Standard Lesson

Naming in a Digital World: Creating a Safe Persona on the Internet

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 50-minute sessions
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Naming takes on new meanings in digital settings—as students build personas through e-mail addresses, screen names, and online profiles, they can be unaware of the ways that others may read the information they share. Students begin this lesson by researching and discussing their own names. They investigate the role that situation and audience play in how names, such as nicknames or full names, are used. Next, they determine which of their names would be appropriate in a variety of different situations and then apply that idea to email, deciding which email addresses would be appropriate for each situation. Students use an online game to see what they can tell about another person from looking at their email address and then review online safety information. Finally, students choose a specific name that they would (or do) use to represent themselves online and create a profile for this online persona.

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From Theory to Practice

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology




  • Confirm that students have signed Acceptable Use Policy statements on file, or pass out copies of the Model Acceptable Use Policy or your school system’s Acceptable Use Policy and require that the information is turned in before students create online e-mail addresses, profiles, or other Internet resources.

  • Make copies or transparencies of the Name Story Assignment, Naming T-Chart, Online Name Form, Online Profile Tips, and Online Persona Evaluation Form.

  • Schedule this lesson so that students will have time to interview or gather details about the names they’re exploring. If you complete the first session on the last day of a week, for instance, students will have the weekend to interview someone for the activity.

  • Gather books on naming from your library, being sure to obtain books that cover a range of cultural names. Try to find books that provide some details on name origins, frequency of use, historical figures with similar names, and so forth. In addition to the books included on the general list, there are numerous books that explore specific naming traditions.

  • Pay attention to the specific situations of your students as they research names in this activity and adapt the activities as necessary.

    Students may not have access to family members who can provide background on where their names came from. Additionally, if a student’s name points to a source of contention within that student’s family or elsewhere, provide alternative options for this activity. Ideally, simply explain during the first session that students can research someone else in their family or community, and provide examples of other possible choices (e.g., the school principal’s name, the town mayor’s name). Students might also research the names of heroes, celebrities, or historical figures. Work the alternatives into the activity naturally so that students with special situations do not feel singled out.
  • Decide on the way to structure the final activity where students create online personas by choosing a name and creating a profile. See the Online Persona Options handout for additional information.

  • Test the What’s in a Name interactive, Tracking Teresa, and the Profile Publisher on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • explore naming conventions in digital and non-digital settings.

  • analyze the underlying connotations of names.

  • analyze the ways that name-giving practices vary from one culture to another.

  • synthesize their investigation by choosing and explaining specific names to represent themselves online.

Session One

  1. Explain that during this unit students will focus on names that they use with a variety of audiences—in both digital and non-digital settings.

  2. Ask students to spend a few minutes writing down whatever they know about their own names—or if the situation requires, the name of another person—in their journals. Write along with the class about your own name. If students need guidance, share questions such as the following to help them get started:

    • How did you come to be named?

    • Who made the decision about your official names?

    • What nicknames do you have?

    • What names do you like or dislike and why?

    • If you could pick out your own names, what would you select?
  3. After students have had enough time to gather their thoughts, gather the class and share some details about your own name story, explaining how you came to be named, how you chose a nickname, or another story about your name.

  4. Demonstrate how to use the What’s in a Name? interactive to research information about your name (or if you prefer choose the name of a student or the name of a literary character). Students can read the excerpt from Baby Names for Dummies, which is linked in the interactive independently, or you can read the piece aloud as a group.

  5. Before students begin their research, explain that they will share their findings with others in the class. Emphasize that students should be careful to gather information that they are willing to (and won’t be embarrassed to) to share with others.

  6. Allow students time to use the interactive to research the names.

  7. Once students have had time to research names, or when about five minutes remain in the class, invite students to share any interesting details that they found in their research.

  8. Pass out copies of the Name Story Assignment, and ask students to complete the activity for homework. Be sure to allow enough time between this session and the next for students to gather the information and complete the writing. Emphasize that students are only gathering ideas, and explain that students will share their research during the next session.

Session Two

  1. Arrange students in small groups, and ask them to share the details that they found out about their own or someone else’s name.

  2. Ask each group to choose one story to share with the whole class.

  3. Gather students, and ask each group to share the story that they have chosen.

  4. Ask students to discuss what they’ve discovered from the name stories as a class. The following questions can guide the discussion:

    • What do names tell us about people?

    • How are names part of a person’s history?

    • How were the names that weren’t chosen part of the stories?

    • How do name-giving practices vary from one culture to another?
  5. With basic information about naming established, turn students’ attention to how the names that we use can depend upon the situations we’re in and the people we are with.

  6. Display an overhead of the Naming Chart, or draw a similar chart on the board or a piece of chart paper.

  7. Fill out the chart, using your own names or using a character from a recent reading whom students are familiar with, to demonstrate the activity. Emphasize the role that the situation and audience play in how names are used.

  8. Brainstorm a list of the different kinds of names and nicknames people can have (e.g., sports nicknames, family nicknames, full names, first name only).

