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5 tips for teaching digital literacy skills

Stephanie CarmichaelJuly 22, 2016

Digital literacy is growing more important as technology becomes a bigger part of the school experience. Both teachers and students need to know how to use and navigate the digital world effectively.

Our #ClasscraftChat with @TeachingFactor (Michele Haiken, teacher and #ISTELitChat moderator) emphasized a few key points. Here are five tips for understanding and teaching digital literacy in your classroom.

What is digital literacy?

The term “digital literacy” applies to all things literacy through a digital or online lens, including understanding and being fluent with digital mediums.

That includes reading, writing, speaking, and critical thinking—all essential language skills that form a strong foundation for communication.

Create, don’t just consume

Students can better understand what they’re reading or seeing by engaging in the creation process themselves.

Digital literacy is more than text; it can entail videos, images, and audio, too. Students can research and discuss, tweet, code, and more. Giving students a choice of which digital tools they want to use helps to differentiate learning and even assist students coping with personal challenges, such as ADD or dyslexia.

It’s about preparing for the future

Digital skills are going to be a fundamental part of students’ future employment, including jobs that haven’t even been created yet.

Kids already know how to use technology for personal entertainment; we have to teach them how to use it professionally. That means good etiquette online, how to engage in constructive discussion, and knowing what’s okay to share.

For example, you could have students analyze comment threads for real articles online and categorize the comments into different buckets, such as “constructive,” “trolling,” etc., and what the reactions were (whether people were positive or negative in response). Ask students to suggest what the negative commenters could have done differently to prevent arguments or volatile reactions.

Teach students to think critically

More and more, it’s difficult to distinguish which parts of what we read online are true and which lack basis. Part of good digital literacy education is teaching students how to think critically about the information and images out there and to evaluate sources.

This can be challenging with students in lower grades, such as elementary school, but even exposing kids to this idea early on can coach them to be more discerning. You could, for example, ask students find three online articles from April Fool’s Day, one fake and two true. Have the class vote on which source they think is unreliable. Afterward, reveal the “fake” article and discuss strategies for spotting false information.

Try engaging in different ways

The digital world offers endless opportunities for learning, if only we know how to use the tools at our disposal.

Incorporating tech into daily lessons adds variety and interactivity to the classroom, gives kids more agency in their learning, and keeps the class interesting. Whether you’re doing online scavenger hunts or Twitter book chats, you can open kids’ eyes to new possibilities with tools they’re already using every day.

Safety is key

One element we can’t afford to overlook is student safety. The online world is massive, and it’s easy for kids to get lost or in trouble without guidance.

To successfully teach students about cyber safety, it’s better to focus less on relaying the horror stories of what can go wrong and more on modeling behaviors that they should follow to stay safe. One lesson could involve teaching kids about privacy settings or discussing real-world examples where behavior on social media had negative consequences. Then talk about how those situations could have been avoided.

Share your ideas: What other insights would you add about teaching digital literacy?

Join #ClasscraftChat every other Thursday at 9 PM Eastern on Twitter to talk education with us!

Photo credit: Lisa F. Young /

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