What does “I was, like…” mean?

The first 10 seconds on this clip (0:32-0:40) show the power of like and body language to communicate!

In the spring, I had the great pleasure of seeing a bit of David Crystal talk at the 2020 Digital Hay Festival. (By the way, if anyone is looking to for a great Christmas present, his latest book looks amazing!) and I was rather pleased to hear him, as a well-known and respected linguist, defend teenspeak/Valley Girl with words such as “like”.

In fact, he did a wonderful example of “I was, like,” and do a shocked face. It reminded me of the first 5 seconds of this clip reminded me of the first 10 seconds of this clip from Over the Hedge. This is meant to be a parody of a teenage girl circa 2005, but it actually makes perfect sense to me, and apparently Professor Crystal agrees!

So, what does “I was, like…” mean?

We know that when we are listening to someone, really listening, we are paying attention to their words, but we’re paying attention to so much more. We’re listening to their tone to determine how they feel about what they are saying! We’re watching their body language for the same reason. Speakers also use their tone and gestures to keep the audience engaged and sometimes we reference a movie or TV show by imitating a character. Or we even adopt the pose as we speak of a well-known stereotype in our culture: the scolding parent, the arrogant puffed up boss, a crazy person, someone who is exhausted!

In fact, it can be difficult or time-consuming to describe everything we think and feel and say in a situation. So sometimes, the body language or facial expression or pose is the best way to communicate effectively. And sometimes it’s the only way!

The word SAID doesn’t fully encapsulate this idea. So, we have this wonderful word LIKE which does. “I was, like” really means

Don’t believe me. Think about these popular gifs below. Think of how easy it is to understand what these people are thinking or feeling. And think about how popular it is to use a gif or meme like this to express an idea. Actually, these kinds of memes are just high-tech ways to say, “I was all, like…”

Using Like in Lessons

Some will say we shouldn’t be teaching like and other forms of informal speech in class. However, students certainly should be able to understand what LIKE means when they hear it. And letting students play with this expression can help them learn to use gesture and facial expression more effectively. And you can use engaging content like GIFS and memes!

Here’s a few things activity ideas for teaching what like means. Try them out, you know. It could be like, AMAZING!!!!!

  • Students come up with scenarios that might generate strong emotional reactions. It might be a whole situation or even just something someone could say to them. Students take turns saying “I was, like…” and then giving an expression. Other students guess the meaning and discuss how they might react in the same situation.
  • Have students pick a gif that uses a facial expression. They can imitate it in front of the class, introducing it with “I was, like…” The class has to guess the meaning. Extend by discussing the situation in which someone would make that expression
    Note that the expressions and gestures gifs are often exaggerated so you may want to follow-up by demonstrating a more common form.
  • Show the clip of Heather from above. Have students see if they can have a whole conversation in gesture, using expressions such as “I was, like…” or “You’re totally being…”
  • Have students find a video where a character uses “like”. Have them share it and talk about what the character means.

Share your ideas for activities below

And if you’re looking for more drama-based lessons and activities that use body language, tone, and gesture, check out our resources for drama activities.

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