a sad face at the end of the text message? MAYBE she actually meant to put a happy face? She looked at me with the most genuine eyes and said, “Hmm, well, maybe that’s a possibility. I guess I should ask her about it later.”
Fast forward a few days.
The next time I saw this student, I asked her about her text message debacle and she happily informed me that it was IN FACT a mistake and the sad face was supposed to be a happy face. Phew! Crisis averted!
This situation got me thinking about text messages and emojis.
We, as a society, are quickly adopting text messaging with emojis as a valid form of quick communication. And because more than half of my caseload consists of middle school-aged students (and I even have a private client starting soon who is in high school), it really isn’t too crazy to think that they’re engaging in that type of expressive communication with their friends and family. So with that being said, I’ve recently made a conscious decision to explore a few lessons and ideas that touch on the subject of understanding emojis because I believe that it’s a functional thing to discuss with students who have communication difficulties. Imagine how many incorrect text messages might have been sent by students who have communication disorders! Or imagine how many text messages could have been misinterpreted by students with communication disorders! These are the problems that I’m hoping to solve by bringing up and discussing emojis to some of my students.
Pairing pictures with emojis is a good start.
One of the ways that I’ve been working to educate my students about emojis is by pairing realistic pictures with emojis. The emojis that I’ve been using throughout my sessions come from GetEmoji.com. This is a fantastic location that allows you to copy and paste emojis from a massive library of emojis. Here is a FREE pdf file that I created by copying and pasting a bunch of emojis into a a Microsoft Word document. I printed out the PDF file and then cut out all the emojis so I could spread them all over my table like THIS.
Next, I would show my students random realistic pictures that I had. These pictures could be anything from story starter cards you might have sitting in your speech therapy room to miscellaneous pages you might have ripped out from an age-appropriate magazine. Anything that realistically shows people doing something would work just fine. All you have to do is encourage your students to try to pick out which emoji they feel best describes the chosen picture.
Check out these examples:
After some minimal prompts and cues, my one group of students were able to verbalize how THESE PICTURES were better suited for negative emojis. The girl on the left was crying because she broke her doll, therefore, the emoji that best fit with her was the one that showed a tear drop coming from the sad face’s eye. Whereas, the picture on the right showed a girl who was covered with mud, therefore, the emoji that looked like it was nervous and sweaty best fit her situation because they thought the girl was nervous that she might get yelled at by her mother for getting so dirty.
Other examples can be found in THESE PICTURES. The girls on the left were washing someone’s car. This kind deed communicates that they are nice children, therefore, the group attached the emoji that had a halo over its head. And the picture on the right shows a girl in a bathing suit having summertime fun, so my students made the connection that the happy emoji wearing the sunglasses was most appropriate because they felt like the sunglasses represented the warmth of summer.
In closing . . .
What do you think? Do you think your older kiddos would connect with Emojis? Have you been doing something similar to this? If so, please do let me know because I seriously love enjoying hearing from awesome clinicians just like you!