  9. Pass out copies of the Naming Chart or ask students to draw a chart in their journals.

  10. Ask students to complete the chart for themselves or for the person whom they explored in the Name Story Assignment. Ask students to use the brainstormed list of kinds of names to help them identify the different names that people have and use. Students can use the remaining time during the session or complete the activity for homework.

  11. Explain that they will share their charts with others in the class during the next session. Emphasize that students should be careful to gather information that they are willing to (and won’t be embarrassed to) share with others.

Session Three

  1. Arrange students in small groups, and ask them to share the different names and situations that they recorded on their Naming Charts.

  2. Review the rhetorical terms purpose and audience, using information from your textbook or this handout from the University of Houston, Victoria.

  3. Ask students to draw conclusions about the connections between the information on their Naming Charts and the ideas of purpose and audience. Ask students how the situations that they are in and the people they are with determine the name(s) that they use.

  4. Share some writing scenarios, and ask students to determine the audience and situation for each of the following scenarios and then to indicate how they would include their name on the piece or sign the message:

    • writing a letter to a college or university to ask about admissions

    • e-mailing a classmate to ask about a definition you forgot to write down in class

    • writing to a friend in another state to catch up on his or her life

    • writing a research paper for a social studies class

    • writing a thank you note to a grandparent or another adult for a gift

    • writing an acceptance letter for a scholarship

    • e-mailing a teacher to find out about the assignment you missed when you were absent

    • writing a letter to the editor of the local newspaper

    • posting a comment on a friend’s online journal (or blog)
  5. As students discuss the names that are appropriate for each situation, encourage them to discuss how they know which name to choose and how the purpose of their writing might be affected if they made another choice (e.g., what if you chose a family nickname to sign a message to your teacher?).

  6. As the discussion evolves, shift to a discussion of the names people use in online spaces. This issue can flow naturally from the discussion of e-mail messages included in the list above.

  7. Ask students to imagine that they have three e-mail addresses. You can adjust the examples to use readings that students are familiar with, or use those listed here, which are based on Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. Alternately, if students have multiple e-mail addresses, you could use addresses that students in the class volunteer. Try for a range of at least three addresses, such as the following:

    • A school address:

    • A home address:

    • A second home (and more personal) address:
  8. Return to the scenarios students analyzed, and ask students to imagine that the character from the story is writing e-mail messages for each of the situations.

  9. Ask students to indicate which e-mail address Scout (or the character you’ve chosen) should use in each situation and audience. Ask students to explain their decisions. Encourage them to use the rhetorical terms of audience and purpose as part of their explanations.

  10. For homework, ask students to reflect in their journals on the connections between the names that people use and the audiences and purposes in which they use them. In particular, ask them to consider how audience and purpose influences the use of names in digital settings. If desired, provide students the following prompt for their reflection: How does audience and purpose influence what you write or say about yourself and who you are?

  11. If desired, pass out copies of the Teen Safety on the Information Highway, from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (or ask students to read the document online). Ask students to identify information in the brochure that is important to consider when choosing information to share through an online persona (e.g., what kinds of details should not be included an e-mail address?). Ask students to complete their reading before the next session.

Session Four

  1. Ask students to share observations from their journal entries. You can open the discussion with the prompt from their homework: How does audience and purpose influence what you write or say about yourself and who you are?

  2. As discussion develops, ask students how personal safety can influence the personal information that they share with others. If students have read the optional brochure, Teen Safety on the Information Highway, tie the conversation to observations from the reading.

  3. Return to the e-mail addresses that the class used in the previous session, either those below or the addresses that you chose:

    • A school address:

    • A home address:

    • A second home (and more personal) address:
  4. Share the NetSmartz interactive, Tracking Teresa (or have students view the video at computer workstations).

  5. Ask students to explain what they can tell about the person just by looking at the e-mail addresses. For the samples, for instance, observations may include the following:

    • The person’s name is probably J. L. Finch.

    • The person is probably at a school with "Maycomb" in its name.

    • The person is probably somewhere in the south.

    • The person is probably a girl/woman.

    • "Scout" might mean that the person is a Girl or Boy Scout or that the person is a wilderness scout.

    • "Boo" is a term of endearment in the south, so the word may refer to a family member or friend.
  6. As students share details, encourage them to connect the information to the e-mail addresses—not to information that they may know from other sources (e.g., we know who Scout is, and that the nickname does not refer to either of the guesses above; however, someone looking at her e-mail address online would not be certain what the name refers to).

  7. Once students demonstrate that they see how the names that people use online can reveal details about them, shift to the final activity for the unit.

  8. Explain that students will choose and explain a specific name that they would (or do) use to represent themselves online and create a profile for this online persona. Connect to the class discussion by emphasizing that the name and profile should be appropriate and safe for a particular audience and situation.

  9. Share the scenario that you have chosen for the class. See the Online Persona Options handout for suggestions.

  10. If students will draft their personas online, demonstrate the Profile Publisher to the students. Otherwise, pass out the Online Persona Form. If desired, students can also use the Online Name Form to gather ideas before moving to the Profile Publisher.

