Participating in Digital Communities

This lesson aims to help students learn to safely and respectfully participate in different kinds of digital communities.
Grade Level


Students will be able to:

  • Enact principles of empathy and inclusivity in community membership
  • Transfer what they know about communities to the digital environment
  • Develop a plan for identifying and responding to hate and bias in online communities
Essential Questions
  • How can I be part of a community and show empathy?
  • How can I be part of a community and be inclusive?
  • How can I identify and respond to hate and bias in digital communities?


community [kuh myoo nih tee] (noun) a group of people who share something in common

inclusive [in cloo siv] (adjective) welcoming to all kinds of people

empathy [ehm puh thee] (noun) the ability to understand other people’s feelings and sometimes feel alongside them


Series Overview

As technology advances and the social landscape shifts, it is crucial for students to become digitally literate citizens. In this series, elementary students will learn the ins and outs of media literacy, from choosing reliable sources and understanding online searches to navigating online security and participating in digital communities.


Lesson Overview

This lesson aims to help students learn to safely and respectfully participate in different kinds of digital communities. Students will listen to or read a story about what it means to use empathy and promote inclusivity as a member of a community. They will then translate these values and strategies to an online environment.

Students will also have a chance to role-play appropriate ways to identify and respond to bias and hate within a community. They will think about the particular challenges that might come up when these issues arise in an online environment.



Being Inclusive and Showing Empathy in Communities

1. Ask your students, “What is a community?” Then ask, “What communities do you belong to?” Write their ideas down so everyone can see. Focusing on one of the communities listed, ask “What are things we need in a community to feel safe?” List students’ ideas about the characteristics that make a community safe. Help students to think not just about physical safety but also about the things that help them feel safe emotionally.

2. Explain to your students that today you will be thinking about how to be inclusive and show empathy in communities. Ask them what they think of when they hear those terms, and chart their responses. Come up with working definitions of each word.

If the terms empathy and inclusive are unfamiliar to students, you will want to slow down this portion of the lesson. Choose to focus on one of the two concepts, and start with an example from your own classroom. Tell students about a time you saw them work to make others feel included or cared for, and use this to help them understand and tease out the definition of the concept you are discussing.

3. Have students read the story “Being a Friend Online.” (Note: As an alternative, if you have a favorite short story or picture book about community, you can use that instead. As long as it gets at the themes of being inclusive and showing empathy, it does not matter whether it explicitly addresses digital participation for this portion of the lesson.) For students who struggle with reading, you can read the story aloud or pair them with partners who can read to them. Students can read independently or with partners. Once they are finished reading the story, bring them together to discuss the following questions, along with any other ideas that came up.

  • When were the characters being inclusive?
  • How did the characters show empathy in this story?
  • What experiences of your own does this story remind you of?
  • What does it mean for kids your age to develop communities?
  • What are some of the challenges and responsibilities that come with being part of a community?


What Are Digital Communities?

1. Now, your students are ready to think about some of the characteristics that make digital communities specific. First, using “Being a Friend Online”—or another story you chose—as a jumping off point, ask your students to name all of the different online communities they have ever heard of. Chart all of their responses, and make sure students help each other understand what each of these communities actually is. Some of your students may not have heard of online communities, and some likely will have. To bridge this gap, limit the number of responses you put on the chart and make sure to offer clear, succinct and accurate information about what each community is. Give students with less digital exposure a chance to list communities they know about or participate in, such as a soccer team, a neighborhood group, etc.

2. Ask students to work independently to create a list of three to five unique challenges they think might come up when participating in online communities. For example, it can be hard to communicate emotions or intent when you are not face to face; people might feel freer to say rude things when they are anonymous and spelling, grammar, and ability to type can get in the way of behaving how you want to in a community.

Then, have students pair up to share their challenges and brainstorm guidelines that might help them address these challenges. (Note: For students who are less familiar with online communities, you can ask them to list challenges associated with being part of a community in general.) When you bring students back together, ask them to speculate about whether these challenges would be the same or different in a real-world environment.


When People Are Not Inclusive and Don’t Show Empathy

1. Break students up into five small groups and give each group one of the role-play situations included in the “Digital Community Role-play Scenarios” handout. Ask them to discuss the role-play situation and then act out what they feel is the best solution to the problem. Then, bring your class together and allow each group to share their role-play and the solution they came up with. Leave time for discussion, and emphasize the complexity of these situations to your students.


Do Something

Would your school benefit from a set of guidelines for participation in digital communities? Who better to create this than your students? Ask them to form working groups to brainstorm sets of rules that might guide participation with empathy and inclusivity. Facilitate research into guidelines that other schools have created. When you have a list of rules or guidelines, plan an assembly where your students can share these with other classes and teachers in your school.


Alignment to Common Core State Standards


Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text; summarize the text.


Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words or phrases in a text relevant to a grade 4 topic or subject area.


Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.


Come to discussions prepared, having read or studied required material; explicitly draw on that preparation and other information known about the topic to explore ideas under discussion.


Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions and carry out assigned roles.