Staying Safe Online | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves
Uniformed students in classroom
Lesson

Staying Safe Online

Students consider the benefits and risks of the Internet, and reflect on what they can do to stay safe online.

Duration

One 50-min class period

Language

English — UK

Published

This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.

Overview

About This Lesson

This is the ninth lesson in a unit designed to help teachers have conversations with their students about media literacy in a critical, reflective and constructive way. Use these lessons to help your students reflect on the changing media and information landscape; understand how this landscape impacts individuals, communities and society; and consider how they can thoughtfully and responsibly engage with content they encounter online and in print. This learning can also help them become conscientious content creators. Supporting students to develop as critical consumers and creators of information is vital for their well-being, their relationships and our democracy.

This lesson helps students reflect on what they can do to stay safe online. Students begin the lesson by reflecting onInternet anonymity, and considering the risks and benefits of the Internet. They then consider their own online behaviour before reviewing tips for staying safe online. To finish the lesson, they reflect on how the content covered will shape their behaviour online.

How can developing our media literacy support our well-being, our relationships and our democracy?

  • What are the risks and benefits of the online world? 
  • What does it mean to stay safe online?
  • Students will be able to identify the risks and benefits of the online world.
  • Students will be able to explain different ways they can stay safe while online.

This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-min class period and includes the following student materials:

  • 1 PowerPoint

The Internet is an important part of most young people’s lives; learning how to navigate the Internet and technology in a safe, considered and respectful way is therefore essential. This can improve well-being, can help individuals nurture and develop healthy relationships with themselves and others, and can ensure young people do not fall prey to the many risks associated with being online. 

Statutory safeguarding requirements across all four nations of the UK emphasise the need to help children understand what type of online material or behaviour is considered harmful and/or inappropriate as well as how to minimise the risks and danger of such exposure. 

In Keeping Children Safe in Education 2023 (guidance issued to schools in England), the Department for Education highlights four key areas of risk online:

Content: being exposed to illegal, inappropriate, or harmful content, for example: pornography, fake news, racism, misogyny, self-harm, suicide, anti-Semitism, radicalisation, and extremism. 

Contact: being subjected to harmful online interaction with other users; for example: peer-to-peer pressure, commercial advertising and adults posing as children or young adults with the intention to groom or exploit them for sexual, criminal, financial or other purposes. 

Conduct: online behaviour that increases the likelihood of, or causes, harm; for example, making, sending and receiving explicit images (e.g. consensual and non-consensual sharing of nudes and semi-nudes and/or pornography, sharing other explicit images and online bullying).

Commerce: risks such as online gambling, inappropriate advertising, phishing and or financial scams. 1

While safeguarding guidance makes clear the role schools play in helping young people understand the challenges associated with media literacy, the question remains: Who else is responsible for the safety of children online? 

The Online Safety Act 2023 has recently passed into law and aims to answer this question by putting the onus of online safety for children on tech companies.

The Act expects tech companies such as Apple, Meta, and even Wikipedia to:

  • Remove illegal content quickly or prevent it from appearing in the first place, including content promoting self-harm
  • Prevent children from accessing harmful and age-inappropriate content, including pornographic content; content that promotes, encourages or provides instructions for suicide, self-harm or eating disorders; content depicting or encouraging serious violence; or bullying content
  • Enforce age limits and use age-checking measures on platforms where content harmful to children is published
  • Ensure social media platforms are more transparent about the risks and dangers posed to children on their sites, including by publishing risk assessments
  • Provide parents and children with clear and accessible ways to report problems online when they do arise. 2

The Online Safety Act 2023 has been supported by charities like the NSPCC and safety group the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). It has also been supported by bereaved parents who say harmful online content contributed to their child’s death, including the father of 14-year-old Molly Russell who died from an act of self-harm while suffering depression and the negative effects of online content. 3

However, critics of the Act argue that the Online Safety Act 2023 curtails freedom of speech and infringes on privacy. It also raises questions about the extent to which the government or any platform should be able to monitor user content.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this lesson, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides. The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching each lesson. The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

Save this resource for easy access later.

Save resources to create collections for your class or to review later. It's fast, easy, and free!
Have a Workspace already? Log In

Lesson Plans

Activities

Explain to students that in today’s lesson, they will be reflecting on staying safe online. First, invite them to respond to the following prompts in their journals

A phrase that began to circulate when the Internet was first created is ‘online nobody knows you’re a dog’. 1  

  1. What does this phrase mean? 
  2. How far do you agree with the phrase’s sentiment? Explain your view.
  3. What are the benefits of Internet anonymity?
    • What are the drawbacks?

Invite students to share their responses using the Think, Pair, Share strategy.

Next, inform students that while the Internet and technology open the door to many opportunities and experiences, there are risks associated with life online (just as there are risks in the non-virtual world). It is important to understand these risks, so that they can use the Internet and technology in a safe, considered and respectful way. This is an essential part of being media literate and will allow them to reap the benefits of the online world.

Create two columns on the board and as a class identify the different benefits of being online and the potential risks or the dangers that online life can pose.

For the benefits, students might share ideas such as making friends, gaining knowledge, stimulating creativity, communicating with people all over the world, watching entertainment content, listening to music, buying products, sharing content, staying in touch, etc.

For the risks, students may share ideas such as scams, phishing, catfishing, grooming, bullying, hacking, exposure to harmful content, identify theft, fraud (people or websites pretending to be someone or something they are not), oversharing, hate speech, exposure to misinformation, disinformation and mal-information, amount of time spent online, etc.

After students have identified the benefits and the risks, invite them to reflect on the following questions before leading a short class discussion:

  • Which of the risks identified are young people most susceptible to? 
  • Many activities online have both benefits and risks. What steps can you take to reflect on them and weigh them up when engaging in activities online?

