“Digital Empathy” Student Writing Lesson

What are some ways—digital or otherwise—that you get strength and support to fight world suck with awesome?

The YES! online article “How the Real Teens Behind ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ Are Bringing Empathy to the Internet” by Christopher Zumski Finke is a story about the now-millions strong Nerdfighter movement and its dedication to “increase awesome and decrease world suck.” Finke shares how the first-ever, safe, inclusive Internet community mobilizes acts of kindness and empathy toward others.

Students will use Christopher Zumski Finke’s article to write about where they find inspiration for making this world a better (less suckier) place.

Download lesson as a PDF

YES! Magazine Article and Writing Prompt

Read the article: How the Real Teens Behind “The Fault in Our Stars” Are Bringing Empathy to the Internet by Christopher Zumski Finke.

Writing Prompt: Parents often label the Internet as a hotbed for cruelty and bullying. Nerdfighters prove the Internet can be used for good, that it can be a place to create community that combats negativity—or “world suck”—with “awesome.” What are some ways—digital or otherwise—that you get strength and support to fight world suck with awesome?

Writing Guidelines

The writing guidelines below are intended to be just that—a guide. Please adapt to fit your curriculum.

  • Provide an original essay title
  • Reference the article
  • Limit the essay to no more than 700 words
  • Pay attention to grammar and organization
  • Be original. provide personal examples and insights
  • Demonstrate clarity of content and ideas

This writing exercise meets several Common Core State Standards for grades 6-12, including W. 9-10.3 and W. 9-10.14 for Writing, and RI. 9-10 and RI. 9-10.2 for Reading: Informational Text.*

*This standard applies to other grade levels. “9-10” is used as an examples.

Evaluation Rubric

Sample Essays 

The essays below were selected as winners for the Fall 2014 Student Writing Competition. Please use them as sample essays or mentor text. The ideas, structure, and writing style of these essays may provide inspiration for your own students’ writing—and an excellent platform for analysis and discussion.

Combating the “World Suck” of Baseball Tryouts with “Awesome” by Bowie Shreiber, Grade 7

Read Bowie’s essay that tells how he was able to brave the excruciating world suck stress of baseball tryouts and find awesome.

The Literal Heart Sustains an Ailing Body by Ally S., Grade 11

Read Ally’s essay that tells how she found the strength to cope with mental illness through the support of the same Nerdfighter online community.

Anita and Tavi’s New Curriculum by Tori Gardner, Grade 10

Read Tori’s essay that reveals the unexamined misogyny of the Internet, and what we can do to fight against it.

Response from author Christopher Zumski Finke to student essay winners. 

We Want to Hear From You! 

How do you see this lesson fitting in your curriculum? Already tried it? Tell us—and other teachers—how the lesson worked for you and your students

Please leave your comments below, including what grade you teach.

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