S.E.A.P.: Coming to Terms with Online Slang

At this year’s Quest Conference, Stephen Louca and I co-presented on Handhelds in the Classroom. It was at one of our sessions that we were asked a question I get quite often as a teacher leader who uses mobile devices and social media for learning.

“How do you deal with students using internet slang when they write?”

I wasn’t trying to be sarcastic when I said,

“You know, I think we all need to chillax a little about that.”

As teachers of writing, I don’t believe our job is to try in vain to change the way kids talk and communicate with one another. What is the point of living if you can’t play, manipulate, and have loads of fun with language, especially as a child?

Rather, in this complex age, we should be far more concerned with teaching the navigation of context. These days, when people ask me questions about what I think is different about our time and place, I often say that it is the abundance of contextual difference. We are constant immigrants in multiple different cultural, language, and social frames of reference. Kids will be successful if they are able to navigate and metaphorically switch clothing and personas for multiple purposes.

Instead of denouncing playfulness with language, show students how it can be leveraged.

With this in mind, I thought I’d share how we are currently dealing with internet slang. We gave it an acronym, a name:

S: Creative Spelling

E: Emoticons

A: Abbreviations

P: Excessive Punctuation

My adolescent students and I have agreed not to let it SEAP into our formal writing.



  1. My name is John Russell Smith and I am a student at The University of South Alabama. I agree with you a 110percent. If the kids make the words easier for them then who does it hurt. If it is understandable to all of use then why is it such a big deal. Kids today have there ways of innovation with things. I don’t see what it hurts a thang. I have been using slang terms for a long time especially since im from the south. I really liked this post.

  2. Royan, I think this is a fantastic idea, and I also think it helps students realize the difference between formal and informal writing. There’s a time and place to use everything. Thanks for reminding all of us about this!


  3. Isn’t writing and language just a creative expression of one’s thoughts that’s meant to be interpreted? Does it take even higher order skills to interpret and evaluate this type of writing? Instead of focusing on what the student ARN’T doing, should we focus on how use what they ARE doing to make them better writers? I am not an English teacher and would never claim to be an expert in the field. However, I believe this would be a great segue to teach the difference between formal writing and informal writing. I work with teachers that use twitter and text lingo to teach word choice. With only 160 characters, a student really has to think about the word choice, tone (even with emoticons), etc. Then others have to interpret the meaning. Interpreting Shakespeare for students is like interpreting text lingo for adults. As educators, I believe we need embrace change and use it to teach the standards and content in a rigorous and relevant manner! This is a great post and I totally agree, there is a time and place for everything. Thank you for the post!

  4. I have seen it happen in the school where I teach and our language is Spanish, but the kids use the internet slang just the same. It’s important that they understand that writing is not speaking. Slang has no place in formal writing. BTW, some of those abbreviations have been included in the Oxford Dictionary.

  5. Roy,
    It was very nice you brought up this topic. Here is Brazil it seems that informal spelling has become some kind of taboo which teachers avoid talking about it.
    It goes without saying that the Internet has been bringing new changes into the language. Nevertheless it’s out duty to teach our students when, how and why. Like Aviva said there’s a time and a place for everything.

  6. I appreciate this post Royan.

    I saw that in one of the comments it said that “slang” has no place in formal writing. I am wondering if we are taking about slang or acronyms? Many people have a problem with things like using btw in a sentence and I understand that, but I also know that there are acronyms that have just become common in our language (Would you feel comfortable writing about scuba diving or do you always say “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus” diving?). The beauty of some of this “language” that is being used by students is that this generation is also developing it. That is part of the beauty of any language. The opportunity to develop it. Do we take offense to saying that someone “googled” you to find this post? There is an acceptance and understanding of the definition of that word.

    Do we need to maybe focus less on the way things are presented, but more on the content and the message? That is what is ultimately important.

    Thanks for being so chillaxed on the topic.

  7. I don’t know if I can agree with this article. I have no problems with understanding slang but I do not believe that slang has a place in writing at an educational level. What I mean is, students should not be writing in slang on school work or other academic related things. Yes, context is important and I have no problems with children expressing themselves but I have a serious problem with accepting it’s use in situations other then just communicating on the internet. Students should not be using these slang words in their writing and every day language. Words like “chillax” or using “lol” on a school writing project is unacceptable in my mind and I think it is still very important to make sure kids know the proper words to use and increasing their vocabulary so they can articulate their thoughts with more sophisticated language and not having to rely on words which I feel are dumbed down and simple. This is not higher order thinking in my opinion.

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