The internet has completely changed how students research, learn and interact with each other. While the internet is an invaluable tool in education, teachers know what else their students can get up to online — and it isn’t always good.
Many educators today grew up with the internet themselves and are digitally literate. This means they see trolling and cyberbullying in their own social media feeds and know the comments can be even worse in middle and high school.
It is never too early to teach young learners good netiquette. Follow this guide to address cyberbullying in your classroom to educate and protect your students.
Keep Your Lessons Simple
Lesson plans against cyberbullying don’t need to be expensive or complex. Short, regular discussions about internet behavior can remind your students to treat each other with respect online.
PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center has a 30-60 minute lesson plan in which elementary students are introduced to the concept of bullying and learn how to speak up against it. It is specifically geared for earlier grades where students might not be familiar with the term cyberbullying, even if they have heard mean things said in the past.
Learning the terminology will likely be a big part of your anti-cyberbullying lesson plans. Terms like outing, catfishing and harassment can help students put words to the experiences they have had. Kenya McCullum at Accredited Schools Online created a page with different terms and examples. You can start here when planning class discussions.
Even though it seems counterintuitive, avoid banning technology or blocking students from accessing social media. Keeping students off of social media completely will simply put them in a bubble away from their peers where they can’t practice healthy internet skills.
“Rather than creating panic over the use of technology or spreading misunderstandings, awareness allows a positive atmosphere to emerge,” writes security researcher Cecilia Pastorino. Banning technology or websites in schools “can actually backfire in that pupils and students will use their phones on the sly,” she explains.
Make Cyberbullying Lessons Creative
Not all cyberbullying lesson plans need to involve heavy discussions with your students. You can use games, creative activities and technology to engage kids in the topic.
The team at BrainPOP has a K-12 lesson plan in which students are encouraged to create anti-cyberbullying PSAs alerting their peers to the facts about online bullying. Younger students can work together to write a PSA skit and perform it for the class, while older students can get creative with filming and video editing for a school-wide project.
Another tool at your disposal is Minecraft: Education Edition, which created a lesson plan and adventure game about stopping cyberbullying. This will likely get students excited and encourage their participation more than formal discussions or the standard question and answer guides.
Participate in National Anti-Bullying Events
There are multiple events throughout the year meant to raise awareness about cyberbullying and prevent harassment as a whole. This brings your discussion to a school-wide level, and even a national level as students from across the country participate.
For example, the organization GLSEN developed a No Name-Calling Week each January that has spread across the country — and the world. This week was first celebrated in 2004 through a partnership with Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. It was inspired by James Howe’s novel “The Misfits,” a story about kids who run for student council on a No Name-Calling platform after they were bullied. GLSEN has resources for all grade levels, so students K-12 can learn to be nicer to each other.
This year’s Stop Cyberbullying Day is June 19, 2020. The Cybersmile Foundation launched the event in 2012, which falls each year on the third Friday in June. This day, “encourages people around the world to show their commitment toward a truly inclusive and diverse online environment for all – without fear of personal threats, harassment or abuse.” Activities including live events and campaigns run for 24 hours, with schools encouraged to create anti-bullying artwork and banners.
Another event is Anti-Bullying Week, which runs from November 16-20, 2020. Developed by the Anti-Bullying Alliance, it encourages students to have fun and embrace their differences in order to reduce bullying. For example, schools can participate in Odd Socks Day to celebrate what makes everyone unique. This is a simple activity but can be a fun approach to discussing a difficult subject.
While some of these events focus on bullying as a whole, you can use the day (or week) to focus on cyberbullying in particular, making that the theme of the event as you build your lesson plans.
Tie Cyberbullying to Current Events
Relating today’s events to cyberbullying can help students see how their words and actions hurt their peers. It provides real-life context for the dangers of online harassment.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge in cyberbullying as students stay home and learn online. However, this isn’t just because traditional bullies are going digital. For example, the organization Stomp Out Bullying has seen more cyberbullying now than ever before. “Although cyberbullying has been around for a long time, we’re living in unprecedented times and when kids are stressed out and bored, the opportunity to cyberbully is present,” they write.
This cyberbullying has particularly hit Asian American kids hard, especially when even adults continue to call the new coronavirus the “Chinese Virus.”
The Anti-Defamation League has several resources teachers can use to tie cyberbullying to current events, which are updated regularly. For example, the “pyramid of hate” helps students understand how internal bias can cause negative actions to escalate. During the coronavirus pandemic, the ADL created discussion questions around mask-wearing and racial stereotypes.
The Cyberbullying Research Center also offers several discussions for teachers on cyberbullying and teaching it effectively. These topics range from how to effectively host bullying assembly programs to student isolation and how to set expectations to deter bullying in the online learning environment. Most recently, they shared a series of articles covering “pandetiquette,” or how to communicate respectfully online over polarizing topics.
Additional Cyberbullying Resources
You don’t need to invent new lesson plans and resources for teaching about cyberbullying in your classroom. Use what already exists online and modify these ideas for your needs.
Broadband Search curated an impressive amount of statistics related to cyberbullying in 2020. The company also created charts and graphics that you can share with your students. Use this data as discussion starters when you introduce cyberbullying to your students. They may be surprised by how big the issue really is.
StopBullying.gov is a site managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for teachers and parents. There are several training resources available to approach cyberbullying from a public health perspective, addressing the long-term effects and mental health stress of being attacked online.
Cyberbullying is certainly a serious public health issue. According to a whitepaper by the Ruderman Family Foundation, which used data from more than 20,000 Boston-area high school students, students with disabilities are nearly twice as likely as those without disabilities to be victims of cyberbullying. Nearly half (45 percent) experience depression, compared to 31 percent of victims without disabilities.
Finally, Ditch the Label was created in partnership with brands like EA and Tumblr to reduce bullying. They have a student-focused website and an education-focused website with lesson plans for students between the ages of 11-18. Use these lesson plans and assembly ideas to engage small groups, classrooms and schools.
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