Teaching Students How to Cite Wikipedia: Free Worksheets

How to teach students about the trustworthiness of websites like Wikipedia

Image: iClipart

When I teach students to cite Wikipedia, I start with an important lesson in trustworthiness. In their innocence, our students often believe everything they read online. To show them how easily an ordinary person can alter the information on Wikipedia, I suggest you contact your school’s tech specialist. Let him/her know that you’re planning to alter the page about your school (if one can be found) on Wikipedia.

Then, the night before your lesson, go into the Wikipedia page about your school and change your school’s mascot from a tiger (or pirate or whatever) to something really ridiculous, like a platypus, a golf club, or a stinkbug. Before your lesson begins, check to make sure no one has edited your change.

When opening your lesson, do the following:

  1. Begin by asking a random student, “What is your favorite thing in the whole world?” Their answer might be pizza, soccer, dogs, cars, etc.
  2. Type this into the Wikipedia search. Show the kids the page on that topic.
  3. Now go around the room and ask for three more examples. Type these in and show the kids that their favorite things are also available on Wikipedia. (It’s so diverse, I’ve never had anyone offer a topic that wasn’t available; but of course, it’s hypothetically possible, so be prepared for that.)
  4. Finally, type in your school’s name. Scroll down to the place where you’ve changed the mascot.
  5. Ask your students, “Is there anything wrong with the information found here? Let’s take turns reading through it.”
  6. When they spot the error to the mascot, ask them, “How does that make you feel? Who would have made this mistake?”
  7. Confess that it was YOU, not your rival school, who made the change to the mascot. But explain that when we do a research project on Abraham Lincoln, Wikipedia should not be our most trusted source for information. In fact, it’s far from trustworthy. The more frequently visitors come to that site, the more likely it is to have misinformation.
  8. Make sure you change your school’s mascot BACK to the correct one, when the lesson is over.

At this point, you’re ready to reserve time in your school’s computer lab to let the kids try their hand at doing this sort of research.

I have two handouts for Wikipedia research. The first is a way for students to get the feel of how we cite Wikipedia, through practice. It also gives them a chance to think up multiple topics they might be interested in researching.

The second handout is the actual research graphic organizer.

So you can spend one day just getting a feel for how to find what you want on Wikipedia, and spend the next day, really doing the research on your chosen topic.

Here are the handouts:

Citing Wikipedia Practice Page

Wikipedia Research Handout

If you like this activity and the handouts that accompany it, please help promote this website. E-mail a friend, link to this page, like it on Facebook, etc. Thank you.


2 responses »

  1. Thank you for pointing this out. Now that this has been brought to my attention, I’m considering new ways to approach this lesson (without violating Wikipedia’s rules of good conduct).

  2. You wrote: “Then, the night before your lesson, go into the Wikipedia page about your school and change your school’s mascot … to something really ridiculous”

    As a Wikipedia admin, I can tell you that making this kind of change is considered vandalism on Wikipedia. As school websites are rather prone to vandalism in any case, admins tend to react more promptly and strongly to vandalism coming from such sites. You could well find the IP of your school’s internet connection blocked from editing Wikipedia for a year by the time you start your lesson, or within a few days afterwards, if you follow this suggestion.

    It would be better to find a recent piece of vandalism and link to the revision where it occured to make this point to the students. A bit more work, but a better lesson.

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