Teaching Digital Literacy without Technology

For years, teaching technology concepts has been a process that required a device in order to teach. Students learned about computers in computer class. Computer class was a stand alone course that rarely integrated with the content area subjects beyond research and word processing. However, times have changed. Digital competencies are threaded throughout the fabric of K-12, higher education, and the global economy. It’s imperative that schools begin to integrate digital literacy throughout the K-12 curriculum and across all content areas.

However, teaching digital literacy does not require devices at all. In fact, there are so many ways to learn digital skills offline.

Teaching Online Discussion

This lesson or ice-breaker is one of my favorite ways of introducing a variety of online and social media skill sets without any technology present. The setup consists of four to five tables, and each table contains a large piece of easel paper and several markers. Before your students arrive to class, draw a circle in the middle of each piece of easel paper and in the center of that circle put a word or phrase. This word or phrase can be anything you want and should be something that will spark a conversation or debate.

When the students arrive, prompt them to hover around a table and remain silent. The objective is to have a conversation without saying a word. The second rule is that students must keep the conversation on paper alive. Each student will draw a line from the original word/phrase-in-a-circle and add his or her thoughts. They can also add to another student’s circle and continue the conversation (much like an online discussion board, blog comments or a Facebook wall).

Give each group three to five minutes to compose their thoughts and respond to others. Then students rotate to the next table. They review what the previous group posted and add to it. Students will rotate in this manner until they return to their original table. Have one student from each group hang their easel paper on the wall and allow time for the students to collectively review the different conversation threads.

Posting Online

Before we rush off to sign students up for their own blog, it’s imperative to teach students digital etiquette offline before they move forward. One strategy for teaching this skill set is to create an analog version of a Facebook “wall” in your classroom. As the teacher, allow students to post periodically to this wall. Depending on your setup, this is something you could schedule. Additionally, you can choose to provide a topic for wall posts, or leave the subject matter up to the students. Either way, when students share their posts, have them briefly explain why they chose that piece and why they felt that piece was important for the class to see.

The next phase of this lesson would allow students to literally post comments to the “wall”. After comments are posted, the teacher could lead a discussion around the types of comments that were posted. Ultimately, what you want to get across is that posting comments are just the same as saying something to another person when they are directly in front of you. Similarly, ask students what the difference is between a comment online and a comment in person. The goal here is to address the reach of the comments online and that the impact is greater online due to the public visibility.


When I taught English, I always struggled with finding clever ways to make vocabulary lists exciting. However, using the Twitter format in an offline manner can place an exciting, fresh spin on vocabulary.

Much like the analog “wall” we created in the previous lesson, teachers can create a #Vocabulary feed in their classroom. Have students define their vocabulary words in 140 characters. Then, have them develop a sentence that is also 140 characters in length. This task is not only a reinforcement of the words, but promotes sentence structure skills. Crafting a sentence in 140 characters forces students to use higher level vocabulary and create focused sentences.

What’s more, students are engaging more with the vocabulary and developing an online skill set in using Twitter. To some, learning Twitter may seem silly and unnecessary, but it’s a medium that has grown exponentially and is used by companies across the globe. There’s a good chance our students will encounter Twitter in their line of work, or in their own personal networking.

It’s good practice to teach and prepare students for a digital world using offline methods. The pace at which we integrate technology and applications should be done responsibly and carefully. Ultimately, students should understand that the two worlds are not that different and that certain offline skills must be transferred into digital spaces.