Saturday, January 21, 2017

5 Emoji Learning Activities with Google Docs

A while back I did a blog post on the "Emoji Random Writing Prompt Generator" I had created with Google Sheets. Basically the sheet randomly selected a set of emojis that the student could use as inspiration for writing a story, poem, or such. With a simple reload, a new random set would be produced. You can see the post and get your own copy of the template here: Emoji Random Writing Prompt Generator

In this post we are going to dive deeper into creative ways to use emojis in Google Docs beyond just writing prompts. As mentioned in my previous post, emojis are a great tool to use in student learning activities for many reasons:
  • 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 and represent 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!
See below for details on how you can insert emojis into Google Docs, and five fun ideas for learning activities the involve emojis.

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.

Inserting Emojis in Google Docs

So how do you add an emoji to Google Docs? Well it turns out that emojis are considered "special characters" in Docs, so they can be added using the normal option to insert special characters. Here’s how:
  • Open a Google Doc as normal.
  • Click "Insert" in the top menu bar.
  • Choose "Special characters…" from the drop down menu.
  • The "Insert special characters" window will now open.
  • From the "Symbol" menu in the top left, choose "Emoji".
  • You will now see a grid of emoji images.
  • You can choose more emojis by choosing a category in the second drop-down menu. The categories include:
    • People and Emotions
    • Animals, Plants and Food
    • Objects
    • Sports, Celebrations and Activities
    • Transport, Maps and Signage
    • Weather, Scenes and Zodiac signs
    • Enclosed
    • Marks
    • Symbols
  • If you hover your mouse over any of the emojis you will get a pop up window with a larger view of the emoji along with its name.

If you are not able to find the emoji you want easily, you can also type in a keyword in the search term box.

If that does not work, you can even draw a picture of the emoji you are looking for, and Docs will provide suggested matches.

Whichever method you use, once you find the emoji you want, simply click on it to insert it into your Google Doc.

Friendly reminder again: 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.

Working with Emojis in Google Docs

After you insert the emoji into your Google Doc, you can manipulate it is several ways. The thing to remember is that even though the emoji looks like an image, as far as Google Docs is concerned it is not really an image, but instead it is text. Emojis are just special text characters.

Because of that you cannot do to emojis the sort of things you do to images in Docs. That means you CANNOT do the following:
  • Click and drag the corners to make the emoji bigger or smaller.
  • Crop the emoji.
  • Rotate the emoji.
  • Turn on text wrapping so text goes around the emoji.

Since emojis are really just special text characters, you can manipulate them just like you would regular text. Things you can do to an emoji include the following:

Copy and paste the emoji:
  •  Selecting the emoji and then copy as usual ("Edit" then "Copy", or right-click and "Copy", or "Ctrl" and "C")
  • Then paste as usual ("Edit" then "Paste", or right-click and "Paste", or "Ctrl" and "V")
Change the size of the emoji:
  • Select the emoji
  • Change the size in the "Font Size" drop-down menu in the top menu bar. 
  • The font sizes available are 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 18, 24, 30, 36, 48, 60, 72, 96. 
  • However, you can also type directly into the font size box to set your own custom size.

Learning Activities with Emojis in Google Docs

There are many ways that students can use emojis for learning activities. Below we will take a look at five sample ideas:

  • Write a summary with emojis
  • Create a rebus story with emojis
  • Explore emotions with emojis
  • Use emojis in place of math variables
  • Create pictographs with emojis

If you have other ideas for how emojis could be used in Google Docs, please share your suggestions in the comments at the bottom of this post.

1) Write a summary with emojis

Instead of having students write with words, let them say it with images. Students could use emojis to write a visual version of many traditional assignments such as:

  • Write the title of a book, story, movie, song, or play in emojis.
  • Summarize what happens in a story with emojis.
  • Explain a science concept or process with emojis.
  • Retell a historical event with emojis.

Using emojis in this way encourages the students to decide what are the most important details or concepts, and then create a visual summary that clearly conveys those ideas.

As an example, here is my take on the title "Of Mice and Men":

And here is my summary of "Charlotte's Web":

And here is my emoji version of photosynthesis:

2) Create a rebus story with emojis

Instead of using all emojis, another option would be to write by combining text and emojis. This could be done to create a rebus. Anyone who grew up reading Highlights magazine in the dentist waiting room will quickly recognize a rebus. Basically it is a story where some of the words are replaced by images.

