Rationale: The purpose of this lesson is to encourage safe and kind Internet communication among young children, and to provide students with basic skills for responding productively to online bullying and social aggression. Students use literature, fictional scenarios and creative expression to explore the ways in which Internet communication can amplify hurtful words and to practice responses to hurtful online messages. Students also focus on ways that they can use the Internet to make others feel good and implement online kindness projects in class.
NOTE: This lesson focuses only on the ways in which children communicate with peers online. It is not intended to be a comprehensive approach to Internet safety, which should address topics such as predatory behavior, privacy and the safeguarding of identity. For resources on these broader issues, consult the organizations listed in Cyberbullying Resources.
- Students will increase their awareness about the damaging power of the Internet to spread hurtful words.
- Students will learn and practice strategies for responding safely and positively to online bullying and social aggression.
- Students will explore ways to use the Internet to promote kindness and self-esteem.
National Standards(.pdf format -35 KB - requires Acrobat Reader)
Age Range: Grades 2-5
Handouts and Other Documents: (.pdf format -35 KB - requires Acrobat Reader)
- Emoticons (one for teacher use)
- How to Handle Hurtful Messages (Optional; one for each student)
- Scenarios: Online Bullying and Social Aggression (Optional; one scenario for each small group)
- How Would You Respond? (Optional; one for each small group)
- Internet Safety Pledge (see Netsmartz, for example) (one for each student)
Other Materials: One copy of Yettele’s Feathers by Joan Rothenberg (or another story from Resources for Educators: “Feathers” Stories), chart paper and markers, paper, pencils, assorted art supplies for drawing pictures (optional), computer and Internet connection (optional)
- Reproduce handouts as directed above.
- Obtain a copy of Yettele’s Feathers or a similar story (see step #1).
- Copy the symbols from the handout, Emoticons, on to a large sheet of chart paper. Alternatively, copy the handout onto an overhead transparency or save it to a laptop and make arrangements to project the image on to a screen (see step #4).
- (Optional) Copy the information from the handout, How to Handle Hurtful Messages, onto a sheet of chart paper.
- (Optional) Cut the handout, Scenarios: Online Bullying and Social Aggression, into strips, one for each small group (see step #7).
- (Optional) Write the poem from Feathers by Heather Forest on a sheet of chart paper (see step #11).
Time: Approximately 2-3 hours or 3-4 class periods
Techniques and Skills: analyzing literature, brainstorming, case study, cooperative group work, forming opinions, identifying feelings, large and small group discussion, reading skills, social action, using the Internet, writing skills
Key Words: bullying, e-mail, emoticon, gossip, instant messaging, Internet, journal, text message, threat
Part I: The Nature of Internet Communication (60 minutes)
- Read aloud to students Yettele’s Feathers by Joan Rothenberg, using the questions below to discuss the story.
- Why did Yettele spend so much time “minding other people’s business”?
- How did Yettele get the wrong idea when she saw Yussel Farfel help himself to the apple? What happened when Yettele spread her version of the story?
- Have you ever jumped to conclusions about someone’s behavior without knowing the whole story? What happened as a result?
- Was it enough for Yettele to say, “I didn’t mean to cause trouble” and “I’m very sorry and I take it all back”? Why is it difficult to “take back” harmful words once they have been spread?
- Did you agree with Yettele when she said that her stories are “only words, not rocks and stones” and that they can cause “no more harm than a feather”? Do you think gossip and mean words are more like rocks or feathers? Why?
- How did the Rabbi help Yettele to understand the effect of her stories on other people?
- How did Yettele learn to turn her fondness for talking into something positive?
- Can you think of ways that you might use your words to make other people feel good?
NOTE: If you are unable to find a copy of Yettele’s Feathers, read aloud or tell another version of the story using one of the sources listed in the handout, Resources for Educators: “Feathers” Stories.
- Point out that in Yettele’s time, information was communicated from person to person via word of mouth. Ask students how information is communicated in their world today. Suggest that the Internet is the newest way in which people today communicate. Conduct a brief “physical survey” to determine the extent to which students utilize Internet technology. Have students form a circle and ask them to step into the middle if they have ever sent or received an e-mail, and then to step back out. Repeat this process using the prompts below. (If there are space or other limitations, have students raise their hands from their seats in response to each prompt).
- Step in if you’ve ever played games with other people online.
- Step in if you’ve ever chatted or Instant Messaged with friends online.
- Step in if you’ve ever posted a journal entry or a message online.
- Step in if you’ve ever visited a Web site to that helps you to make new friends.
- Step in if you have your own cell phone.
- Step in if you’ve ever sent or received a text/picture/video message on your phone.
- Step in if you use the Internet or e-mail at least once per week.
- Step in if you use the Internet or e-mail every day.
