‘Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very;” your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.’ Mark Twain
But who is the writer and who is the editor? We all know about Wikipedia, where anybody can write anything about anything as long as they can back it up or change anything other people have said, i.e everyone is a writer and everyone is an editor and re-writer. I’ve heard that if you put a mistake on aWikipedia page it takes less than a minute for someone else to notice the mistake and correct it but there are millions of people using Wikipedia and only about 25 in your class. How can you use the principles that power the Wikipedia phenomenon with your students and what might be the point?
Go to your Course Home page and look at the Course Tools menu on the left hand side where you’ll see the link to the wiki. Follow this link to see the wiki introductory page. You’ll see some instructions on how to get started. Next click Edit to get writing and editing. The teacher can do this or the students can do it. Watch this short video to see what the various headings mean.
What’s the point?
Unlike the other Web 2.0 tools, activities in the wiki are not pre-set and are not prepared quietly and privately in the main content so on the one hand it’s a bit more work for the teacher to prepare but on the other, it can be used to provide a change of pace or as a review activity for salient language points or to provide some good practice of Process Writing. You can use it to train your learners to keep records of what they’re learning e.g. a class vocabulary notebook, or to share resources they used for a project or exam practice.
As a collaborative writing tool, there is a lot of potential for building skills like self and peer correction, text organisation, logical sequencing and writing descriptively. Take for example an activity where you post the skeleton of a story I found on Nik Peachey’s blog:
A girl had two sisters. They didn’t like her. A Prince had a party. The sisters went to the party but the girl had to stay at home. Later, the girl went to the party. She met the Prince. The girl lost a shoe. The Prince fell in love with her. He used the shoe to find her. The sisters weren’t happy.
I’m sure you recognise the story:) This is a very short version of it. A lot of the details are missing. There are no adjectives and the sentences are short. There are several activities you can make out of this. Students can add adjectives and relative clauses to make the story more engaging. They could use conjunctions to link the sentences. They could develop each sentence into a paragraph by adding more details. On Nik Peachey’s blog, he talks about telling the story from the perspective of different characters (and has lots more ideas). Any student can change the story and even change the ending if they want.
But why do this on a wiki? Students can change the details or correct eachother’s mistakes or build on the ideas of their classmates by writing and editing. As teacher you can post a question within the story to prompt students to write a bit more or to keep them on track. Or you could highlight a word or sentence and ask ‘is this the right word here?’ to prompt a student to fix a mistake without you having to do it. This will help make your presence felt while the students are working. You could do similar things with exam preparation writing tasks. Have students collaboratively build out an essay from a skeleton as practice for the essay they hand in later for individual marking and feedback. The possibilities are endless.
Has anyone tried doing anything like this before? Tell us about it. What do you think are the implications for marking and assessment? How can we do this without creating lots of work for ourselves? Let us know what you think. If you’d like me to go into more detail on how any of these activities work, let me know and I will elaborate on preparation steps and assessment. If not, give the story activity a go and let us know how you get on.