What do monitoring screen time usage, practicing internet safety, and preventing cyberbullying have in common? These topics all fall under the umbrella of digital citizenship.
Digital Citizenship Week is an annual event held by the nonprofit organization Common Sense Media. This year, it will be held from October 17 to 21. It’s the perfect opportunity to introduce skills to your students that will help them become better digital citizens.
Read on to discover what digital citizenship is and how it can help your students use technology in safe, informed ways. Then, discover 9 key elements of digital citizenship–along with ways you can teach each skill to your students during Digital Citizenship Week.
What is Digital Citizenship?
Whether they’re surfing the web on a computer or playing games on a phone, many children use technology on a regular basis. A broad definition of digital citizenship is the ability to use technology and the internet in a safe and informed way.
Digital citizenship skills give students the right tools to engage with the digital world in ways that promote healthy online habits. A few examples of digital citizenship include:
- Learning to type, use a mouse, and other computer operating skills
- Avoiding harassment or cyberbullying while conversing with others online
- Keeping personal information private and only communicating with people you know in real life
The 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) outlines nine digital citizenship skills and resources to help students navigate digital media: 
- Digital access
- Digital etiquette
- Digital commerce
- Digital rights and responsibilities
- Digital literacy
- Digital law
- Digital communication
- Digital health and wellness
- Digital security
Digital citizenship begins with these nine elements. They serve as a guideline for teaching students what they need to know to be safe and informed online. Read on to learn what each skill is and why it’s important, along with tips and activities to teach digital citizenship skills in your classroom.
How to Teach Digital Citizenship Skills in Class
Digital access is the ability to access technology which, unfortunately, is not equal for all students. To promote digital access in your class, you can help families access digital resources at school or other organizations in your community, like your local library.
Digital etiquette is just what it sounds like: treating all people, including classmates, with respect while interacting with them online. For elementary students, one of the most important digital etiquette principles is understanding the consequences of cyberbullying.
Use this video from the nonprofit Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center Foundation to teach students what cyberbullying is and what to do if they or someone they know are being bullied.
Digital commerce refers to buying and selling items online responsibly. For the most part, elementary students rarely engage in this element of digital citizenship. Yet even at this age, your students will likely see advertisements every time they use the internet. It’s important for them to learn how to distinguish ads from other content so they can be smart about interacting with them.
This online lesson from Common Sense Media can help children recognize ads and prevent them from falling for scams.
Digital Rights and Responsibilities
Digital rights and responsibilities refers to the privileges that all students have while using the internet, like freedom of speech, as well as the impact on themselves and others that their online actions have. You can use this helpful infographic to teach your students about their impact and their “digital footprint” online.
The definition of digital literacy is the ability to learn how to use technology and access information online. A few examples of digital literacy include knowing how to use a mouse or how to find answers with a search engine.
Not all students start school with the same technological abilities. Teaching digital literacy skills in class can help bridge gaps and allow all students to enjoy the benefits of technology. This list from Understood.org is an excellent resource for teaching students how to type on a keyboard.
Digital law encompasses the rules or guidelines set within an organization for using online resources. If you teach older elementary grades, you could talk about why plagiarism is harmful and how to cite information correctly using this resource from Read Write Think. You should also go over your classroom’s own guidelines for using school computers responsibly.
The opportunities that students have for communicating online are greater than ever. Messaging, email, and online games are all ways that children might digitally interact with others. For this reason, it’s important to teach your students how to communicate safely and effectively online.
To ensure student safety, teach them the importance of only communicating with people they know in real life. They could practice that skill by emailing a nice message to a loved one with the help of their family.
Digital Health and Wellness
This element of digital citizenship involves teaching students how to protect their psychological and physical well-being while using the internet. Time management is a great skill for practicing digital health and wellness, like establishing healthy screen time habits.
Use this worksheet to introduce time management and setting goals to your students.
The ninth element of digital citizenship—digital security—involves teaching students how to take steps to stay safe online. Although the internet can be an excellent resource, students need to know how to avoid viruses, scams, or strangers online.
Internet safety lessons for children could include anything from why privacy online is important to what to do if they encounter a cyberbully or stranger. This helpful video from Common Sense Media teaches five safe internet habits to students.
October is also National Bullying Prevention Month. Use this resource to recognize red flags that bullying is happening in your classroom and teach students how to get help if they or a classmate are being bullied.
Digital citizenship education can have a lifelong impact on students. To share helpful strategies with families, print out or email these digital citizenship tip sheets (available in English or Spanish).
1. Ribble, M. “Essential elements of digital citizenship.” July 26, 2021. International Society for Technology in Education. https://www.iste.org/explore/ISTE-blog/Essential-elements-of-digital-citizenship.
2. Ribble, M. “Passport to Digital Citizenship: Journey Toward Appropriate Technology Use at School and at Home.” Learning & Leading with Technology, December 2008, 36(4), pp. 14-17.
3. Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Cyberbullying and Digital/Internet Safety.” https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/health-safety/school-safety-center/z-index/cyberbullying-and-digitalinternet-safety.
4. Robinson, L., Cotten, S.R., Ono, H., Quan-Haase, A., Mesch, G., Chen, W., Schulz, J., Hale, T.M., and Stern, M.J. “Digital inequalities and why they matter.” Information, Communication, & Society. 2015, 18(5), pp. 569-582.
5. Tan, T. “Educating Digital Citizens.” Leadership, September 2011, 41(1), pp. 30-32.
6. Hollandsworth, R., Dowdy, L., and Donovan, J. “Digital Citizenship in K-12: It Takes a Village.” TechTrends, July 2011, 55(4), pp. 37-47.