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Digital Citizenship

Teaching students how to be safe online and use sources responsibly is essential.

Sammy White shares how she does it and has resources to save you time.

SJ White gaming

There are a myriad of important terms when teaching students healthy digital habits. Digital citizenship – using technology to engage in society. Digital literacy – using technology to find, share and evaluate content. The responsibility as well to teach healthy digital habits, how and when to stay safe online make it a hefty topic to tackle with students.

As teachers, we are familiar with tackling difficult conversations and model behaviours that our students may adopt. Consuming content is an ever increasing part of our lives, we can model how we navigate this for our students. Think of when you search online for a topic or article to support your lesson. We know which sources are credible and which are not. Citing Wikipedia is not a wise move, and when moving into academia peer-reviewed is the way to go. Have we explicitly shared our top tips with our students?

Let’s take Google as our search engine. We have Google Scholar for academic research, we have image search for finding suitable images. When searching images, we can toggle creative commons results only on to curate our results. We can then have a meaningful discussion about licenses and why they are important to be aware of.

One of my favourite activities is to ask students to research a key event or word, review their results and then filter the search again to only show results from the last 7 days, month, or a specific year and see how that filter affects their original search results. We can then discuss the volume of information and content that is generated daily and how do we know what is good?

Another favourite is to narrate my own searching online. Explaining why I don’t click on Wikipedia links, why I add the word pdf to my search if I am looking for articles. I do this live in class or by a short screencast video shared with students. The age old modelled worked example for them to refer to and work from applies in teaching digital literacy too.

These are small steps and there are full curricula to teach staying safe online and the impact of data and more available online from many sources. I am a Common Sense Ambassador, which means I amplify the US charity’s work in the UK. We have UK specific lessons now that refer to our UK law rather than American.

The lessons are grouped by year group and contain a lesson plan, resources and tasks all ready to grab and go. For example, year 3 lessons include privacy, licensing of materials, online bullying, digital footprint, healthy habits with devices and online communities.

The curriculum from Common Sense covers many aspects of what we look to teach when teaching students digital literacy and citizenship. Common Sense goes beyond this as well with a searchable database of apps and tv programmes with student, teacher and parent ratings to help inform you on whether an app or tv programme is suitable. These reviews will also signpost to individual lessons from the digital citizenship curriculum relevant to support where appropriate too. 

We know teaching students how to be safe online, use sources responsibly and to engage meaningfully are important but we are also, all, busy. I hope that there’s a quick win in here for you to grab that may lighten the load.

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The author

Sammy is a former maths teacher having taught across secondary, alternative provisions and FE Sammy now works at Texthelp as a Teaching and Learning Specialist. Sammy was named in the EdTech 50 in 2021 and holds an ACMALT from the Association of Learning Technologists. Sammy is a Microsoft Certified Educator, Word Expert, Google Innovator, Trainer and Coach. Sammy has recently been delivering her own workshops on using GIFs to model and bridge the digital divide to UK colleges and schools. You can connect with Sammy and read more of her work at

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