Digital Life Lessons

Three ways to start a digital citizenship conversation.

GUEST COLUMN | by Gillian Wilson

CREDIT CCPSThere are a lot of great resources out there for digital citizenship lessons, including all kinds of modules students can complete, prepared lessons teachers can download and even courses and games students complete online. There is a lot of value in these lessons and many schools are giving at least a fair shake at finding time to imbed these lessons into an already packed curriculum. Students of all ages need to learn about their digital footprint, and the effect it could have on them later in life. Spending dedicated time on such things – be it once a week, once a month or more, can really make a difference in the way students use and understand the Internet.

Slip mini digital citizenship tidbits into your lessons by modeling appropriate use and behavior, and take the time to point out to your students how and why you are doing what you do.

However, the biggest way to show relevance and create retention is to embed these lessons in the everyday, which will stress importance and help create good habits before bad have formed. When immersed in a project or topic you learn a lot of information, but if you move on and don’t use the information, it’s lost. While carving time out to teach the occasional half hour or longer lesson on digital citizenship is important, try to embed 30 second teachable moments in your already planned everyday lessons. As we head further into the new year and for most schools, approach the start of a new semester, resolve to take small steps to help your students build habits for life. Here are three easy ways to start a digital citizenship conversation in your classroom:

  • You are teaching students to find an image for a project or presentation. As part of the lesson, choose to use a royalty free site like or, and explain to the students why you chose this site specifically; or take them through a Google image search, but use the search tools to filter for usage rights.
  • You’ve got your students set up on a site that allows users to choose a profile picture. Have them give suggestions for good pictures. If kids are having trouble identifying what makes a good picture vs. a bad one, use your own as an example. Show them your profile picture, but have it be of another teacher or the principal of the school. Why is this a bad choice?
  • If you’re using a digital message board, type a short joke, have the students read it silently to themselves. “What’s a pirate’s favorite letter? R.” Works well. It’s not funny when you just read it. Now, tell the joke out loud to the students with facial expression, body language and (of course) a pirate voice. R becomes “aaarrggh” and the joke becomes much funnier. This is a great way to demonstrate how intention and tone do not always come across the same way verbally as when you type.

Slip mini digital citizenship tidbits into your lessons by modeling appropriate use and behavior, and take the time to point out to your students how and why you are doing what you do. Show them that being conscious of their digital life is not a once in a while thing to focus on, but standard practice.

Gillian Wilson taught secondary school for nine years before leaving the classroom to become an Instructional Technology Integrator with Chesterfield County Public Schools just outside of Richmond, VA. She is a Google Apps for Education Qualified Individual and loves snow days. Write to:

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