Privacy and Security Online

Students will discuss basic guidelines for maintaining privacy and security online. To help them internalize these rules, students will illustrate what it would mean to follow each guideline.
Grade Level


Students will be able to:

  • Define privacy and security in the context of an online environment
  • Understand the consequences of developing a digital footprint
  • Establish key guidelines for maintaining security and privacy online
Essential Questions
  • What is a digital footprint, and why does it matter?
  • How can we be private and safe on the internet?

Printout of your school or district’s acceptable use policy


privacy [pray vuh see] (noun) freedom from being observed, attended to or disturbed by other people

security [suh kyoo reh tee] (noun) freedom from danger or threat

digital footprint [did juh tuhl fuht print] (noun) the information available about a person online because of their own digital activity


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

Children are using the internet and participating in digital communities at unprecedented rates, and as teachers, it is our job to help them learn to keep themselves safe. This lesson begins by helping students to define privacy and security and understand what these concepts mean in the context of a digital environment. They also will learn what it means to have a digital footprint.

Students will discuss basic guidelines for maintaining privacy and security online. To help them internalize these rules, students will illustrate what it would mean to follow each guideline.

Finally, students will have a chance to look at some of the privacy policies on specific websites and think about what these policies mean for them.



Privacy, Security and Digital Footprints

1. Ask students to name some times when privacy feels important to them—either at home, at school or out in public. Use their answers to help them come up with a definition of privacy. Then, ask them to name some times when security feels important to them. Use students’ answers to help them understand what security means. If students are unfamiliar with the concept of security, you can ask them to think about times when it feels important to be kept safe or have information about themselves, the people they love and their personal belongings kept safe.  Tell students that, when they are using the internet or any digital media, it is important to keep privacy and security in mind.

2. Explain that one reason privacy and security matter online is because of something called a digital footprint. You can tell your students that just as they leave footprints in sand, snow or wet cement that stay behind long after they are gone, they also leave footprints online when they use digital media. Emphasize that a digital footprint can compromise privacy. They might not want people to be able to learn things about their fourth-grade selves, for instance, once they are in high school. Give students a chance to process and discuss these concepts, and keep track of any questions that come up.

3. The concept of a digital footprint may be tricky for some elementary students. If you feel this concept is too challenging for your students, ask them to reflect on something they know about themselves from when they were in preschool or kindergarten. Maybe it is a silly story their caregivers tell, or maybe it is something they remember. You can also make this concept more concrete by having students imprint their foot in clay or paint and make prints on paper. Alternately, show images of footprints or other imprints in cement near your school.

Then, ask your students to think about how it would feel to have this story posted on the walls of the middle school they will eventually attend, for everyone to read. Emphasize that with digital footprints, this is essentially what happens, and the information is there forever. Use this example as a way to catalyze the discussion, and monitor what issues and questions come up for your students.

4. Ask students to think about what rules keep them safe when they play outside or at home. Chart their responses, and then explain that there are also rules to keep us safe when we play online.


Key Privacy and Security Guidelines

1. Break students into small groups, and give each group one of the guidelines below to think about and discuss. For each guideline, students should address the following questions:

  • What is the reason for this guideline?
  • What are some things that could happen if you follow this guideline?
  • What are some things that could happen if you do not follow this guideline?

2. Have students work with the following guidelines:

  • Do not share personal information—like your name, address, phone number, school name or passwords—with anyone you meet online.
  • Talk to your parents or other adults you trust about things you see online that raise questions for you. Always tell a trusted adult if anyone online makes you uncomfortable or asks you to share private information.
  • Follow the rules and policies that our school and your family have about using the internet safely.
  • Respect the privacy and security of other people you meet online.

3. As students work in groups, circulate and make note of what is coming up in their conversations. If you notice that students are only talking about one dire possibility, such as getting killed or kidnapped, help them move the conversation toward concepts like considering their digital footprint, their family’s privacy and their relationships with others.

Some of your students may not use the internet much at all yet. Emphasize that they are thinking about guidelines they will follow in the future so they will be ready to do a great job protecting their privacy and security.

4. After students have had a chance to discuss their group's guideline, give each group a poster board and have them work together to design an image representing what it looks like to follow the guideline they are working with. Give students a chance to share their posters with the rest of the class and, if possible, with others in your school.


Analyzing Privacy Policies

1. Give students a copy of your school or district’s acceptable use policy or privacy policy regarding student use of digital media. Have them work together with partners to read the policies and underline anything that seems confusing or interesting to them. Circulate to help support reading comprehension. (Note: Depending on your school or district’s policy, you may want to have students work in groups to read the policy in paragraph or sentence-long chunks. They should work in groups to break down vocabulary, come to a common understanding and summarize the policy in their own words.)

2. Bring students back together and ask them to share any thoughts or questions that came up when reviewing the policies you shared. Remind them that they can look at privacy policies on many different kinds of websites and digital media and that reading these policies carefully with an adult can be an important part of protecting their own privacy and security online.


Do Something

Ask students to write letters to the creators of online privacy policies explaining how they might make these policies friendlier and more accessible to young users. Help them craft persuasive and meaningful letters using some of the concepts they internalized in this lesson, and include tips on how web developers might do a better job communicating the significance of privacy to children.


Alignment to Common Core State Standards

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.


Introduce a topic clearly and group related information in paragraphs and sections; include formatting (e.g., headings), illustrations, and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.


Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.