Forms and Norms (6-8)

What are the norms of positive online communication?

Students will learn the forms and norms of effective communication in an online context.

Students begin by role-playing greetings to various types of people (e.g., grandma, teacher, best friend) to demonstrate that there are different norms about how to interact with different people. They engage in a dramatic reading of written online transcripts, such as an email exchange or IM chat between two people. Finally, they work with a partner to identify ways that we modify communication based on the audience, context, and purpose.

Students will be able to ...

  • learn how to effectively analyze online communications, identifying their form, audience, and purpose.
  • recognize that not understanding the forms and norms of online communication can lead to misunderstandings and even ill will.
  • be able to modify their forms and norms of communication, both digital and print, depending on the audience.


Materials and Preparation

  • Copy the Mystery Transcript Student Handout, one for each student.
  • Review the Mystery Transcript Student Handout – Teacher Version.

Teaching Plans


Warm-up (10 minutes)

EXPLAIN that when we communicate using the Internet, cell phones, or mobile devices, it is sometimes hard to know what is appropriate to say or write, given our different audiences.

ASK: Imagine that you had a question about a homework assignment. Would you reach out to a teacher differently online than you would reach out to a friend? If so, how?
Students’ answers will vary. Students would probably use a different form (email, IM) and a different norm (standard and expectation for communication) if they were emailing a teacher rather than if they were texting a friend about an assignment.

DEFINE the Key Vocabulary term form. Explain that common forms of digital communication are IM, chat, email, and text.

DEFINE the Key Vocabulary term norm.

DISCUSS how there are norms among people that shape how they communicate online -- vocabulary, slang, sentence structure, spelling, grammar, punctuation, tone, etc.

DIVIDE students into pairs for a short role-play exercise in which they explore norms of communication.

HAVE one member of each pair role-play an offline scenario in which how someone their age greets one of the following people, after not seeing him or her for a long time. Students can take turns playing different characters. When students are finished, ask for a few pairs to demonstrate.

  • Grandmother
  • Best friend
  • Teacher

EXPLAIN that, offline or online, people communicate in different ways depending on:

  • The form used
  • The audience (to whom we are speaking)
  • The norms that are expected
  • The purpose of the communication


teach 1

Analyze Transcripts (10 minutes)

DISTRIBUTE the Mystery Transcripts Student Handout, one for each student.

DIVIDE the class into pairs, and ask each pair to fill out the Mystery Transcripts Student Handout. Students will analyze written transcripts of communications that have taken place over digital media, identifying who the speakers in the conversation are, communication forms and norms, as well as the purpose of the conversation. Refer to the Mystery Transcripts Student Handout – Teacher Version for guidance on how to analyze the three transcripts.

For each transcript:

  • INVITE students to read the script aloud to the class.
  • CALL FOR each pair to analyze all three transcripts, identifying how different speakers, forms and norms, and purposes create completely different kinds of communication.
  • ASK students to consider the ways they agreed or disagreed about the identity of the communicators, codes and conventions used, or the purpose of the conversation.


teach 2

Modify Transcripts (15 minutes)

GUIDE students to modify their transcripts. Ask students to alter one of the three transcripts to another form and with another audience in mind. Refer to the Mystery Transcripts Student Handout – Teacher Version for guidance.


Wrap-up (5 minutes)

You can use these questions to assess your students’ understanding of the lesson objectives. You may want to ask students to reflect in writing on one of the questions, using a journal or an online blog/wiki.

ASK: What factors should we consider as we communicate in online settings?
The standards and social norms given the form or type of communication.


ASK: How might your communication change for:

  • a blog entry for class?
  • an email to your teacher asking for help on homework?
  • a text to your mom or dad asking if you can stay after school?
  • an Instant Message to your best friend asking what they want for lunch?

Sample responses:

  • A blog entry for class might include complete sentences and no personal information, but with a tone that is a bit conversational and inviting for others to participate.
  • An email to your teacher asking for help on homework would probably be polite, including greetings and official signoff.
  • A text to your mom or dad asking if you can stay after school would probably be conversational, but with only the simplest Internet abbreviations.
  • An IM to your best friend asking what they want for lunch might be written in shorthand, or informal, incomplete sentences.

EXPLAIN that effective communicators change, shift, and adapt their forms and norms depending on the audience, purpose, and context of their message. People online generally cannot see your facial expressions or hear your tone of voice. They have only two ways of judging what you’re thinking: One way is by the words you choose; the other is by the manners you use. It is therefore important to choose what you say wisely.

Extension Activity

Have students translate common online shorthand and “text speak” for parents and teachers. They brainstorm five to seven phrases that kids might text or IM to one another that might confuse parents. They “translate” these phrases for parents or teachers and provide definitions for terms. Phrases should be longer than just “TTYL,” for instance, since we want the translation not to just involve spelling out an acronym.

Common Core: coming soon!

NETS•S: 1a-b, 2a-b, 4a-c, 5a-b