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Essential Digital Citizenship Lessons for the Coronavirus Pandemic

Support the transition to virtual learning and help students think critically and compassionately about what they see online.

Erin Wilkey Oh | March 16, 2020

As the effects of the coronavirus sweep through the United States and across the world, many teachers and schools are making the shift to virtual learning. But even if students are comfortable with technology, learning online requires its own norms and procedures, many of which will be new to students who are used to learning in a face-to-face classroom.

In addition, teachers and students alike are spending more time checking news and social media in an effort to understand the coronavirus and its effects. Now more than ever, students need key digital citizenship skills, including news and media literacy, the ability to recognize and respond to cyberbullying, and an understanding of how their media habits affect them.

The lesson plans listed here are all available for free as part of Common Sense Education's K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum. If you have access to share lessons or resources with your students, you can assign our lessons using Google Classroom, download student activity sheets and send them as virtual activities to students, or share links to our videos with your students (lessons with videos are noted with an *).

In addition, you might consider having students use one of our digital citizenship interactive games and simulations: Digital Passport™ for grades 3–5, Digital Compass™ for grades 6–8, and Social Media TestDrive, created in collaboration with the Cornell University Social Media Lab.

We hope these resources are helpful to you during this challenging time.

Online Communication

As you set up the communication channels for your virtual classroom, it's important for students to understand the norms and expectations for online communication. They may be used to texting or chatting with friends on social media, but how they interact in the online school setting will be different. Help them learn what to do if they encounter hurtful language online, how to switch their communication style based on the setting, and ways to debate and communicate with civility.

  • *The Power of Words (Grade 3): Focus on social and emotional learning as you help students learn how to process their feelings when they see or read something online.
  • *Digital Drama Unplugged (Grade 6): Students can learn how digital drama develops and how to de-escalate contentious situations.
  • Connecting with Digital Audiences (Grade 11): Help high school students rethink how they use their devices as they transition to a virtual learning environment. Students think about how they should adjust the way they communicate with one another as well as how they use their devices depending on the setting.
  • *We Are Civil Communicators (Grade 12): This lesson helps students identify the best ways to meaningfully and respectfully engage in online discussions.

News & Media Literacy

For many students, the coronavirus pandemic has them worried. While there is reason for concern, some of their anxiety stems from incomplete or incorrect information they're seeing on social media. Now is an important time to help them build critical thinking skills so that they can identify what information is credible and what isn't. Use these lessons to support news and media literacy:

  • Finding Credible News (Grade 6): Help students differentiate real news articles from misleading ones.
  • This Just In! (Grade 8): When breaking news happens, information may not always be accurate. Students can learn the importance of stopping, thinking, and reflecting on what we see in breaking news.
  • Hoaxes and Fakes (Grade 9): Help students ask critical questions when they encounter information online, and decide which sources are credible and which are not.

Media Balance

When school happens online in addition to kids' already-busy online social lives, they may start to feel like they're staring at a screen 24/7. Talk with students about how much time they're spending on devices and help them reflect on how their media use makes them feel. Try these supporting lessons:

  • *Finding My Media Balance (Grade 5): Students out of school, staying home, may be using more media than ever. Plus, the bombardment of news media can be overwhelming. This lesson helps students think through what their own media balance should include, for their own well-being.
  • Social Media and How You Feel (Grade 10): Social media plays a big role in most teens' lives, and research shows that it causes intense feelings -- both positive and negative. This lesson helps teens think through how social media use is making them feel, and come up with a plan for more beneficial use.

Cyberbullying

Some students might witness or be the target of cyberbullying based on misconceptions about COVID-19. It's important for educators to teach students how to identify, respond to, and avoid cyberbullying. In addition, when you address what is and isn't acceptable online behavior, you promote a positive and safe learning environment for your students.

  • Putting a STOP to Online Meanness (Grade 2): Focus on social and emotional skills as you help younger students process mean behaviors or actions they witness online.
  • Upstanders and Allies: Taking Action Against Cyberbullying (Grade 7): This lesson prepares students to respond to situations that involve cyberbullying by encouraging them to be upstanders.
  • Responding to Online Hate Speech (Grade 8): Students likely encounter a lot of negative content, fear, and even hate of others online and on social media. Students will learn to identify online hate speech, and define specific actions they can take to positively impact a situation involving hate speech.
  • *Countering Hate Speech Online (Grade 10): Students can learn to understand the connection between xenophobia and online hate speech. Students analyze how the internet can contribute to the spread of xenophobia, and develop strategies to combat hate speech.