A few years back my daughter (then aged 14) told me she was going out. To meet a friend at lunchtime. I asked who. A Facebook friend she didn’t know. Someone who had befriended her as they were the same age, lived in the same city, and had the same (unusual) first name. Apparently. I was appalled.
I’m not the only parent who’s experienced this. Social networks bring the world into our children’s lives. They open opportunities for contact that were far more limited before. Many teens have hundreds of Facebook friends they don’t know. And lots they do know. Press coverage of the negative aspects of social networks can make parents paranoid: cyber-bullying, stranger danger, blackmail… We’re all worried it might happen to our kid.
But we need to keep things in perspective. Although bad things do happen, they are not the norm. And rather than endlessly worrying, trying to snoop on our kids’ Facebook accounts, or policing their every move, shouldn’t we be educating them in the appropriate and inappropriate uses of social networks? Shouldn’t we be helping them consider the benefits but also the dangers? Come to think of it, shouldn’t their schools be doing this too?
Although digital literacies are now present (on paper at least) in educational curricula around the world, I don’t see much evidence of it being operationalised in the classroom, at least not in the state schools where I live. And this is part of the problem: although most teachers would agree that digital literacies are core 21st competencies, very few are clear on how to bring them into the classroom in any meaningful or engaging way.
As English language teachers, we are very well placed to help develop our students’ (and our own) digital literacies through the medium of English. It can help enhance our classes by making them more interesting- and crucially, more relevant- to today’s plugged in kids.
How? Well, here’s one activity to get your teen students thinking about how they use social networking sites such as Facebook. It’s a simple discussion activity to carry put in small groups. No technology needed- just a set of cards you can donwload and print out here (click on ‘Social Network Discussion Cards’ to download these in PDF format, print them out and cut them up. Includes an answer key.)
Activity: Online scenarios – Teens & social networks
1. Ask your students what social networks they belong to. What do they like about these networks? What are they not so keen on?
2. Get students to brainstorm some of the pros and cons of social networks (such as Facebook). Get feedback and create a list of pros and cons on the board. Here are some ideas:
- keep in touch with friends
- meet new people
- share links, photos, videos, news
- practise English
- people post too often
- people post photos or videos of you without permission
- malicious gossip or bullying
- misunderstandings can easily arise
- unknown friends may not be who they seem
- spam and viruses
3. Ask students if they have ever experienced (or know about) uncomfortable situations which can arise on social networking sites. How did they/would they react or protect themselves? Tell students they are going to discuss a number of online scenarios and consider what they would do in each.
4. Put students into pairs or small groups, and give each group a pack of cards describing the various online scenarios here (click on ‘Social Network Discussion Cards’). Students should keep all the cards face down on a desk, and turn them over one at a time to discuss. They should note down the card number and their possible solution. Start by discussing the first card as a group, and add useful language on the board if necessary (I would…, She should, If I were her, I would…etc.). Give students about 20-30 minutes to discuss all the cards.
5. Conduct feedback with the whole class. Look at each card again and ask what solutions or advice the students came up with. Refer to the card answer key and ensure all the main points in that are included at this stage.
6. If you have time, or in a subsequent class, get students to create a Digital Safety poster on appropriate behaviour on social networks. Pairs or small groups can do this on paper, or with an online multimedia tool such as Glogster (use the free Glogster Edu version for educators). Share the posters with the class, and also with other classes in the school. You can even share the posters with parents – and then use them as the springboard for a parent-teachers evening on digital safety.
And my daughter and her lunchtime meeting? She was adamant she wanted to go, and the meeting was in a public place during the day. I told her to phone me when she got there. The meeting turned out to be what she had expected- with a girl of the same age, with the same first name. She made a new friend. I can’t say it was an easy choice to let her go, but putting some measures in place, and going into things with eyes open seemed more effective to me than prohibition and punishment. She’d simply not tell me the next time.
What about you? Do you teach your students (or your kids) about the dangers as well as the benefits of social networking sites? Do you think it’s important? Or do you think it’s not really our job? Let me know in the Comments section below…