Explain to students that in this part of the lesson, they will be focusing on the risks that being online can pose and will be reflecting on ways to stay safe online.

First, invite students to engage in a stand up, stand down activity using the statements below.

Once you share each statement, invite students to consider if they agree or disagree with it. If they agree, they stay standing, if they disagree they sit down. 

  • I always keep my passwords to myself.
  • I only post things online that I would say to someone’s face.
  • I often talk to people I have never met in real life. 
  • I keep track of the time I spend online. 
  • I post personal content online. 
  • I keep my account settings on private, so only people I know can connect with me. 
  • I am sceptical about who and what I encounter online. 

After completing this activity, lead a short discussion inviting students to share what they and their peers’ responses suggested about their online behaviour. 

Next, inform students that they will now be exploring ways they can stay safe while online by reviewing some tips. Share the tips contained on slides 9–20 of the PowerPoint Staying Safe Online and invite students to move around the room, reviewing the tips using the Gallery Walk strategy. Alternatively, you might invite students to engage with the texts using a version of the Big Paper: Silent Conversation teaching strategy.

As students move around the room, ask them to respond to the following questions for each tip:

  1. What advice does the safety tip give to help you stay safe online?
  2. Is the advice offered easy to implement?
    • What barriers might you face when attempting to implement the safety tip when online?
  3. What are the potential consequences of:
    • implementing the safety tip? 
    • not implementing the safety tip?

After students have reviewed all of the safety tips, lead a class discussion using the following questions, revealing them one by one:

  1. Which safety tip is the most important? Why? 
  2. Have you ever seen any of these safety tips while online? If so, where?
  3. What, if any, safety tips were missing from the content you reviewed? 
  4. Some safety tips might impact people’s enjoyment online. How do you weigh up safety vs enjoyment? Why might safety matter the most? 
  5. How can developing our understanding of online safety support our well-being and our relationships?

Conclude the lesson by asking students to complete an Exit Ticket that contains the following questions:

  1. What has the lesson taught you about staying safe online?
  2. How will what you have learnt impact your behaviour online? 
  3. Has the lesson content raised any issues for you? Is there anything that you would like me to know?

Collect in the Exit Tickets to review what students have learnt and to see if the lesson content has raised any issues for the students.

Extension Activities

Help students learn about the Online Safety Act 2023, which has recently become law, and the impact that it will have on their life online. 

To begin, share the statement ‘Tech companies should be held responsible for keeping people safe online with students and invite them to express how far they agree with it using the Barometer teaching strategy. 

Then, give students more information about the Act. Explain that the Act aims to make the online experiences of children safer by forcing tech firms to take more responsibility for the content on their platforms.  Share the following information: 

The Online Safety Act 2023 expects tech companies to do the following things:

  • Remove illegal content quickly or prevent it from appearing in the first place, including content promoting self-harm
  • Prevent children from accessing harmful and age-inappropriate content including pornographic content; content that promotes, encourages or provides instructions for suicide, self-harm or eating disorders; content depicting or encouraging serious violence; or bullying content
  • Enforce age limits and use age-checking measures on platforms where content harmful to children is published
  • Ensure social media platforms are more transparent about the risks and dangers posed to children on their sites, including by publishing risk assessments
  • Provide parents and children with clear and accessible ways to report problems online when they do arise.

Once students have reviewed the information about the Online Safety Act 2023, invite them to consider the following questions independently before inviting some students to share their responses with the class:

  1. Should tech companies be responsible for the online safety experiences of children? Why? Or, why not?
  2. What challenges might the Online Safety Act 2023 face from tech companies and individuals using their services? 
  3. Is it possible to enforce how people use the Internet? 
  4. Should the government attempt to regulate the Internet? 
  5. Some critics of the Online Safety Act 2023 have argued that it will violate privacy. How might the right to privacy be affected by the Online Safety Act 2023?
  6. How do you feel about the aims of the Online Safety Act 2023? Explain why you feel the way you do.

Divide the class into small groups and give each group one of the following topics related to online safety (given class size, you may have several groups engaging with each topic):

  • Privacy
    • Passwords, location services, oversharing, account settings, strangers.
  • Mental and Emotional Well-being
    • Levels of Internet consumption, offensive and/or triggering content, app age restrictions, cyberbullying, conspiracy theories.
  • Harmful Behaviours
    • Cyberbullying, hate speech, spreading misinformation, disinformation and mal-information, posting on social media.
  • Fraud and Deception
    • Identity theft, catfishing, phishing, scams, anonymity, fake websites, fake profiles, strangers. 

Ask students to do further research on their given topic, and to respond to the following questions: 

For your given topic, consider: 

  1. How is this topic relevant to the online world and technology?
    • Why is it important to consider this topic? 
  2. What are risks related to this topic? Consider online/offline impacts.
  3. What steps can be taken to safeguard against any potential negative outcomes related to this topic?  

Once students have finished researching and discussing their topic, ask each group to present their findings to the class or to create a poster sharing key information that you can display on a wall in the classroom and/or that students can review using the Gallery Walk teaching activity. You might then ask each student to create a found poem or an acrostic for a phrase such as ‘ONLINE SAFETY’ with the information they have learnt.

Materials and Downloads

You might also be interested in…

Unlimited Access to Learning. More Added Every Month.

Facing History & Ourselves is designed for educators who want to help students explore identity, think critically, grow emotionally, act ethically, and participate in civic life. It’s hard work, so we’ve developed some go-to professional learning opportunities to help you along the way.

Using the strategies from Facing History is almost like an awakening.
— Claudia Bautista, Santa Monica, Calif