Getting a reaction: Over a million emoji reactions from Newsela’s mobile app

Getting a reaction: Over a million emoji reactions from Newsela’s mobile app

It’s been four years since an emoji was selected as Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year. Today, they appear across messaging and media platforms and supplement—if not supplant—much of our written communication, and the trend starts young. A recent WIRED article titled “Children Are Using Emoji for Digital-Age Language Learning” explored how toddlers are communicating with emoji as a gateway to reading and writing. Emojis have even made their way into the classroom, with a wide variety of resources and case studies shared by teachers who offer guidance on using emojis in teaching.

iPhone Emoji Screenshot.jpg

Here at Newsela, we’re always seeking out novel ways to keep students engaged. So in designing Newsela Student, Newsela’s mobile app, our developers built in the ability for students to react to stories they’re reading using a selection of six different emojis: Happy, Sad, Love, Shocked, Confused, and Angry. With more than a million emoji responses added to Newsela articles, what can we say about how students feel about what they’re reading - and what does it mean for reading engagement?

The most common emoji reaction students added to stories was Shocked, though based on the articles that received this response the emotion communicated seems more akin to excitement and surprise than dismay. Top articles that got this emoji included stories of children doing incredible things (a seven-year-old runner breaking records; a 14-year-old who discovered a bug in Apple’s FaceTime app), as well as scientific feats like an explorer who examines fiery craters and a future car that would walk on legs.

When it came to Confused, students weren’t sure what to think about the egg that became Instagram’s most-liked post, or a student opinion piece positing Android phones may be more innovative than Apple ones.
Stories that made students Happy? Articles referencing the Fortnite video game came out ahead, as well as a piece on edible slime

News that gaming can actually be helpful got a lot of Love, along with a story about a city of ice in China. Students used fewer Angry and Sad emojis than the other four reactions, and the stories that elicited these more negative responses generally weren’t surprising: the Notre Dame Cathedral Fire, college cheating, and the Mars Rover running out of fuel

So what does this mean for student engagement? Our team found that students who have an opportunity to react with an emoji are more likely to read more articles and perform more additional activities (like quizzes or annotations), especially students in elementary grades. 

Overall, the fact that responses like surprise and joy were shared more frequently tracks with overall trends in emoji use. The most popular emojis used on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook currently include the heart, “smiling face with heart-eyes,” and of course, that 2015 Word of the Year: “face with tears of joy.” 

As for student engagement with emojis, we’d love to hear from you on what you’d like to see next. Teacher visibility into emoji reactions? Students anonymously viewing how their peers reacted? Let us know via social media on Facebook or Twitter.

Introducing the 2019-2020 Newsela Fellows

Introducing the 2019-2020 Newsela Fellows