One of the tools I use to help kids explore biographies and informational, nonfiction reading is Wikipedia. I know, I know… It can’t be trusted!
Of course it can’t, but don’t you use it in your everyday life? I do too! Heck, I’ve probably visited Wikipedia half a dozen times today, just to find out who a certain actor‘s married to, or to find out the scientific name for maple trees, or whatever.
EVERYBODY uses it.
So why are we teachers so skittish about teaching our middle schoolers how to use Wikipedia?
The trick is to show them how unreliable it can be. I usually begin my lesson by personally changing our school mascot to a yellow grape on the Wikipedia page which mentions our school and its attributes. I let my students see that on Wikipedia, our school’s mascot has been listed as a yellow grape. Of course they’re outraged!
So then I explain that they have nothing to worry about. I am the crazy lady who changed our school’s mascot on Wikipedia, and don’t worry; I’ll change it back before the school day’s over.
This is also a good time to discuss how vandalizing Wikipedia is hurtful. They need to understand that Wikipedia should never be vandalized, and doing so causes people to feel violated. (Note: never show your students how to change a Wikipedia article! And don’t forget to change your school’s mascot back, after your lesson is done.)
This lesson really helps the kids understand why Wikipedia is not the best resource for formal research papers. However as a resource, Wikipedia can give you quick information on everything from the history of pizza to the aglets on the ends of your shoelaces. Many of these topics can’t be found in World Book Encyclopedia, so the vast variety of information available on Wikipedia makes it a valuable resource for everyday things (although not necessarily for research papers).
The common core standard for research papers that I’m addressing with this lesson is: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source…
But bear in mind that this lesson has two primary objectives:
- I want students to understand that they must assess the credibility of Wikipedia articles before using them in a report.
- I want students to come away from the lesson with an understanding that Wikipedia should never be vandalized, and doing so causes people to feel violated.
Below you’ll find the handout we use for our Wikipedia research activities in my classroom. You’re welcome to download and print these. My only request? As always, I appreciate it when people share my website through social media. Like it! Tweet about it! Tell a friend!
Next week I’ll be posting a handout that accompanies this one, so be sure and watch for that!