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September 1, 2016

Developing Digital Citizens: A Guide for Grades 6-12

How do you think your students spend their summer vacation? More than likely, many of them spend thousands of hours connected to the online world on social network sites, shopping, and/or gaming with friends. In fact, according to the most recent study from the Pew Research Center (2015), 92% of teens report going online daily, including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly.” But just because tweens and teens use technology regularly doesn’t mean that they have the skills to use digital tools in an appropriate, safe, and respectful manner.

While you may already have classroom measures in place that support digital citizenship practices (e.g., school-acceptable use policies and classroom expectations around online respect and rapport), are you prepared to explicitly teach the skills your students need to become responsible digital citizens?

To make the most of teaching digital citizenship this year, try incorporating these critical elements in your classroom:

Online Safety

Teaching students how to be safe and stay protected as they navigate the online world is essential. The general guidelines include:

  • If you ever feel unsafe or uncomfortable while interacting with people online, tell a trusted adult immediately.
  • Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know or private message with strangers.
  • Keep personal information private, including name, address, phone number, and age.
  • Create secure passwords and keep them protected. Be sure to share passwords with parents or guardians only, not with friends.

Visit to learn more about making safe choices online and for teaching resources including videos, games, comics, quizzes, and more. iKeepsafe has also teamed up with Google to provide a comprehensive digital citizenship curriculum.


You and your students should know how to identify, prevent, and report incidents of cyberbullying. Some important tips for students include:

  • If you wouldn’t say or do something in person, then you shouldn’t do it online.
  • Under no circumstances will bullying of any kind be tolerated.
  • If you are harassed, tell a trusted adult immediately so it can be reported to your Internet Service Provider (ISP), school, and/or local law enforcement.
  • Save or print evidence of online harassment and other potential cases of cyberbullying.
  • Protect yourself and others by never responding to harassing or rude comments.

Use this guide from Cyber Tipline to teach students what qualifies as inappropriate online behavior and how to report this behavior to parents, school, and/or law enforcement. This video also effectively illustrates the many consequences of posting inappropriate content online.

Communicating Positively

Colleges and employers judge potential candidates based on their digital footprint and social media profiles. Teach students to take control of their online reputation and how to create a more positive online image with these guidelines:

  • Know that online choices have offline consequences and in some cases, legal implications.
  • Don’t post information, photos, and/or videos that you will regret later.
  • Use digital etiquette (i.e., netiquette) and think before posting. Respect others online.

Have students watch this social networking video from NetSmartz to initiate a class discussion on communicating effectively online, or use Betty’s Digital Netiquette quiz to reinforce cyber citizen skills.

Respectful and Ethical use of Digital Information

When conducting online research, students may sift through thousands of online sources, or they may superficially select the first one they click on to quickly find an answer. But do they know how to effectively seek, analyze, and select information sources online? Common Sense Media offers robust lessons related to evaluating websites. You may also consider using EasyBib EDU in which students can learn the appropriate way to evaluate websites, cite online resources, avoid plagiarism, and more. For additional teaching resources on teaching copyright, fair use, and digital law, check out Teaching Copyright or Brainpop.

Learning to navigate the cyberspace isn’t easy, and students will continue to make mistakes on and offline. That’s why it’s important to be proactive and teach them the necessary skills to lead safe and productive digital lives. Make this the year to instill effective, essential, life-long digital citizenship skills in your students!


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