Ideas for Teachers to Incorporate Digital Citizenship into Their Instruction

Teacher in front of classroom of students with tablets

From our Educator Guest Blogger Series

Many teachers feel overwhelmed by everything they already have to do in the classroom each day and can’t imagine having to do one more thing! Many teachers using technology complain about the management aspect of 1:1 initiatives. However, digital citizenship instruction can go a long way to improving classroom management in a 21st-century classroom. In fact, any teacher incorporating technology into their teaching must also teach students to be responsible digital citizens.

But why are teachers responsible for teaching digital citizenship? Part of our purpose as teachers is to help students become knowledgeable and productive citizens ready for the real world, and today we are preparing students to be citizens in a 21st-century world. And while those of us that grew up before or along with the digital age may differentiate between the “real” world and the digital world, today’s students don’t see themselves as having a digital world versus a real world; it’s ALL their world.

Then that brings us to “how?” How do teachers add digital citizenship instruction to their already packed curriculums? Read on to see how one district effectively teaches digital citizenship and for some tips to alleviate the anxiety you might feel about having to teach digital citizenship. And with Common Sense Education’s Digital Citizenship week approaching, October 14 - 19, now is the perfect time to evaluate your digital citizenship instruction.

How One 1:1 District Approaches Digital Citizenship Instruction

In my 1:1 district, digital citizenship is a group effort. Teachers, media specialists and digital learning coaches work together to teach digital citizenship to K-12 students in our four schools. Students at our primary school (K-2) receive initial digital citizenship lessons through the media specialist and their classroom teachers. Digital citizenship practices are introduced before students even touch devices through teacher modeling, read-alouds, and direct instruction. Teachers connect digital citizenship practices to what they are already teaching. The media specialist has formal digital citizenship lessons for 1st and 2nd grade students immediately following the rollout of their devices and embeds digital citizenship lessons through the course of the year. Most of these lessons are centered around safety at this age. Resources for these lessons are pulled from Common Sense Education and BrainPop, Jr.

At our elementary school, 3rd through 5th grade students receive digital citizenship lessons in the media center. The media specialist bases digital citizenship lessons around that section of the new South Carolina Computer Science standards. Resources include Common Sense Education’s printable and Nearpod lessons, as well as Cyberwise’s Digital Citizenship Curriculum. Digital citizenship is promoted throughout the year with different little tidbits on privacy, password sharing, etc as they are naturally a part of the lesson (for instance, when students are signing up for CoSpaces, they discuss how CoSpaces asks for permission to view your Google Account email address and what the implications of that are). Both the elementary and primary school media specialists plan on assessing what students learned through a Google Form at the end of the initial unit and formatively assessing students throughout the year during computer science instruction.

Middle school students (6th-8th) receive monthly digital citizenship lessons created by the digital learning coaches pulling from a variety of resources Common Sense Education, Google’s Be Internet Awesome, and Brainpop. These are ready-made Google Slides lessons incorporating a variety of instructional strategies that teachers facilitate, as well as engaging online content like videos, games, and interactives. Students compete yearly in grade-level Quizizz challenges where the student in each grade level with the highest points receives a special prize!

At the high school, the media specialist offers teachers time to sign up for Common Sense Education’s Nearpod digital citizenship lessons in the media center, but most teachers embed digital citizenship in their instruction. Data from a recent survey of teachers and students indicates that while some of the digital citizenship instruction students receive involves staying safe online, more of it tends to involve evaluating and properly citing online sources. Additionally, last year both students at the middle and high schools piloted Google’s Applied Digital Skills curriculum which incorporates many digital literacies along the way.

While plans for formal digital citizenship instruction exists at all four schools, we still encourage teachers to embed digital citizenship in their instruction anytime students are using devices. To help teachers navigate this in their classrooms, the digital learning coaches developed a challenge for teachers to complete Google’s Digital Citizenship and Safety Course. Teachers that complete the challenge complete a reflection form and receive a badge. Additionally, we offer students digital citizenship tips and reminders through wallpapers pushed out to all student Chromebooks.

Digital Citizenship Resources to Try Tomorrow

Like anything else online, there are a plethora of resources for teaching digital citizenship. However, these top tried-and-true resources should help you design the perfect digital citizenship curriculum for your class or school.

