Curriculum Connection Home lesson2
Dealing with the Social Pressures that Promote Online Cruelty

Rationale: The purpose of this lesson is to increase awareness among middle school students about the problem of cyberbullying and provide them with strategies to deal effectively with the social pressure that encourages them to participate in online cruelty.  After hearing the true story of a target of cyberbullying, students explore the nature and extent of the problem in their own lives.  Through a public service announcement and case studies, students consider why cruelty is so common in an online forum and use this insight to build empathy, explore personal motivations and devise positive alternatives for online communication.

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 of the problem of cyberbullying.
  • Students will consider what motivates young people to participate in online cruelty.
  • Students will increase their empathy for others.
  • Students will develop strategies for resisting peer pressure and communicating in positive ways online.
National Standards (.pdf format -35 KB - requires Acrobat Reader)

Age Range: Grades 5-9


Handouts and Other Documents: (.pdf format -35 KB - requires Acrobat Reader)
  • Welcome to the Web Site that Makes Fun of Dave (one for teacher use)
  • Understanding and Addressing Online Cruelty (one for teacher reference)
  • Cyberbullying Scenarios (one scenario for each small group)
  • Internet Safety Strategies for Students (one for each student)
Other Materials: Talent Show , Kitchen and Megan public service announcements, laptop/LCD projector, screen, Internet access, chart paper, markers and other colorful writing implements

Advance Preparation
  • Reproduce handouts as directed above.
  • Prepare laptop/LCD projector for viewing of cyberbullying PSAs (see step #3).
  • Write the following at the top of a sheet of chart paper: “If you wouldn’t say it in person, why say it online?”  (see step #4).
  • Cut the Cyberbullying Scenarios into strips, one for each small group (see step #5).
  • Write the following in the center of a sheet of chart paper: “Class Code of Ethics for Internet Communication” (see step #8).
Time: Approximately 90 minutes or two class periods

Techniques and Skills: brainstorming, case study, cooperative group work, critical thinking, forming opinions, large and small group discussion, media literacy

Key Words: continuum, cyberbullying, ethics, harassment, parameters, retaliation


Part I: Exploring the Nature and Extent of Cyberbullying (35-45 minutes)

  1. Tell students that you are going to share an incident that happened to a real teenager named David in the recent past.  Ask them to close their eyes as they listen, and to imagine that they are a student at David’s school.  Read aloud from the handout, Welcome to the Web Site that Makes Fun of Dave, then discuss the following:
    • How did it make you feel to hear about this incident?
    • What do you think motivated the students who created the Web site? 
    • What about those who added comments or e-mails and those who chose not to tell anyone about what was taking place?
    • What would you have done if you received a link to the Web site or a message inviting you to visit and join in?
  1. Ask students to consider if cyberbullying, or online cruelty, is a common occurrence in their lives.  Direct them to form a human continuum, standing to one side of the room if they feel it is extremely common, the other side if it is rare, or somewhere in-between that reflects their experience.  Ask for volunteers at different points in the continuum to explain why they chose their position.  Solicit specific examples from them, making sure that they respect the confidentiality of others and avoid stories that will offend or embarrass their peers.  Have students return to their seats.
  1. Play one or more of the following public service announcements, which were created by the National Crime Prevention Council for its cyberbullying prevention campaign.
  1. Post a sheet of chart paper with the following question at the top, which appears at the end of each PSA: “If you wouldn’t say it in person, why say it online?”  Challenge students to articulate why cruelty is so common in an online environment and list their responses.  (Consult the reference sheet, Understanding and Addressing Online Cruelty, and add some of these examples to the chart if students don’t address them.)
Part II: Identifying Strategies for Positive Online Communication (45 minutes)
  1. Divide the class into small groups of 3-4 students.  Assign each group one of the situations from the handout, Cyberbullying Scenarios (or provide other scenarios that relate to your students’ particular experience.)  Instruct each group to do the following, allowing about 15 minutes to complete the tasks:
    • Identify the reasons or motivations for the cyberbullying, drawing from the chart created in step #4 above. 
    • Discuss the impact of the cyberbullying on all of the students involved and the potential consequences of the negative behavior.
    • Discuss alternatives to the negative behavior described, and rewrite the scenario to incorporate more positive conduct.  (For example, the scenario describing a student who participated in cyberbullying to fit in with the popular crowd might be rewritten to depict the same student reporting the cyberbullying and looking for friendship in other circles.)
  1. Reconvene the class and have each group share its work.  Reinforce positive strategies for dealing with the pressures that induce young people to participate in cyberbullying, drawing from the reference sheet, Understanding and Addressing Online Cruelty, where appropriate.

  2. Conclude the lesson by suggesting that the most important way to deal with the impulse to participate in online cruelty is to reflect on the kind of person we want to be and the personal values that guide our behavior toward others.  Ask students to think of one statement that reflects their values regarding conduct toward others online.  Share one or more of the following examples if necessary and allow a few minutes for students to silently reflect and come up with their statements.

    • Always use respectful language.
    • Protect your own and others’ safety.
    • Value all people and never ridicule others.
    • Respect privacy and avoid gossip/rumors.
    • Include others in online communities.
    • A person with feelings is on the other end of every click.
  1. While students are thinking, post a sheet of chart paper and write the following in the center: “Class Code of Ethics for Internet Communication.”  As students are ready, invite them to write their statements “graffiti style” on the chart paper (have a variety of markers, paint pens, etc. on hand).  Ask for some volunteers to read their statements aloud.  Hang the chart in a visible area as an ongoing reminder of the expectations set forth during this lesson.

  2. Distribute the handout, Internet Safety Strategies for Students, and review the information with students to reinforce safe and responsible Internet use.  Send the handout home for students to share and discuss with family members.


  • In This Issue
Lesson Plans
  • Elementary Level Lesson
Middle Level Lesson
  • Secondary Level Lesson
  • Entire Unit (.pdf format)
Resources on Cyberbullying & Internet Safety
  • ADL Cyberbullying Home Page
  • Glossary of Cyberbullying Terms
  • Internet Safety Strategies for Students
  • Cyberbullying Resources
  • Responding to Cyberbullying
  • Workshops on Cyberbullying
  • ADL Model Bullying Prevention Law
  • Hate on the Internet: A Response Guide for Educators and Families
Hate on the Internet
A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute Recommended Multicultural and Anti-Bias Books for Children
A CLASSROOM OF DIFFERENCE Programs and Resources
Holocaust Awareness and Remembrance® Institute
Combating Anti-Semitism

  ©2008 Anti-Defamation League