Here’s how you can teach digital literacy skills to make sure your students are ready to be thoughtful, well-informed adults.

Let’s get started!

What is Digital Literacy?

Teaching digital literacy in middle school is important.  Click through to find 10 tips for effective ways to teach digital citizenship and critical thinking skills.

First – let’s talk about what it means for our students to be digital literate.

In one regard, digital literacy means being able to navigate online and using technology.

Most students are “digital natives.”

They don’t have any qualms about searching for content and clicking (and believing in) the first link that pops up after a search.

Our students may have “digital literacy” in that they can access and use information from digital sources.

But what is often missing is the critical thinking component.

Digital literacy also includes evaluating online resources for credibility.

So while students may know how to find articles on healthy eating habits, they may not be able to evaluate the source of the information to determine bias, faulty logic, or opinions.

Here’s a simple lesson plan:

Do this first:

Determine what skills you want to teach.

Here are a few ideas:

  • propaganda
  • online safety
  • privacy issues
  • being a good citizen
  • fact checking
  • assessing for bias
  • evaluating sources

You don’t need to teach all of them; pick the ones that make the most sense.

Do this next:

Make sure students understand the task.

For example, if you are evaluating a source, make sure students know what to look for — and where.

Provide them with a checklist of items to find on a website.

Then:

Practice, practice, practice.

Start with a question you want your students to explore. You can find a big list here.

As students start researching the topic, create a whole class spread sheet so you can compare and contrast the sources.

Your spread sheet can include columns for:

  • the author
  • the sponsor
  • name of the website
  • date published
  • information about the author of the post
  • information about the publisher of the website
  • the link

Students can work with partners or even use their findings to host a debate.

Why this works:

As they build a spreadsheet, your students can discuss the importance of the age of the post, the author, and the sponsor.

An online article about the value of homework published by a parenting magazine probably has a much different slant than one published by an education magazine or an organization like College Board.

The bottom line: You Must Teach Digital Literacy

No matter how you do it, you must teach digital literacy.

I think that all teachers (and parents, of course) should teach their students how to navigate the pros and cons of the internet.  

We can’t assume that because kids have smartphones and know how to use them — that they know how to fact check, determine bias, understand propaganda, or evaluate websites.


We can’t assume that  kids know how to fact check, determine bias, or evaluate websites.

Students should be taught, in all subjects, what it means to use online resources.  

Here are some other ways to work on this critical thinking skill:

10 Ways to Strengthen Digital Literacy

1. Start by determining what research looks like in your subject area.  

Students will certainly be researching different things in a history class than in a science class.

2. Complete a simple research project or investigative question with your students.  

Show them the process of developing a question and searching for an answer.  

Show them how you research something — the purchase of a smartphone or a car.  Hook students in by choosing an item they’d like to have.

3. Decide what kind of research sources you will allow.  

Is Wikipedia okay?  If not, make sure students understand why not.  If so, make sure students understand that as well.

4. Does your school subscribe to a data base?  If so, teach your students how to use it.  Make sure they understand the value of a data base.

5. Teach your students about bias.  

How can they determine if a website is biased?  Again, use your own subject matter to discuss this.  How does bias look in science?  or History?

6. How do you want your students to cite their sources?  

Check with your teaching team.  This will be easier for the students if all the teachers agree on how students will cite their sources.  We know how easy it is to plagiarize.

7. Teach students to fact check.  There is a reason teachers require a certain number of sources; do your students know this?

8. Do your students know how to evaluate a website?  

As we know, anyone can post anything on the internet.  Middle school students probably don’t want to use a third grader’s website as a resource.

9. Manners.  

No digital literacy conversation is complete without discussing how students should behave and interact online.  If you have a class blog or Edmodo account, this is a great introduction to online manners.

10. Teaching digital literacy is critical thinking in action.  

Talk about a real-world skill!  Review products, evaluate services, purchase products, and explore questions.  You teach a lifelong skill when you teach students to navigate online information.

Invest in solid digital literacy practices and strengthen them with intentional practice.

Looking for more?

I’ve created four digital literacy lessons that you can find in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  Please feel free to check them out.

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