Ideas on getting your students to contribute to Wikipedia…some great advantages!

Submitted by Fiona Beal

How do you encourage the use of Wikipedia in your classroom? I have noticed that whenever upper primary school or Middle school students that I teach look for information on the Internet for an assignment, one of the first sites they visit is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is very often a student’s first port of call. The interesting thing about Wikipedia articles is that most if not all of them have references that one can check.

What is Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia, written collaboratively by the people who use it. It is a special type of website designed to make collaboration easy, called a wiki. Many people are constantly improving Wikipedia, making thousands of changes per hour.

South African students and Wikipedia


Do you recall when In November 2012, the students of Sinenjongo High School penned an open letter on Facebook, encouraging cellphone carriers to waive data charges for accessing Wikipedia so they can do their homework. This plea was turned into a video which can be accessed on YouTube here. As a result the MTN network responded favourably and launched Wikipedia Zero whereby students using the MTN network can access Wikipedia free using the Opera mini browser on their cellphones. The Wikipedia blog reported on this in a post found at

Teaching with Wikipedia

Recently I have been wondering how to use Wikipedia in a more in depth way with a Grade 8 class.  This thought came about after watching a very interesting YouTube video called ‘Teaching with Wikipedia’. In this 12 minute video, shown below, Jami Mathewson and Ryan McGrady of the Wiki Education Foundation share information about how to get started with Wikipedia in your classroom.

The gist of the video is that Wikipedia assignments connect your course to the world outside of the classroom. By writing for Wikipedia, students practice fact-based writing, research, collaboration, and critical thinking. All the while, they’ll be making a meaningful contribution to a free knowledge resource used by millions of people around the world.

Getting started with Wikipedia in your classroom

In an article in the Infolink email group, Andrew van Zyl, librarian at St Alban’s College, brought to light some great brochures published by the Wikimedia Foundation. These answer many of the questions one would ask when getting started – they are definitely worth delving into.

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Editing Wikipedia

How to use Wikipedia as a teaching tool

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Evaluating Wikipedia

A 12-week assignment to write a Wikipedia article

By contributing to Wikipedia students could replace the replacing the traditional (“write–grade–shred–forget”) writing assignment and take the research and writing process all the way to the publication stage. The awareness that their pages will be visible to a worldwide audience—and that their entries are likely to be critiqued in various ways by the Wikipedia community of editors— would inevitably raise the bar for student achievement.

Further reading:

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