Civic Engagement and Communication as Digital Community Members

Just as we engage students in establishing guidelines for building inclusive, safe spaces in our classrooms, it is vital that students learn how to communicate in internet groups and respond to bias online.
Grade Level


Students will be able to:

  • Explore different kinds of bias they might encounter when engaging online
  • Develop strategies for identifying and responding to biased language and hate in digital spaces
Essential Questions
  • What types of identity-based biases might people encounter in digital communities?
  • How can young people respond safely and justly in the face of biased language or hateful communication online?


Digital community [dij-i-tl kuh-myoo-ni-tee] (noun)—communities that develop on the internet

Inclusivity [ɪn-klu-sɪ-vɪ-tee] (noun)—the fact or policy of not excluding members or participants on the grounds of gender, race, class, sexuality, disability, etc.

Bias [bahy-uh s] (noun)— prejudice; favoring one person or point of view more than others

Hate Speech [heyt spee-ch] (noun)—speech that attacks, threatens or insults a person or group on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability

Internet troll [trōl] (noun)—an individual who posts false accusations or inflammatory remarks on social media to promote a cause or to harass someone; the anonymity of such venues enables people to say things they would not say in person, and they often like to ratchet up emotions to generate strong reactions

Sources: dictionary.com, pcmag.com



Young people are increasingly engaging and communicating online—through forums, comment sections, social media sites, video games and more. Just as we engage students in establishing guidelines for building inclusive, safe spaces in our classrooms, it is vital that students learn how to communicate in internet groups and respond to bias online. In this lesson, students will respond to digital communication scenarios and develop strategies for identifying and responding to online bias safely.



1. Post the definition of bias for students to record in their notebooks. Then, ask students to respond to the following prompt in their notebooks: Have you ever experienced or witnessed language online that was biased or hateful? Explain. Did you do anything in response or not? Why or why not?

2. If students finish early, you can provide this additional, optional prompt: Do you think people are more likely to use biased or hateful language online versus in real life? Why or why not?

3. Once students have reflected in writing, prompt them to share in small groups of four or five. Then ask groups to share a few responses with the whole class.

4. The next activity—Step In, Step Out—will help students to begin thinking more specifically about types of bias or hate people might encounter in digital communities. Before starting the activity, refer back to previous community guidelines established as a group, emphasizing the need for a safe, brave space to make the activity work.

5. Ask students to stand in a circle. Explain that you will read aloud the prompts from the Step In, Step Out handout provided with this lesson. If students have experienced what is described in the statement, they can step into the circle silently. When given a silent signal, students will step back to rejoin their peers in the original circle. Emphasize that this is meant to be a silent, reflective activity and there will be an opportunity for dialogue afterward.

6. After completing all of the prompts on the handout, debrief the activity, sharing reactions, connections, and any questions sparked by the activity.

7. As a class, brainstorm possible kinds of bias young people might face online. Make a list of students’ responses. Examples could include hate speech; hate symbols; offensive namecalling and cyberbullying related to social identifiers (for example, religion, race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, ability or immigration status); harmful threats; offensive jokes; or offensive images.

8. Brainstorm a second list of possible digital spaces where people might communicate these types of hateful or biased language and ideas. Examples could include online video gaming, discussion forums, message boards, comment sections of articles, social media pages, email or blogs.

9. Have students form small groups of four or five students. Ask them to discuss an assigned scenario and to create a poster recording their thoughts about the hypothetical situation and responses to the following questions: What is the kind of bias being faced in your scenario? What safety concerns should you consider? What are different ways of responding to the scenario?

10. Ask all groups to present their posters to the class.

11. Lead a class discussion about  some of the strategies students took from their scenarios that can help young people identify and respond to biased or hateful language online.* Chart the students’ responses; they might include some of the following:

  • Pause to gauge and process your own reaction.
  • Consider the kind of bias or hate being expressed.
  • Think about safety concerns: Is the person being biased or hateful a total stranger or a friend/person I know I can engage in dialogue with?
  • Brainstorm different ways of responding to the same situation.
  • Consider when it is better to anonymously report an incident or involve an adult versus responding yourself.
  • Use “I statements” it is someone you know and feel comfortable talking to.
  • Think about how to support and lift up members of a digital community who have faced online harassment or cyberbullying.

*Note: A great place to find strategies for countering biased speech online is Teaching Tolerance’s publication Speak Up at School. This guide can be helpful if students need help generating ideas, or it can be used at the end of the lesson to recap the discussion and add additional strategies.


Alignment to Common Core State Standards


Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.


Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

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