Skip to content

Oppida raises the bar in online education

7 quick ways to teach unplugging in schools

It seems paradoxical that to teach unplugging in schools would be the answer to stellar digital citizenship. Don’t students need a chance to experiment online?

They do, but I think Commonsense media has it right. They suggest we teach students the slogan, “slow down, pause, and think.” Ironically, unplugging from our devices teaches one of the core skills needed to become a great digital citizen: reflection.

So, here are 7 quick ways to include the key skills of slowing down, pausing, and thinking into your everyday teaching practice in schools.

teach unplugging in schools

1) Promote the National Day of Unplugging

Tell your students and their families about the National Day of Unplugging. This day was created by a New York-based non-profit called Reboot with roots in the Jewish tradition of Shabbat (day of rest). Currently, it’s spread to 125 countries to become a global phenomenon. In 2018, Australian promoted the event. While in 2019, the National Day of Unplugging coincided with the Australian National Day of Prayer. It’s always on the first Friday in March. It will be March 6 in 2020 if you’d like to mark your calendars. 

In class, give them a few minutes to allow them to make their own “survival kit” for their day of unplugging. They’re going to want to think about classic pre-tech activities, such as board games and classic toys. Also, don’t forget to download and fill in the signs saying, “I unplug to _________”!

2) Unplugging at school one lunch hour a week

By putting the tech away during lunch hour, students can focus on other things. Chess or board games might be a natural fit since they are classic activities that don’t involve tech. Or it can be a chance to play sports or take a walk in the park.

It’s important to make it about more than unplugging to make it sustainable. What do they gain by putting their phones away?

The biggest bonus of creating an alternative to phone surfing during lunchtime is the improvement in social skills. If you’re interested, check out this article about the drop in quality of human interactions once people pull out their mobile phones. 

3) Meditation

What better way to teach students how to pause then to encourage them to meditate? They’ll need lots of practice on pausing in order to be able to pause during the highly interactive and engaging digital experiences we all love. There’s a reason that we call TV addictive! 

Children can be taught to meditate at any age. The well-known app, Headspace, also created Headspace Kids for children aged 3-12. There’s also nothing more adorable than a kindergarten class lying down to meditate.

Which means that if Kinders can do it, any age can. You can build 5 minutes of meditation into your classroom at any time of day for students of all ages.

4) Take them outside

Our minds work better when our bodies are given sufficient exercise. It’s so important that brain scientist, John Medina, included exercise as one of his Brain Rules for optimal health. Healthy brains make better decisions than unhealthy brains.

Also, going outside naturally provides time to slow down and help students develop the core disposition to make great decisions online and offline.

5) End of day reflection

It’s hard to slow down in a classroom. There are so many pressures for students to perform in all areas of their lives. Building in a reflection routine can help everyone in a classroom learn to slow down. As a teacher, sometimes even I feel like I’m the one who needs to slow down! 

Reflection at the end of the day works out critical thinking muscles, as well as encouraging deeper learning. Elementary school teachers may ask students to think of one thing they’re going to share with their parents. You can build in social skills if you ask students to tell each other their one piece of learning for the day. As an added bonus, you can use it as a formative assessment to find out what they learned from your lesson.

Some days you may want to give students the chance to talk about anything that’s important to them. This chance helps build rapport with students and a great classroom community.

6) Monitoring phone behaviour

Rather than unplugging, we can change our behaviour by tracking it. By asking students to keep a tally of how often they check their phones during the day, they can begin to see how integrated their phones have become in their lives. 

Students work on thinking about how they’re using technology through this simple act of monitoring. This type of monitoring should be low stress for students because they aren’t being asked to stop their tech use, simply monitor it.

7) Monitoring feelings when unplugging

It might be interesting to do both types of monitoring in your classroom. Students might have less anxious feelings when being asked to give up a piece of technology if they monitor their tech usage BEFORE unplugging because they’ll already have a sense of how they use technology and what gaps they’ll need to fill. 

This activity can spark the following questions: How do they feel when they no longer have access to their video games or social media accounts? What do those feelings tell them about how they’re using technology? How can they address these feelings?

This exercise focuses on making students think about what gaps technology fills in their lives. I’ve discovered that I can feel anxious when I put my phone away to play with my daughter, especially at home. On the flip side, I’ve discovered a great deal more productivity when I shut off notifications when I’m writing. It’s been interesting to work through my anxiety to reach a deeper part of myself, but I had to put my phone down to do it!

It’s important to have conversations with students about their feelings toward technology and its role in their lives. They might discover a lot that they didn’t know about themselves.

Significantly, teaching students to slow down, pause, and think does not need to be a formal lesson, but can become an everyday part of life.

These 7 quick strategies will get you on your way to helping students with unplugging. Once they’ve unplugged, they can also start to develop the disposition to make great choices online—“slow down, pause, and think.”

Should we teach students to unplug? Do you use some of these strategies? Would you add any other strategies for teaching unplugging? How do you feel when you unplug? Email your thoughts to us at and start a discussion! We’d love to hear from you!