Emoticons – Part of the Classroom?

Yellow Smiley Face


We find ourselves using emoticons in many different ways. We use the when we IM; we use them in emails, texts, and even in tutoring rooms. But, emoticons are not always used to indicate emotions or direct facial expressions. Sometimes, they are used to indicate the intention of the writer (Dresner & Herring, 2010).  For example, I might say the following to my colleague in an IM:

I would like specific feedback for this project. : )

Here, I have a clear request, but the smiley indicates friendliness and makes the request less demanding or forceful.

Here are a few common ways we use emoticons:

  1. To indicate a joke
  2. To soften a request or a demand
  3. To punctuate or end a comment
  4. To set the tone (lighten)

The use of emoticons if a widely accepted practice, but some may still feel unsure about using them in the classroom or in a professional setting.  As with all types of communication, it is often good to rely on your own sense about the communication context. But, using emoticons as a teacher may help students with our intended meanings in certain contexts.


Dresner, E., and Herring, S. C. (2010). Functions of the non-verbal in CMC: Emoticons and illocutionary force. Communication Theory, 20, 249-268. Preprint: http://ella.slis.indiana.edu/~herring/emoticons.pdf

 Melody : )

7 Responses

  1. David Healey says:

    It’s interesting that teaching at Kaplan has really helped me embrace emoticons, which is something I had resisted in my emails and in teaching at other institutions. Now, I’ve found these non-verbal expressions so useful that they are creeping into all my emails and even some of my less formal writing 🙂

    • kuwcnews says:

      Yes, David,
      I did not use them before working at Kaplan. I use them much more frequently now, especially when IMing. Thanks for reading.

  2. Excellent post, Melody. I think this is something I want to carefully consider as well as I have noticed when I’m in live tutoring, I tend to use more emoticons there more than anywhere to try to counterbalance the lack of non-verbal communication and to appear friendly and welcoming to students. I am curious to see how screencasting and other elements of creating persona in the classroom and in learning centers like the writing center plays out for others too! Thanks for the food for thought. 😉

    • kuwcnews says:

      Thanks, Kella. I agree there is a great deal of food for thought. After reading the article, I am much more intentional about my emoticon use.

  3. Thanks for this thoughtful entry, Melody. Just because online educators teach students at a distance does not mean we can’t send our own non-verbals through cyberspace. –Kurtis Clements

  1. November 9, 2011

    […] week I wrote about using emoticons in the classroom to help colleagues and students alike understand our intentions in our text-based […]

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