What is Digital Citizenship? Why is it so important?

Digital Citizenship is something that all teachers need to be aware of. With the growing amount of online activity that students are involved in, we need to provide students with clear guidance on ‘best practice’ when working online. We want our students to enjoy the huge benefits that the internet and computers generally offer but at the same time make our students aware of the issues and dangers. Just like people should be good citizens in society, they should also be good citizens online. In this article we provide you with an general overview of the topic and then suggest an activity that you might like to try with your students.

Ethics is at the core of digital citizenship. It is particularly important to students as they tend to use technology a lot but are not necessary clear on the issues. The types of issues that might come up include:

  • What do you do if someone contacts through the internet that you don’t know?
  • Is it a good idea to share compromising pictures of yourself or a friend on the internet? What could be the consequences?
  • Is it fair to download and use pictures that are not yours? Is it fair to download movies from an illegal website?
  • Can you copy text from a website and paste it in to your essay?
  • How do you know if the information your friend sends to you is authentic?
  • What should you do if you receive an unkind or rude text about someone in your class?

A very simple framework that can help you think about digital citizenship was set out by Howard Gardner [1]. He suggested 5 main areas.

Happy student posing in a classroom


Students need to think about how they would be viewed if someone searched for information about them on the internet. Have they uploaded any compromising pictures into their profile? Have they included any silly or rude comments on discussion boards that other people can easily find?


How well protected is their information? Are they using simple passcodes? Who do they share their passcodes with? What information have they set as public on sites like Facebook?


How do they deal with content that has been created by other people? How do they know if they have permission to use certain pictures, videos or even text? What should they do if they used a quote from an article on the internet? Is it right to copy text from another source and claim it as yours?


How do they know if the information they receive from the information is right or wrong? What is fake news and how can they find out if it is fake or not? How do they know if a website is authentic?

Group of women learning computer programming


How should they engage with the rest of the community on the internet? What should they do if they receive malicious texts or emails about other people?

These are the 5 key areas that they need to think about and under each of these headings a number of issues are likely to be raised, especially in the context of young people. The good news is, there are a whole number of resources that English teachers can make use of. The following is an example of an activity that you might like to try with your students. It helps students to think about the 5 areas and the sorts of issues that are raised under each category. It also encourages students to develop a set of guidelines.

Part one- Focusing on what a digital citizen is.

The aim of this first part is to raise student’s awareness of the issue. We do this through a mixture of them sharing ideas and then drawing information from a video.

Ask students to get into groups and make a list of what they think it means to be a good digital citizen. What things does it cover? What does a good digital citizen do? You might like to write the words ‘Digital Citizenship’ on the board.

Now get some of the groups to share their answers with you and write up their ideas on the board.

Now tell the groups, you are going to play a video about being a ‘Good Digital Citizen’ Tell them to watch it and then in groups to discuss what things they have learnt from the video that they hadn’t discussed before. You may need to play the video twice.

Part two-Developing a framework.

It is quite difficult to organise all the different issues that are raised around digital citizenship. In this part we provide a framework, ask students to organise their ideas from part one into this framework.

On the board write the following. You may need to translate the words. It is a good idea to organise the words into a table.

Identify Privacy Ownership Trustworthiness Community

Now ask the students to look at all the issues they previously discussed and ask them to put the ideas under the correct category. Sometimes, they might think that some of their ideas need to go under more than one category, that is fine. Sometimes they might think their ideas don’t fall under any of the categories, in that case you might need to help them.

 Here is an example

Identify Privacy Ownership Trustworthiness Community
Putting up funny pictures into your profile -Sharing your password

-Making too much information public on Facebook

-Copying pictures from the internet

-Downloading illegal films

-Using the information from a website that your friend showed you.


-Sharing a rude text about someone in your class.

-Writing something bad about someone in a discussion.


Once they have finished, ask some of the groups to read out their answers under each section. Help them, if you feel they have made any mistakes. The idea is that hopefully they will see that the framework more or less covers all the key issues.

Part 3 Building rules

For each of the issues that students have raised in their groups, what advice would they give? In this section, students will learn to build up a series of useful rules and guidelines which they can use.

Ask students to look at the different issues that they have written under each category. If they had to give some advice or provide some guidelines for each issue what would they write? Ask the students to work in groups and think of advice for each issue they have raised. You might want to show them some examples so they understand what they need to do. If for example as some possible rules for privacy (this is not a complete list).



-Don’t share your password with anyone.

-Use a difficult password with letters and numbers.

-Only put very basic information on your profile and nothing too private like your address, phone number or email.

-Don’t use a real picture. Add an avatar.

-Create an account with a different name rather than your real name.

Now get some of the groups to either read out their rules to the rest of the class or ask them to come to the board and write up their ideas. Finally as a class, choose the best 10 rules. You could turn these rules into a poster that you put on the wall or alternatively each group could make a poster with the rules they have created.



Russell Stannard

Russell Stannard is the founder of TeacherTrainingVideos.Com and the Associate Trainer at NILE. He was the previous winner of the Times Higher ‘Outstanding Technology Initiative’, the British Council ‘Technology Innovation Award’ and the University of Westminster ‘Excellence in Teaching Award.’ He trains teachers all over the world, especially in the use of technology in language teaching.









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