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NEA News

Building Responsible Digital Citizens

How to guide students safely through the online world.
Published: 06/01/2020

Education can be found anywhere on the internet—teaming up with students in Kenya, Skyping with an author in Sweden, or chatting with an astrophysicist on the International Space Station.

But to take a cerebral trek through the online world, children must know how to do it safely, securely, and responsibly. Here are a host of age-appropriate projects to help kids navigate this virtual Wild West.


Start by helping students understand that protecting their identity is critical. Ask them to draw an avatar—a character that represents them online—but inform them that the character should not actually look like them. Ask why this is important. Then print the avatars and hang them around the classroom. Can students identify each other?


A critical skill for first graders is to understand what a “digital citizen” is and why it’s important to be one.

An easy way to do this is to relate digital citizenship to citizenship in the students’ neighborhoods. What morals and obligations are expected of them there? How does paying attention to their surroundings at the mall equate to paying attention on websites? How is taking a nap after a busy day similar to taking a break from iPad use (or another digital device)? How does looking both ways before crossing the street relate to being cautious while using websites?

Or, have students draw pictures of themselves being good digital citizens as they use school-appropriate websites and apps. This requires an understanding of the virtual world. For those who struggle with the concept, have them share thoughts with neighbors about what doesn’t make sense.


Students should understand basic internet safety by second grade, such as accessing websites safely, being kind in online discussions, and protecting privacy to the level that a second grader can. Talk with students about passwords. Discuss common ones to avoid, like “Password,” “123456,” and “monkey.” Then use an online password generator, such as Password Generator ( or a similar website, to come up with hard-to-crack passwords.

Another fun project is to have students create image cubes. Using a school drawing program, students create six images that represent safe online habits. They can upload the drawings to the cube template at Big Huge Labs, Then have students print and fold the cubes and keep them on their desks to remind them to stay safe on the internet.


At this grade level, students should learn how to deal with cyberbullies. After a thorough discussion about why bullies are harmful, ask students to create a comic strip about a young person who gets bullied online and has to figure out how to handle the situation. Students can use Storyboard That ( another favorite web tool to create and share their stories.

Also discuss the concept of “netiquette”—the etiquette of online behavior. Create a Padlet board at and post it to the class blog or internet start page. Students can post notes about how netiquette helps prevent cyberbullying.


By this age, students should understand the importance of digital rights and responsibilities when using the internet. To help them understand the nuances of these terms, have them use or another online tool to create word clouds. Break the class in two, and ask one group to create a word cloud related to “rights” while the second group creates a cloud related to “responsibilities.” Then discuss how the words in the cloud relate to online safety and etiquette.


Two projects can help reinforce the characteristics of the online world and our interaction with it. First, create a Venn diagram comparing neighborhood safety and internet safety. What dangers lurk in each? Where do they overlap? This can tie into math class discussions on graphs and data.

Now that students have thought through these characteristics, have each student write a blog post about what it means to be a citizen of the internet or discuss the topic through a group vlog, like, or by using animated characters on


Social media is likely a hot issue in your school. Have a debate about the pros and cons of its prominence in students’ and adults’ lives. Students can research the topic by talking to older siblings, teachers, administrators, or parents who use social media. Record the debate and upload the video to the class website or blog.


By high school, you can focus on review to be sure students are prepared for college or a career. Common Sense Education offers 20 video lessons on digital literacy for grades 9–12 ( Or assign students a self- directed program like “9 Elements of Digital Citizenship” (

And Checkology offers a more focused, fee-based program ( that helps students tell fact from fiction.

Discuss digital citizenship year-round as part of core lessons, so it’s never far from students’ minds.

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K–18 technology for 30 years. You can follow her on Twitter @AskaTechTeacher.

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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.