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:
- Begin by asking a random student, “What is your favorite thing in the whole world?” Their answer might be pizza, soccer, dogs, cars, etc.
- Type this into the Wikipedia search. Show the kids the page on that topic.
- 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.)
- Finally, type in your school’s name. Scroll down to the place where you’ve changed the mascot.
- Ask your students, “Is there anything wrong with the information found here? Let’s take turns reading through it.”
- When they spot the error to the mascot, ask them, “How does that make you feel? Who would have made this mistake?”
- 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.
- 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:
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