Grade 3-5

Cybersecurity and Personal Finance: Digital Footprints

Updated: June 27 2017,
Author: Deborah Kozdras

Students examine digital footprints and how risky some of their online decisions can be. They meet Jack III, Jack and the Beanstalk's grandson, and learn how digital trails may help the Giant find Jack III. Using a video and an informational text (two Lexile levels are included) students explore risky online behaviors and decide what is risky to share online.


ESSENTIAL QUESTION: What is a digital footprint and why is it important to make sure it doesn’t get too big? 

ADDITIONAL CYBERSECURITY CONCEPTS: Digital footprint, Digital Trail, Geotagging, Protecting

TIME REQUIRED: One class period of one hour if you conduct the readings as shared readings with the class. If you choose to do more intense close readings where students read more independently, this lesson could be broken into two class sessions.

Students spend many hours online so it is important for them to make informed decisions. Online behavior can be very risky. In this lesson, students examine the risks through the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale.  They consider the risks and possible consequences of giving out too much information. In economics, risk is the chance of loss and harm.

When individuals work online, they leave a digital footprint: a trail or history that is left behind when people interact in digital environments. For example, when using the Internet or mobile devices for emailing, social media, and texting – there is a history of interactions that can often be permanent.

There is a wide variety of information that can be tracked, such as: websites you visit, what you say in emails and posts, how much money you spend, what is said about you, your location and IP address, the search and location words you use, and where you live. This information is collected through search words, browsers, forms and surveys you fill in, information you post, purchases, and logging into sites. In addition, it can be used to affect your digital reputation and create opportunities for invasive attacks on your privacy through hacking, cyber attacks, malware, and spyware. This information becomes part of your digital footprint. For more information, refer to the following website:  Your Digital Footprint: Leaving a Mark .

Some digital footprints aren’t so obvious. Favorite sports teams may be used to determine the home city of a child online. This website describes some of the ways online predators approach victims. Also, consider LIKE farming, which involves posts on social media where you are asked to “like” something (click on this article for more information).  Scammers will use information to make money or launch online scams. Also, after you “like” something, scammers change the original into something malicious that you would never like, which becomes part of your digital footprint. This article  from USA Today explains why you should be careful before clicking “like” on Facebook and other social media sites.

Social media sites also make photo sharing easy. However, anyone can access online photos unless you take precautions. Did you know that your smartphone automatically applies geotags of location and time to your photos unless you disable the function in settings? Read more about geotagging on Common Sense Media's website .

In addition to adjusting settings, there are other strategies adults can use to keep browsing private.One way is to sign out of your browsers and accounts when you are done. For more information on how to keep your browsing private, read the article,

For more information about digital footprints, watch Common Sense Media's video tutorial for young children. 

Learning Objectives

  • Define the concept of digital footprint and explain why leaving traces online can be risky.
  • Give examples of ways to reduce your digital footprint.
  • Examine the costs and benefits of Jack’s and their own online decisions.
  • Consider digital footprints and how to make online choices less risky.


Before you start the lesson, consider sending out the Parent Letter. Also, you may want to begin by refreshing students’ memories of the story of Jack and the Beanstalk

1)     Engage students by asking: “What is a footprint? How do you make a footprint?” Lead students toward a discussion of how someone can follow the trail you make with footprints. For example, ask: “What happens when an animal walks through snow, or wet sand?” or “When can footprints be risky?” Discuss how leaving a trail of footprints can be risky for an animal because a predator can follow their trail. Explain that these footprints are temporary but sometimes footprints can be more permanent. Ask: “How can your footprints be more permanent?" [Possible answers: someone could step in paint, someone could walk through wet cement, etc.]

2)     Visual 1 – Digital Footprint (PPT Slide 2): Engage students by displaying Visual 1 – Digital Footprint. Tell students that you will be talking about another kind of permanent footprint: digital footprints. Say: “Did you know that every time you go online you leave a footprint? It’s called a digital footprint. Look at some of the activities on this footprint.” Ask students to brainstorm some of the activities they like to do online.

3)     Handout 1 – Jack’s Letter (PPT Slides 3-6): Pass out copies of Handout 1 – Jack’s Letter. Tell students that they will be reading a letter from Jack III – the grandson of the guy from Jack and the Beanstalk. Say: “Jack really likes to do a lot of the same activities online that you like.”Show them Jack III’s email. Tell students that Jack has a problem and they need to read closely to find out about his problem. (Teacher hint: You can copy-paste the script and send it to your email to make it look more authentic.) This can be conducted as a whole group activity where you project the letter and read the letter aloud, pausing to ask questions. Or you can project the email and provide copies for the students to read individually. As they read, students should mark the text by underlining key ideas and supporting details about Jack’s problem. Here are some guiding questions and discussion points:

a.     Ask students to identify Jack’s problem. [The giant may be looking for me because of what his Grandpa did.]