  11. If students are signing up for actual accounts during this process, also pass out any forms that may be required by your system.

  12. Explain any special information about the assignment:

    • If students are choosing online names that they will actually use, go over the requirements for the system that they will use (e.g., limitations on the length of the name, symbols that can be used).

    • If students are using an outside service, look for the details on names for the system. For instance, you might share the How to Choose a Safe Screen Name, Internet Safety: Safe Surfing Tips for Teens, or NetSmartz Teens.

    • If you’re using an imagined scenario, you might also share hints for an existing system (e.g., AOL) so that students choose realistic names.
  13. Ask students to brainstorm characteristics that would make a name or personal information appropriate and safe for the particular scenario the class is working on. In addition to basic tips about safety and appropriateness, encourage students to share technical details, as appropriate for their situation (e.g., your e-mail address should use only letters and numbers).

  14. As students share ideas, write them on the board, a transparency, or chart paper.

  15. Once students have finished making suggestions, review the list as a class. Group like criteria together and eliminate any duplicates.

  16. With the class, revise the criteria into a rubric for the final activity. Encourage students to include some basic safety information such as the following:

    • Does not reveal personal information (real name, family details, address, phone number, etc.)

    • Does not give age or year of birth

    • Does not include specific names of the school or other local places

    • Does not share geographical details (name of your city, neighborhood park, etc.)
  17. Spend some time going over the tips included on the Online Profile Tips, emphasizing the safety tips and providing examples of information that is appropriate to share.

  18. Ask students to use all the ideas they have gathered about names to choose a name and complete the Online Name Form and/or the Profile Publisher.

  19. Explain that you will collect students’ work during the next class session. Ask students to turn in two copies—one with their school names clearly indicated (for grading purposes) and one that only indicates the online names that they have chosen (to be read by others in the class).

  20. If desired, add a class session so that students can work on their profiles during class time.

Session Five

  1. Collect the copies of students’ Online Name Forms or printouts from the Profile Publisher. Sort the copies so that you have two piles, one that indicates school names (for grading) and one that does not (to be used for peer review during this session).

  2. Return to the rubric created during the previous session, and review the characteristics of appropriate and safe online names and profiles that the class has established.

  3. Arrange students in small groups.

  4. Pass out copies of the completed Online Name Forms or printouts from the Profile Publisher to students, using those that do NOT include the students’ real names and ensuring that groups do not have the profiles for any of their group members.

  5. Have students read and review the names and profiles they have received, using the Online Persona Evaluation Form to guide their responses to each name. If students have created safe profiles and names, students will not know whose profiles they are reviewing.

  6. Ask each group to choose one persona to share with the whole class. Ask students to be prepared to explain why they thought the persona was successful.

  7. Once students have reviewed the personas in their groups, gather students, and ask each group to share the story that they have chosen.

  8. Ask students to discuss what they’ve discovered from the personas as a class.

  9. Collect the Online Name Forms or printouts from the Profile Publisher and the Online Persona Evaluation Forms, and return the papers to their authors. Use the copy that you have collected for grading to help you match up students with their forms. If desired, call the online names aloud and allow students to identify themselves for the class.

  10. For homework, ask students to make any revisions to their profiles, based on the feedback on the Evaluation Form, the class rubric, and the discussion from the class session.

  11. Ask students to turn in their Online Name Forms or printouts from the Profile Publisher, with their real names clearly indicated, and the Evaluation Form.


Use the ReadWriteThink lesson Avalanche, Aztek, or Bravada? A Connotation Mini-Lesson to explore naming and connotation in more detail.

Student Assessment / Reflections

Use the rubric that the class creates in Session Four as well as the questions on the Online Persona Evaluation Form to assess the online name and profile that students choose. Assessment should touch both on rhetorical appropriateness for the audience and situation and on demonstration of an understanding of Internet safety guidelines.

If desired, ask students to reflect on the unit in their journals. You can ask students to respond to the prompt: What does the online name mean and why did you choose it? Alternately, you can ask students to summarize what they’ve learned about online safety or to talk about how people create personas in non-digital settings.

Finally, you might ask students to compare characteristics of names in digital and non-digital settings, using the Venn Diagram student interactive. Encourage students to draw connections between the ways that people choose and use names based on their audience and situation, whether engaging in digital or non-digital communication.

K-12 Teacher
This websites was introduced in a professional development workshop today. I plan to use this lesson on the first day of school to teach Internet Safety. I see this lesson as being exciting and motivational as we plug in safety for the new year. Thanks you.
K-12 Teacher
This websites was introduced in a professional development workshop today. I plan to use this lesson on the first day of school to teach Internet Safety. I see this lesson as being exciting and motivational as we plug in safety for the new year. Thanks you.
K-12 Teacher
This websites was introduced in a professional development workshop today. I plan to use this lesson on the first day of school to teach Internet Safety. I see this lesson as being exciting and motivational as we plug in safety for the new year. Thanks you.

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