  • Common Sense Education has free comprehensive digital citizenship curriculums for K-12 students. The ready-to-teach lessons engage students with authentic digital dilemmas to solve and include printables, iBooks lessons, and Nearpod lessons (some free, some paid), as well as free interactives and games: Digital Passport for 3-5, Digital Compass for 6-8, and Digital Bytes for 9-12. The curriculums include student assessments and family engagement materials, too. Further, Common Sense Education provides teachers with extensive training materials and recognizes teachers and schools that are going above and beyond when it comes to preparing students to be responsible digital citizens.
  • Google’s Be Internet Awesome
    Google’s free digital safety curriculum, Be Internet Awesome, helps encourage students to be smart, alert, strong, kind, and brave when online. The curriculum provides educators five engaging lessons that complement four interactive games at Interland. The curriculum is aligned with the ISTE standards and is available as a printable PDF, but individual lessons are also available as Google Slides or interactive presentations using the Pear Deck for Google Slides Add-on. Be Internet Awesome also provides resources for families through the Family Link guide and app for setting digital ground rules at home.
  • BrainPOP and BrainPOP, Jr.
    BrainPOP’s free digital citizenship curriculum teaches students how to use devices and interact online in a safe, responsible, and positive way. Topics include cyberbulling, peer pressure, digital etiquette, and information privacy. The engaging and interactive curriculum allows students to discover how to navigate the digital world through videos, games, and other activities and provides teachers with lesson plans, rubrics, quizzes and more. BrainPOP, Jr. offers younger students a lesson on digital safety along with other digital literacy skills as they are beginning to venture out online.

Tips for Embedding Digital Citizenship in Your Instruction Today

Don’t think of digital citizenship as “one more thing,” but try to incorporate it into what you are already doing. Try one or all of these:

  • Just as you teach other non-instructional routines and procedures (and revisit them throughout the year), make teaching digital citizenship another one of your procedures.
  • Model digital citizenship as a teacher. When encountering a fishy email or website, model for students how to identify suspicious emails or websites and how you handle the situation.
  • For younger students, read-alouds are a great way to incorporate digital citizenship into your curriculum. Books like Once Upon a Time Online by David Bedford could be read during a study on fairy tales, or any time! Or If You Give a Mouse an iPhone: A Cautionary Tale by Ann Droyd could be read when studying cause and effect or could be compared to the other If You Give a Mouse . . . (by Laura Joffe Numeroff and Felicia Bond) books. Older students enjoy read-alouds, too!
  • Provide students opportunities to interact in online environments and moderate the discussion. Digital conversations and sharing through digital platforms like Google Classroom or Seesaw allow students to practice how to behave online in a safe, supportive environment.
  • “Sneak in” digital citizenship when you are providing instruction in other areas. For instance, when students are conducting research, remind them they must always credit their digital sources and show them how. Or when students are responding to each other on collaborative platforms, prompt them to keep their comments positive and always be respectful to others online.
  • Small checks for understanding about digital citizenship can occur quickly and simply through digital platforms. Students can complete a bell ringer on Padlet about not oversharing online (or in class!). Or have students take a Quizizz about credible sites for exploring US history.
  • Use the interactive resources shared above to create center rotations or independent reading centers. For example, students could explore Interland or the Digital Compass interactives during technology rotation. Or have students read Common Sense Education’s iBook lessons during independent reading.
  • On the fly: look out for opportunities that present themselves. When my second graders were watching Zootopia (2016) on movie day, there was a guy selling DVDs and video games that had not been released yet. I asked them, “Boys and girls, is he being a good digital citizen?” They responded, “No because he has stolen someone else’s intellectual property!” (Yes, they really said that because their media specialist had taught them that vocabulary)!
  • Know when to unplug! Model for students that they don’t have to be online all the time by providing offline instruction and activities. Encourage students how to respectfully interact with each other in person.
  • Encourage temporary breaks from devices when students are using them for extended periods of time. Use extensions like Move It to encourage students to disconnect periodically when working on their devices. Or put on a video from GoNoodle to encourage students to be active.

By being intentional and planning ahead for digital citizenship instruction, ALL teachers can effectively teach digital citizenship to our 21st-century students.



Ashley Fort serves as a Digital Learning Coach for Lexington County School District 3 in Batesburg-Leesville, SC. Her goal is to help ALL students become empowered life-long learners who are confident and productive 21st-century citizens and to help teachers effectively leverage technology to enhance student learning. A South Carolina native, she is a product of Lexington School District 3 and proudly continues to reside in Batesburg-Leesville. She holds a bachelor's degree in early childhood from the University of South Carolina, Aiken, and a master's degree in educational technology from Liberty University.

In 2015, she was an American Immigration Council's Community Education Grant Recipient and a Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative's Bright Ideas Grant Recipient, funds of which were used to increase student access to devices in her second-grade classroom. In 2017, she was named the PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator for South Carolina for integrating STEAM into her daily instruction. In addition, she is a Common Sense Educator, Common Sense Ambassador, Seesaw Ambassador, Google Certified Teacher Levels 1 & 2, and Epic! Master Teacher. A member of International Society for Technology in Education, she was a reviewer for Early Learning Proposals for ISTE’s 2016 conference.

You can follow her on Twitter at @MrsAshleyBFort. To keep up with Lexington County School District Three’s innovative 1:1 initiative, follow @LexCounty_SD3 and #Lex3Grows.


Note: This guest blog does not necessarily reflect the views of ETV Education.