NOTE: While some of the items in this survey may seem advanced for young children, the reality is that children as young as five and six are exposed to “grown-up” technologies through older siblings and marketing that seeks to indoctrinate the next generation of users. Sites such as Club Penguin and Webkinz, for example, introduce young children to online games, virtual shopping, social networking and buddy lists. The survey above will help you to learn who among your students is already active and who remains inexperienced with regard to Internet communication.
Part II: Responding to Hurtful Messages (45 minutes)
- Ask students to think about how communication via the Internet, e-mail, text messaging, etc. is like the “feathers in the wind” from the story about Yettele. Have students (either individually or in small groups) write a story, draw a picture or design a cartoon that illustrates their ideas. When students are done, post their work around the room and ask for a few volunteers to share what they have created. Emphasize that messages sent out over the Internet can spread instantaneously to many people and that it is often impossible to take them back once they are out there.
- Introduce students to the Emoticons prepared prior to the lesson. Describe to students how these symbols are used to convey feelings in electronic communications and make sure that students understand what each one means.
- Remind students that in the book, Yettele’s words and stories were hurtful to many people. Ask students if they have ever experienced hurtful words or mean behavior while on the computer and allow several students to share their experiences, making sure they do not reveal the names of others who may have been involved. After each anecdote, ask how the student responded and how the incident made the student feel. Invite them to indicate their feelings by sticking a small Post-it with their names next to the appropriate emoticon introduced earlier.
- Comment that when we are sad, scared or mad, we sometimes react to hurtful messages in ways that are not helpful. Tell students that they are going to spend some time in class practicing how to respond to some made-up messages so that they will be prepared to do the right thing if such incidents occur in real life.
- Review with students the information in the handout, How to Handle Hurtful Messages. Depending on the age and ability of your students, this can be done by distributing copies of the handout to each student, writing the information up on chart paper or reviewing the information verbally.
NOTE: There are two versions of this handout; the first has simplified and less text. Use the one that is most age appropriate for your students.
- Have students practice responding to the situations in the handout, Scenarios: Online Bullying and Social Aggression. Depending on the age and ability of your students, choose one of the following options:.
- Whole Class Discussion: Read the first scenario aloud and ask students to suggest a positive response. Reinforce the strategies reviewed earlier and, if students suggest inappropriate responses, explain why they are not safe or constructive. Repeat this process for as many scenarios as time allows.
- Small Group Investigation:Divide the class into groups of 3-4 students. Cut the handout into strips with one scenario on each, and provide each group with one strip. Instruct groups to read their scenario and discuss positive responses, drawing upon the strategies reviewed earlier. Have groups write or draw their response on the handout, How Would You Respond? When groups are done, reconvene the class and allow each group to share its work. Make sure to reinforce the strategies reviewed earlier and to discourage unsafe or inappropriate ideas that may surface.
Part III: Using the Internet for Positive Purposes (time will vary)
- Reinforce with students that although some people use the Internet to hurt others, most people use it for positive purposes. Suggest that the Internet can be a wonderful tool for making people feel connected and cared for. Introduce students to one of the programs below and discuss how it might be implemented in their class or school using Internet technology to enhance the effects:
- Random Acts of Kindness: Inspires people to practice kindness and to “pass it on” to others; includes ideas for creating a class “Kindness Site.”
- Pay It Forward Movement: Seeks to change the world “one favor at a time”; features a PIF in Schools page with stories about how kids are “paying it forward” in their schools.
- Ask students for ideas about ways that they might implement one of the programs above, using the Internet to make people feel good. List their ideas on a sheet of chart paper and come up with a plan to execute one or more of the ideas. Some examples are:
- Send an e-mail to a far-away friend or relative letting them know that you are thinking of them.
- Send an e-card to someone who is sick or needs cheering up.
- Create a Web site or Web posting to raise money, goods or awareness about a special charity or for people in need of help.
- Create a Web journal that celebrates students’ special talents and interests.
- Create a class “Kindness Site” and share it with other students, parents, teachers, etc.
- Create a class “Paying it Forward” newsletter and post/distribute it online.
- Encourage students to be good “netizens” by always being safe and kind in their online communications. Send home a Safety Pledge for families to go over and sign together (see NetSmartz, for example).
- Conclude the lesson by posting and reading together the following poem from the story, Feathers, as an ongoing reminder to students:
Words, like feathers fly
In the wind, in the wind.
Reaching far and wide,
In the wind, in the wind.
Careless words, tossed about,
Cannot again be swallowed up.
Tongues like swords can cut the heart.
Words fly out.
The rumors start…
Cruel words like feathers fly.
Cruel words reach far and wide.
They leave the mouth a bitter rind.
May all your words,
my friends, be kind.
Forest, Heather. 2005. Feathers. Atlanta, GA: August House Publishers, Inc. Reprinted with permission.