Saturday, November 26, 2016

Emoji Writing Prompt Generator with Google Sheets

In an earlier blog post, I shared a “Google Sheets Writing Prompt Generator” that randomly combined nouns and adjectives to give students inspiration for writing projects. In this post we are going to take a twist on that idea … with emojis!

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If that is so, then emojis should be able to bring even more meaning and ideas and inspiration than just words alone. Giving students a random set of emojis could be a great way to help inspire their writing, as the student tries to find a way to work each image into their story or poem.

There are several great reasons for using emojis as writing prompts:

  • Since emojis are images, they can be used with students of any age, language, or reading ability.
  • Also since they are images, they can provide a wide range of ideas since each student will have their own interpretations of the pictures.
  • Emojis are very popular with students, so they will likely have familiarity with the images.
  • They are fun! And writing should be fun. And learning should be fun. And school should be fun!

To create an emoji writing prompt generator, I used Google Sheets. Even though we usually think of a spreadsheet containing numbers, Google Sheets actually supports images including all the standard emojis. See below for directions on how to get your own copy of the spreadsheet, how the tool works, and how your students can use this in their writing projects.

Note: Emojis appear differently on different operating systems. Because of this, the images may not look the same on every device. If you are using any modern computer or device (Chromebook, Android, iOS, Mac OS, Windows), the emojis should display well. However if you are using an older version of Windows earlier than Windows 8.1, the emojis do not appear in color and many may be missing.

The Spreadsheet

To get your own copy of the “Emoji Random Writing Prompt Generator” spreadsheet, click the link below:

The Google Sheets has six tabs along the bottom:

  • "Directions" tab - Here you will find the directions for using the spreadsheet.
  • "2 Emojis" tab - This tab randomly generates 2 emojis as a writing prompt.
  • "3 Emojis" tab - This tab randomly generates 3 emojis as a writing prompt.
  • "4 Emojis" tab - This tab randomly generates 4 emojis as a writing prompt.
  • "5 Emojis" tab - This tab randomly generates 5 emojis as a writing prompt.
  • "Data" tab - This tab has over 800 emojis, from which the other tabs randomly pull.


To view the writing prompts the students can click the tabs at the bottom of the spreadsheet, depending on how many emojis they want. If they do not find inspiration in the emojis they get, they can easily generate new random combinations as follows:

  • They can press the “Ctrl” and “R” keys to force the Sheet to “recalculate” which will pull new random emojis.
  • Or they can simply reload the Sheet in their browser.

When the student finds a set of emojis that works for them, they can use them as inspiration for their writing, such as including each of the items or ideas somewhere in their story or poem.

You may also want to have the students indicate somewhere in their document what emojis they used. If they want, they can even copy and paste the emoji images straight from the spreadsheet into their Google Doc.

If you want to edit the available emojis, you can make changes to the “Data” tab. Depending on the age and needs of your students, you may want to delete some of the rows from that tab to remove those emojis as options.

Nerdy Stuff

For those interested in how the random emoji generator works, here is the formula I use:


How is basically works is:

  • The “Data” tab contains the standard character codes for the emojis I chose to include, one code per row.
  • I use the COUNTA function to determine how many emoji codes are available in the Data tab (in case someone chooses to remove some of the emojis from their copy).
  • I use the RANDBETWEEN function to randomly choose one of the rows from the Data tab.
  • I input the randomly chosen character code into the CHAR function, which then displays the corresponding emoji image.


Getting started with writing can often be a challenge for our students (or anyone for that matter). Using emojis as a way to generate ideas can be a fun and effective way to help students create stories, no matter how big or how small. In other words:

Post by Eric Curts
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  1. Thanks!
    I appreciate your open sharing ... I might use this with the DigiWriMo community (and maybe my students, too)
    Kevin (@dogtrax)

    1. Please do! I had not heard about DigiWriMo before. It looks like an awesome project/community at Thanks for sharing!

  2. Love this spreadsheet, and thank you for sharing the code you used, and its explanation.

    I do have one issue - several of the items come out as boxes.

    There's the screenshot, maybe you can help me see why that is?


    1. Amy what operating system are you using? If it is Windows 7 that may be the problem. Older operating systems do not support emojis properly. For example in Windows 7 the emojis are not in color and many of them are not even available. The emojis should work properly in Windows 8.1 and 10, Macs, Chromebooks, Android, and iOS.

    2. I also have that same issue coming up with the blank boxes. I just received a new computer this school year and I want to say that I have a Windows 10 capable computer but we can't switch them to that until everything is completely set up with our server. Will it work properly once I get my computer switched over to Windows 10?

      The students all have access to chromebooks though so I'm wondering if they would be able to see the actual photos or if they will see the boxes as well?

    3. Ashley, the emojis work great on Chromebooks. They all show up and are all in color. As for Windows, once you upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10, the emojis will work as well.

    4. I did that same activity this morning with my students, on Chrome 56.0.2924.87 on PC W7 and the emojis were in black and white AND we had the square box 2 times out of 3. The kids were dissapointed. I have a video film of the current situation. If you'd like to see it, i could send it to you through email : Thanks :)

  3. This is fantastic! Thanks so much for sharing.

  4. Thanks for sharing. I do have a number (particularly towards the bottom of the sheet) that also display as boxes. I'm on a school-issued Chromebook. It's not the majority by any means, but some. I just reloaded the page when a box popped up.

  5. Hi Eric,

    I love random emoji generator and wanted to try it with the elementary students I am working with, however they have iPads and new emjois don't seem to be loading when I try to refresh the spreadsheet in the browser. I have tried it in both Safari and Chrome and it will not work. I've also tried it in the Sheets iPap app and that does't seem to be working either. Do you know if this will work on an iPad and what I might be doing wrong? Thank you for your time!

    1. I have this same question. Being 1:1 with iPads is awesome, but finding work-arounds is sometimes a pain. Is there a work-around to refresh the emojis?

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. Thank you for sharing....going to use today with my students!!!

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