Digital Citizenship – Constructively Engaging

Why is it important for people to practice respect, inclusivity and politeness when communicating with each other? How does online communication affect life offline? What responsibility do people have for their online communications?

A a class brainstorm on a sheet of paper how they would like to be treated when their classmates speak to them. Encourage them to think about ideas like respect, eye contact, non-threatening body language, inclusivity and politeness. Ask students to use positive statements that begin with, “People respect me when they… ”

Does speaking positively to or about someone has more impact when said in person or online? What about speaking negatively to or about someone? Why do they think that is the case?

Hate speech is defined by as “speech that attacks, threatens or insults a person or group on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.” How do you feel when witnessing, experiencing or sending hate speech or negative comments or posts?How does what’s said online affect life offline? What actions, if any, do they take when they or their friends receive hate speech or negative comments online?

Before you begin, remember that you have the power to escalate or de-escalate a situation through your words and actions. Read aloud each scenario aloud.  Ask students to think about what they would do under the same scenarios they just examined as a class. Choose a personal response from the four options provided.  Hold it up so everyone can read it. Have similar responding “groups” explain their reasons to the class. Have students state whether they think their action would escalate or de-escalate the situation.


  • A couple you know is going through a nasty breakup. Both are your good friends. You read a post on social media that trashes one of them.
  • A good friend of yours recently got into an argument with another student. That student sent a racially insensitive text to your friend, and you and others saw a screen shot of the exchange.
  • A student you don’t know is being bullied online through social media posts. Other students and members of the community are questioning his gender. Some of your friends are the worst offenders.
  • A photograph and story of you in an embarrassing circumstance has been posted online and portrayed as a real news story.
  • Some students you don’t know are spreading a nasty story about you on social media. Your friends think it is true and begin to ignore you.

To debrief, discuss the following:

  • Why are positive comments important to you? How do they affect your life?
  • When people are experiencing some difficulty—such as arguments, friendship breakups, false accusations or harassment—why is it better not to make negative comments?
  • What responsibility do you have for your online communication?
  • How can you help encourage all students to take this responsibility seriously?

Identify what is learned through this activity. In small groups develop class guidelines for online and in-person communication based on what they’ve learned. When they have finished, groups should present their ideas to the class and have the class vote on the best ones. Post the final guidelines in your classroom.