Introducing Young Children To Digital Citizenship

I sometimes learn more about my own practice in the classroom from the questions I am asked than I do from my own reflection. There is something about the lenses through which others see our work that helps us to see ourselves more clearly.  That was the case earlier this month at the Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston.

At the end of the first day of a two-day session I was leading on Building Learning Communities in elementary classrooms, I asked the participants what they specifically wanted to talk about on the second day. One of the attendees asked me to address the way I introduce the idea of digital citizenship in my classroom. What a great question! Unfortunately, I didn’t have a great answer. I did though, have the evening to think about my response.

I have posted before about how and why I teach digital citizenship in my classroom. We often have discussions about the issues involved in this concept. As I thought about it, though, I realized that I had never explicitly taught the idea of digital citizenship. Every year, we talk about being safe online, about each student posting their best work on their individual blog, about building a positive image of our classroom through the tweets on our classroom Twitter account, about letting the world see what we do, about how to comment well and about the ways we learn from others outside of our classroom. Every year, I refer over and over to these ideas (although I have never specifically called it digital citizenship—that term is a bit too nebulous for six-year-olds) and the students are soon able to articulate the hows and whys of what we do in our social media spaces.  But I had never taken the time to specifically introduce them to the whole concept of posting online in a way that would lay the groundwork for what we talk about throughout the year.

Clearly, this needed to be changed.

This year, I will purposefully teach that first lesson about being safe and responsible online.  My goal for this lesson would not be a finished product or a specific curriculum outcome, but a foundational awareness of what it means to post online.

Showing Examples and Asking Questions

I will choose two blogs belonging to past students from my classroom—a girl and a boy who have since left our school or are old enough that none of my new children will know who they are, what they look like, etc. I will choose anonymous students because I don’t want my new class to have any ideas about these students beyond what each of them has posted online. I’ll project these blogs for my class to see and together, we will explore them.

After looking at each blog’s tagline, “About Me” section and some of the individual posts on each blog, we’ll talk about the following questions.

What things do you know about Aaliyah and Haydn?

What things don’t you know about Aaliyah and Haydn?

What do you notice about the things they have posted on their blogs?

Why do you think there is no picture of Haydn or Aaliyah’s face on their blog?

Would you like to be friends with Haydn or Aaliyah?  Why?

Would you have felt differently if Haydn and Aaliyah had posted things that were unkind? Mean?


These questions will inevitably generate other questions from the students who are new to the whole idea of posting online and will give us a good starting point to discuss why we post online and how we can do this in not only a safe manner, but in a way that helps us to learn and others to learn from us.

Hopefully with this specific introduction as a basis for what we do, our frequent “just in time” discussions about safety, kindness and appropriate posting online will be even more meaningful as the students will all have the necessary background right from the start to understand what it means to post online. Kids do learn best from other kids (or in this case, other kids’ blogs)!

If something is important, it deserves to be taught well, including a good introduction. I think that teaching digital citizenship is important. So, from now on, I’m going to do a much better job of introducing this to my students. Thanks for the great question, Caitlin!

If you have never specifically taught this concept in your classroom either, feel free to use the student blogs I linked to above.  Maybe you’re way ahead of me and have done this many times. If so, I’d love to hear how you have done this.

2 thoughts on “Introducing Young Children To Digital Citizenship

  1. Kathy,
    Thanks so much for the thoughtful post. The starting questions you’re going to use are ones I think we could apply throughout the grades, as we introduce these ideas to our students. We often model what we want our students to know about digital citizenship, but forget to do that explicit teaching. I’m also struck by the fact that you’ve been opening your classroom to the world long enough that you have examples that meet your criteria of being far enough removed from your current students.

    Quick editing note: in first sentence under “showing examples and asking questions”, there’s an extra “s” on “what they looks like”

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