Sometimes the images are further modified by adding or subtracting letters from them as indicated in the rebus.

Again this can be a fun activity for students, both to create and to read. It may even help with younger students who are not proficient at spelling but can choose the image for the word they want.

3) Explore emotions with emojis

As the name implies, emojis are especially good at expressing emotions. This can work well for activities where the students need to identify and explain feelings. For example the student could identify the feelings of a character in the most recent chapter of the novel they are reading for class, or movie they watched, or other story.

As an example, below is a "Character Emojis" Google Docs template.

  • The template provides 72 emojis representing different emotions.
  • The student uses the emojis to show which emotions a character was feeling in a book, story, movie, or such.
  • To do this, they click in a square with a chosen emoji, then click the "Background Color" paint can icon in the top toolbar to fill in the box with a selected color.
  • When done choosing emojis, the student can then write an explanation of how those represent the character's emotions.
  • The student can even color the text they write to match the colors they chose to fill in the emoji boxes.

To get your own copy of the template, click below.

As needed the template could easily be editing to accommodate other activities. For example, the student could work on self-reflection by expressing how they are feeling about the most recent lesson, class activity, assessment, or project by choosing appropriate emojis to show their feelings.

4) Use emojis in place of math variables

Back when I was a math teacher I tried to make algebra more accessible for students in many ways. One concept I tackled was variables, as it was always a challenge for students to move from numbers to letters in math. However, since a variable is really just a placeholder for a number, they don't just have to be letters. I would frequently put symbols, pictures, and other items in for variables to help the students see them for what they were.

The same thing could be done with emojis. For example, here is the distributive property done with animal emojis:

Basically it says if you have 3 barns that each have 2 chickens and 3 pigs, then altogether you have 6 chickens and 9 pigs.

5) Create pictographs with emojis

Another mathematical use for emojis is to create pictographs. A pictograph is a bar chart that uses images to make the bars. For example, if a survey is done asking how many pets each student has, an emoji of a dog could represent one person answering the survey. See the sample Google Doc linked below for how this could look.

To make a pictograph in Google Docs with emojis, do the following:

  • Create a Google Doc as normal.
  • Add a title and a description of what the graph is showing.
  • Insert a table with enough rows and columns to show all the data you have collected (you can always add or delete rows and columns if needed later).
  • For the bottom row, type in the numbers or text to list what you are counting.
  • In the rows above that, insert an appropriate emoji to begin building the chart.
  • Once you have inserted one emoji, you can just copy and paste it as needed to complete building the chart.


Emojis can be a fun way to get students involved in classroom activities, while helping to develop skills in writing, summarizing, expressing ideas, and learning new concepts. Try out some of the sample project listed above and share how they go in the comments below. Also, be sure to post other ideas you have for how emojis can be used in Google Docs for teaching and learning.

If you would like to learn more about creative uses of Google Docs for literacy activities, including a free 1-hour recorded webinar, see my post "4 Fun Literacy Activities with Google Docs".

Post by Eric Curts
📮 Join the "Control Alt achieve" email discussion group
📰 Sign up for my email newsletter
🐦 Connect with me on Twitter
▶️ Subscribe to my YouTube channel
📧 Reach out through email -
📗 Check out my "Control Alt Achieve" book
🏫 Bring me to your school, organization, or conference with over 60 PD sessions to choose from


  1. This will be great for my ESL students who have just entered the US!
    Similar to what I do to create an adapted text for them

  2. I love this activity and can think of so many ways to use emojis in lessons. However, when I print the documents, the emojis do not show up. Wherever I had an emoji there is just a blank space. Am I doing something wrong?

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. It is such an interesting blog.I really like to know about this emoji way of learning,i never know before about it and this entire data let me know about this field.Even i buy dissertation through online service providers for my college,but i never go with this learning way.Looking forward to follow this way,hope it will be quite interesting and good.Thanks for sharing.

  5. In this post we will jump further into imaginative approaches to utilize emojis in Google Docs past simply composing prompts. As specified in my past post, emojis are an awesome instrument to use in understudy learning exercises for some reasons:
    Academic Report Writing Services

  6. What then does it mean to be an educator? Does it signify something different than the assigned job title? What I have learned through my work in higher education is that becoming an educator is not an automatic process. Everyone who is teaching adult students is not functioning as an engaging and highly effective educator. However, it is possible to learn how to educate rather than teach and that requires making a commitment to the profession.