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Using Simple English Wikipedia in the classroom

Writer(s): 
Stephen Case, Chelsea English School; Edo Forsythe, Hirosaki Gakuin University

 

Despite the lure of its authenticity, mediating online material in the classroom often requires a lot more work than a teacher has time for in order to make the materials usable for English language learners. This can be especially true when using online materials with lower-level students. On the other hand, unmediated access to online English-language content, while having many benefits, can be overwhelming and demotivating due to the length and difficulty of texts (Takase, 2004). Therefore, the desire for authenticity must be balanced with the need for ease of comprehension and usability.

Simple English Wikipedia<simple.wikipedia.org> provides an easy answer to this problem. It can be adapted and used in the classroom with much less time-consuming mediation. Simple English Wikipedia (SEW) is meant for students, children, and English language learners and provides articles written using a slightly extended version of Ogden's Basic English. SEW articles tend to be slightly shorter and more concise than regular articles but no less in-depth. For example, the Wikipedia article on Einstein is 8500 words long, while the SEW version is only about 5000 words. The shorter version is no less detailed and provides appropriate reading material for low-level classrooms.

 

Use in Class

The simplest use for Simple English Wikipedia would be for reading comprehension practice by choosing an article relevant to a lesson topic, writing some comprehension questions, and requiring students to complete the questions.

A more Wired activity using SEW would be a WebQuest.A WebQuest is an Internet-based learning task where students are given the task of finding information on the Internet. A typical WebQuest follows these steps:

1. An introduction to the WebQuest, its processes, goals, and outcomes.

2. A demonstration of what is expected and how it should be achieved.

3. A list of online links or search terms to help achieve the desired outcome.

The classroom goals of a SEW WebQuest are to motivate students to use the Internet in English and provide them with stimulating extensive reading practice in class. To do this, the teacher needs to provide a set of questions for students to answer while conducting the quest. A typical question is, What present from his father made Einstein interested in science? Einstein is underlined to provide students with a keyword to search for in SEW. The teacher can demonstrate this to make sure students do not waste time searching for the wrong term. Students then have to read the SEW page and find the answer.

To make the activity slightly more challenging, a teacher could ask a question such as, What was Barack Obama’s wife’s brother’s job? This question will require students either to search for Michelle Obama or to click the link on Barack Obama’s page that leads them to the answer. This will require more reading and critical thinking on the part of students and satisfy the Quest element of the exercise. Again, the teacher may want to demonstrate this beforehand and should monitor students’ progress to keep them on course.

This exercise can be done as a game to make it more interesting for students. Questions that come from short articles where answers are easy to find are given a score of one point. Questions that come from longer articles or questions that require more work to answer are given a score of up to five points. Students are given a list of 20 questions worth various points and are given a time limit in which to complete the WebQuest; this allows them to practice strategic thinking as well as English. Students have to decide how best to answer the questions in order to obtain the highest score in the class. The teacher must make it clear to students that they do not need to answer every question, just as many as possible to get the highest score possible in the allotted time. (See Appendix 1 for an example WebQuest activity sheet.)

Setting up the classroom for a WebQuest is relatively simple. This activity could be easily done in any computer room. Teachers without access to a computer room could do this in their own classroom by having students use their cell phones to access the Internet. It is important to keep in mind that students may not have unlimited Internet access on their cell phones, so they may need share phones in small groups. Students enjoy this activity, and the competitive aspect keeps them engaged in the activity to acquire the best score. Teachers can give incentives or prizes as appropriate to further motivate students to win.

 

Advanced-level activities

For more advanced students, Simple English Wikipedia has a Schools Gateway <simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Schools>, which allows teachers to have their students create or edit an article themselves. Allowing students to create content on SEW or Wikipedia provides a tangible artifact of students’ English ability. It is something they can show to parents or friends to demonstrate their progress in English. When having students create content in Wikipedia, the article can be flagged as being edited by students to alert readers of who the authors are so that changes or comments by others are done with that in mind. Having students author articles in this section allows them to enjoy writing for the web but in a kind and helpful online environment. Students can create their own articles or simplify existing SEW articles relating to their own country and culture. For example, students can write about their school or university to provide information from a student’s perspective. Also, many pages about Japanese foods, festivals, and customs do not yet exist on SEW, so they would make ideal subjects for students to write about. (See <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hirosaki_University> for an example of a student-edited Wikipedia article and compare the history page from August 2011 with the current version to see how much students can accomplish with minimal guidance.)

These are just two ideas for using an easily-accessible resource that requires little more than Internet access. SEW and Wikipedia provide a wealth of materials and opportunities for English language learners to engage in while studying English. Simple English Wikipedia has the advantages of needing little content mediation and being unlikely to overwhelm students as other text-based websites might. It is an easy gateway to building student confidence online. The authors of this article would be interested in hearing about other teachers’ experiences and methods of using Simple English Wikipedia; please send them to the email addresses listed at the top of this article.

 

References

Takase, A. 2004. Effects of eliminating some demotivating factors in reading English extensively. In M. Swanson, & K. Hill (Eds.), JALT2003 Conference Proceedings (pp. 95-103).

 

From the Editor:Registration is underway for JALTCALL 2013 & the 6th ER Seminar to be held at Shinshu Univ. from 31 May – 2 June, 2013. Register at <account.jaltcall.org> and I hope to see you in Matsumoto! Until then, stay Wired!

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