Your Recipe for Teaching Digital Literacy Skills to Students

Digital literacy is the ability to understand, use, and interact with technology, media, and digital resources in real-world situations, providing the foundation for college and career readiness in the 21st century

To get started teaching digital literacy, below are the specific and interrelated skills that help to cultivate this form of literacy in students.

Though today’s students are ‘digital natives’ and regularly use computers, tablets, and phones for a variety of purposes, it is often assumed that students are automatically digitally literate, but this is not the case. And in most school districts today, digital literacy is not being systematically taught; and without guidance and training, students are left to their own devices – pun intended.

What are digital literacy skills?

Digital literacy skills can be broadly categorized into four themes:

Basic Computer Skills: Lay the foundation for digital literacy with basic knowledge around computer fundamentals and typing skills.

Computer Applications Skills: Mature digital literacy by using computer applications to introduce students to a variety of technology functions and use cases.

Computational Thinking Skills: Broaden digital literacy with computational thinking by practicing complex problem-solving skills to develop, test, and refine a processes and products.

Digital Citizenship Skills: Hone digital literacy skills with digital citizenship to help students have and manage their online presence by understanding responsible technology use.

Laying the Digital Literacy Foundation with Basic Computer Skills

Teaching digital literacy starts with the basic computer skills students need to use technology. Without understanding computer fundamentals or honing their typing technique, students are stalled in their pursuit of digital literacy.

Understanding Computer Fundamentals

Think of a computer like a car – the basic mode students will use to connect with the world around them. What if they cannot turn the key in the ignition? Or unscrew the gas cap? In the same way new drivers learn basic knowledge about car use and maintenance, students need to master computer fundamentals to navigate the digital world.

Sample Skill: Recognizing how data can be stored and shared in different file formats and accessed from local storage devices, networked devices, and cloud services.


For all computer-based activities, typing is a minimum requirement. And as academic, professional, and personal operations move to a digital space, students need the requisite typing skills to type notes at the speed of a garrulous professor, complete essays for homework and assessments, and prepare reports and presentations to a leadership team. Moreover, mastery of typing skills like touch-typing is a necessary skill for both school and career readiness.

Sample Skill: Demonstrating proper touch-typing techniques and ergonomic strategies such as correct hand positions and smooth rhythmic keystroke.

Bonus Resource: Explore this infographic to learn about why typing is important for students.


Maturing Digital Literacy Skills with Computer Applications

With basic computer skills, students can begin to explore and familiarize themselves with computer applications, which include programs and tools that offer database, multimedia, presentation, spreadsheet, visual mapping, and word processing capabilities. These tools are used in schools and businesses with regularity to organize thoughts, collect data, and collaborate with others in digital formats.

Using Databases

The power of the digital world is fueled by data, which is stored in organizational systems known as databases. By introducing databases, educators help students to use, create, and search these complex tools that they will encounter in school, careers, and life.

Sample Skill: Identifying and navigating common examples of databases from everyday life (e.g., library catalogs, browser search tools, and school records).

Using Multimedia Software

With experience using multimedia software, students become creators of a variety of content forms in order to communicate effectively by expressing ideas in visual and compelling ways. Multimedia design helps to make sense of database and spreadsheet complexity, engages listeners in presentations, improves visual mapping, and captures the attention of readers in word processing deliverables.

Sample Skill: Demonstrating an understanding of basic design principles and strategies to increase the effectiveness of a digital product as viewed by different audiences and in different contexts.

Using Presentation Software Programs

By introducing students to presentation software, students practice verbal communication with tools they will use from classrooms to offices in order to review topical information, disseminate plans, and communicate research and findings.

Sample Skill: Understanding how to structure and develop a non-linear presentation.

Bonus Resource: Download these presentations lesson plans!

Using Spreadsheets

Like databases, spreadsheets often contain a wealth of data that can be manipulated, studied, and shared. As data is what powers the technology-driven 21st century. The ability to manage, study, and disseminate data is vital to students’ futures. Beyond building practical spreadsheet skills, introducing students to spreadsheets cultivates higher order thinking skills as students emerge as young adults.

Sample Skill: Collect data and interpret the results using statistics (range, mean, median, and mode) to draw conclusions and make predictions.

Bonus Resource: Download these spreadsheets lesson plans!

Visual Mapping

Visual mapping skills help students to use visual formats to gather their thoughts, concept map, illustrate processes, and brainstorm.

Sample Skill: Translating an idea or concept into a graphic or digital image to convey a thought, argument, or situation.

Word Processing

Extend basic computer skills like typing to produce, format, and store text in order to write paragraphs, short essays, or research papers in common word processing tools like Microsoft Word, Text Edit, Notepad, and Google Docs.

Sample Skill: Identifying and using advanced formatting features (e.g., columns, tab stops, headers and footers, footnotes and endnotes, tables, templates, and styles) in word processing applications.

Broadening Digital Literacy with Computational Thinking

Computational thinking leverages higher-order thinking needed for coding, which not only progresses coding skills but also complex problem-solving skills optimized for the digital world.

Computational Thinking

Computational thinking skills are problem-solving skills that leverage the power of computing to find solutions. Computational thinking uses decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction, and algorithmic thinking to develop efficient and effective solutions. By doing so, students learn to tackle complex problems with transferrable processes and develop social and emotional skills around perseverance and adaptability.

Sample Skill: Creating and interpreting visual representations such as flowcharts and diagrams to organize data, find patterns, make predictions, or test solutions.

Bonus Resource: Read this article to explore more about what computational thinking is and why it's essential for students.


Coding leverages computational thinking to design programming solutions in a specific coding language to solve problems and create solutions. Beyond computational thinking skills, coding also develops competencies in coding structures such as variables, loops, conditionals, sequencing, and functions using block-based and text-based languages.

Sample Skill: Defining an algorithm as a sequence of defined steps or instructions to be followed and identify how algorithms relate to computer programming and allow for automation.

Bonus Resource: Discover how coding in the classroom helps develop 21st century skills like creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking.

Honing Digital Literacy Skills with Digital Citizenship

Digital Citizenship helps students frame their understanding of what it means to have and manage an online presence that enables them to leverage this technology in productive and beneficial ways while avoiding the inherent risks associated with it. More specifically, digital citizenship encompasses the skills and competencies of responsible technology use.

Online Safety

Building students’ online safety mindset should start as soon as students have access to computing devices. Educated digital users understand the risks of digital tools and are familiar with best practices to ensure their safety.

Sample Skill: Recognizing online threats to privacy and practicing effective strategies to secure and protect personal data from data-collection technologies and malicious software.

Bonus Resource: Dive into these online safety resources like lesson plans and webinars.

Online Communication & Internet Use

Technology opens a vastly connected world of information and people alike. Students must be prepared to manage their digital reputation, interact with others, and use computer-based resources

Sample Skill: Understanding the role an online identity plays in the digital world and the permanence of their choices and decisions when interacting online.

Through cultivating digital literacy, students move from passively using technology to creating with it. Moreover, teaching digital literacy helps provide the foundation for students’ futures, ensuring students:

  • are both adept at navigating computer-based environments and comfortable using software and tools to accomplish tasks;
  • know how to safely and effectively manage their digital presence and interactions;
  • have complex problem-solving skills that enhance college and career readiness for tech-centric disciplines and beyond.

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