Digital literacy and secondary education

Secondary students and digital literacy

Phrases like ‘digital native’ and ‘the smartphone generation’ have become part of our everyday vocabulary in recent years. But what do we mean by ‘digital literacy’? And why is it an important 21st century skill for our students that we should incorporate into our lessons?

What is digital literacy?

Although many people think that digital literacy refers only to a person’s ability to use modern technology, such as a smartphone or tablet, it’s actually much more than that. It’s also about using this new technology appropriately; knowing how to communicate with different people using different tools, searching for relevant information online, identifying reliable sources, having an awareness of online safety and more.

Why is it important?

As technology evolves, the way we communicate with the people around us is changing. More companies are doing business online and, with the rate of technological innovation, it’s difficult to imagine how they will be doing business in ten years’ time.

This means it’s essential that education evolves too – there’s no point in training students for skills that will be obsolete by the time they start working. It’s key that we are future-focused and help students prepare to become a part of this ever-changing society.

At the same time, it’s important that we help our learners to become aware of the social aspect of online communication. Social networks have become a much more important part of everyday life, and students need to know how much of their information can be seen, by whom and for how long – so they can stay safe.

How can you incorporate digital literacy into your classes?

Allow smartphones in the classroom

Rather than thinking of smartphones as a distraction, you can use them as helpful educational resources.  

There are lots of tools and platforms designed for learning on smartphones, which you can use during lessons. Kahoot, for example, is great for creating quizzes which can be used to revise a topic at the end of the unit. Quizlet is another useful tool for vocabulary revision and with Quizlet Live, students can play online against each other during the lesson. Then there’s Edshelf – it lists lots of other ESL apps which your students can use in the classroom.

Discover more ideas for using smartphones in class.

Using search engines

The ability to find information quickly is a great skill which students can take with them into the workplace. To make it relevant to their current interests, ask them to prepare projects on their favorite celebrity with information about where they were born, their family, their professional experience. Set them a time limit to keep them on task and supervise to make sure they are using appropriate websites.

They can use an online presentation tool such as Prezi to prepare their project, which will also help them to further develop their computing skills. Classmates can grade each other on the information and the visual quality of the presentation, as well as their use of English and presentation skills.

Identifying reliable sources

Teach them as well about taking a critical look at where information comes from. For example, if somebody writes a blogpost or tweets about a topic, the information might be their personal opinion rather than the facts.

To work on this in class, tell your students to choose a topic which interests them and to find three credible sources of information (such as news sites, official blogs or verified crowd-sourced sites such as Wikipedia) and three personal opinions about the topic, which could come from personal blogs, Facebook posts or Twitter. They must then share all six pieces of information, without the sources, so classmates can take a critical look at the information and try to identify where it came from.

Practice writing to different people

Some people have said that today’s text speak is affecting our students’ ability to write well in English, and so it’s important for our students to know who they’re writing to, the purpose of their text and the type of language it should contain.

Asking them to write a status update at the start of every lesson is a great way to teach them how to write short, informal texts. Classmates can then comment on each other’s updates.

However, we should also make sure our students know how to write more formal texts, such as cover letters for a job application. They can do this by searching in English for jobs online which interest them and then writing a cover letter to you explaining why they are the ideal candidate for the job.

Read about the six other essential 21st century skills for secondary learners on our blog.

Materials with digital literacy skills in mind 

Pearson offers a number of courses with a focus on 21st century skills to best prepare your teenage students for their futures.


Digital Literacy in GoGetter

Perfect for lower secondary students, GoGetter incorporates motivating multimedia and interactive activities to support teenagers in today’s fast-moving, dynamic world.

With authentic material from the BBC, as well as interactive stories in the Grammar and Communication videos, it makes the most of modern-day technology to bring the outside world into the classroom.

MyEnglishLab, our digital alternative to traditional workbooks, will also help them to further develop their digital literacy skills with its engaging, interactive format.

Download a sample now.

Wider World

Digital Literacy and Wider World

Our Wider World series is a four-level course with a focus on digital literacy, which reflects the way today’s teenagers use technology for entertainment and to access information.

It includes interviews with real people in the Vox Pop videos, authentic BBC clips and ideas for collaborative projects to further interact with the content.

Download a sample now.


                 Digital Literacy and Focus

This best-selling five-level course for upper-secondary students is teaching learners to use English confidently in the 21st century and offers a wealth of materials and digital tools to help keep lessons engaging.

Download a sample now.

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