b.     Say: “Grandpa Jack made a choice years ago. What was his choice?”[He chose to take the hen that lays the golden eggs.] Explain:  When he made that choice he probably did what economists do: consider the benefits and costs. The benefits are the favorable things to consider and the costs are the unfavorable things to consider. All choices have results that impact us in the future.

c.     Draw a grid of benefits and costs on the board. Fill it in as you get answers to the following questions:

  • What were the benefits of Grandpa Jack’s choice? [He would help his family by providing food and wealth with the golden eggs. His mother wouldn’t be mad at him anymore.]
  • What were the costs of his choice? [He made the giant very upset. The giant could have caught him before he climbed all the way down the beanstalk. The giant could come back for other members of his family.]

d.     Say: “For Grandpa Jack, the benefits outweighed the costs, so his decision was to take the goose. By doing so he took a risk. Risk is the chance of loss or harm, the risk of something in the costs column happening”

e.     Ask: “What are some of the risks that Jack is worried about?” [The giant finding the way back to his house. He is worried about the digital footprint of some of his activities.]

4)     Handout 2 – Digital Footprint Notes (PPT Slide 7): Say: “In order to help Jack, we are going to conduct some research about permanent digital footprints and the trails we leave online. We have two different texts: a about digital footprints and trails and an informational text about digital footprints and photo sharing” (Handout 3a or 3b). Give each student Handout 2 – Digital Footprint Notes. They will take notes during the second viewing of the video.

a.     Tell students they are going to do a close viewing of a video. It is like a close reading for evidence, but they watch the video for evidence, instead. Then tell students that while they watch the video, they should find answers to the guiding questions on Handout 2Digital Footprint Notes:  

  • What is a digital footprint? [A record of everything you do online. All of your actions and all the content you share can create a digital footprint.
  • What is private information? [Private things include: student full name, address, telephone number, age, birthday, or school.] Why is it risky to share private information? [You don’t want to give information to strangers about how to contact you or find you.]
  • What is personal information? [Hobbies and favorite things.]  When can personal information be risky to share? [When you don’t know the person, when you are at a location and tell other people when you will be there.]

b.     After viewing, ask students to share what they wrote in their notes. Remind students that on the video, they mention that digital footprints aren’t bad, except when they lead a digital trail right back to the user by sharing private information (student full name, address, telephone number, age, birthday, or school). Tell students,  just like you wouldn’t tell a stranger where you live, you shouldn’t put your address online. After viewing, students share their answers. Write these on the board and tell students to include any they missed in their notes.

c.     Handout 3a (PPT Slides 8-9) and Handout 3b (PPT Slides 10-12) –  Informational Text About Digital Footprints and Photos (Choose between handouts 3a at 750 Lexile level or 3b at 900 Lexile level). Distribute copies of Handout 3a or 3b – Informational Text About Digital Footprints and Photos. Tell students that they are going to read about digital footprints and photos. You can project the text and have students read along with you, marking the text as they read. Guiding Question: How can photo sharing add to your digital footprint and create a risk? Students continue to use Handout 2 – Digital Footprint Notes to take notes on the following questions:

  •  How can photo sharing add to your digital footprint?
  •  What is geotagging and why can it be dangerous? Here are some guiding questions to help students determine the meaning of the word geotagging. Say: “I wonder what geotagging means? Have you heard a word with “geo” in it?”[geography.]  “ What is geography?” [The study of maps, locations, places.]  “What is a tag? I wonder how a photo can have a tag about a location?”
  • After reading, students share what they have written in their notes.

d.     Students complete the summary at the bottom of Handout 2Digital Footprint Notes. Say: “Now that we have learned about digital footprints and the risks of sharing certain types of information online, let’s re-read Jack’s letter.” Guide them to fill in the information about digital footprints and digital trails. What are they and why could they be dangerous for Jack III? Challenge students to look at Jack III’s choices. [He loves to spend time online using the Internet, playing games and posting things on social media.] What are the benefits of his choices? [He has fun, spends times with friends, and is entertained.] What are the costs of his choices? [Others may see his private information. The giant may be able to find him, and he is angry.]  Which of his behaviors could be risky? [Sharing private information.]


Review the information learned in the lesson. What are digital footprints? What online activities can be risky? What decisions should you make to stay safe online? 

Extension Activity

1.     In this activity, students track their own digital footprints and analyze the costs and benefits of their online activities. Then they evaluate the risks of their online behaviors.

a.     Handout 4 – Footprint (PPT Slide 14) Tell students that they are going to fill in their own digital footprints by drawing their activities on the footprint.

b.     Handout 5 – Footprint Analysis (PPT Slide 15). In the footprint analysis chart, they fill in the activities. Then, they consider the costs and benefits of the different activities. Finally, they evaluate the risks of their own online behaviors.

2.      Students can gain digital passports by using these educational by Common Sense Media.


Students use the information gathered in the lesson to send an email back to Jack. Tell students that they will use evidence from the texts, including their notes from Handout 2Digital Footprint Notes. Use the rubric to assess student understanding of the concepts and process.