Using wikis in your writing lessons

19-Mar-2012

Even if your school hasn’t opted for a VLE yet there are numerous ways to start introducing an online tool to your teaching.  You can choose between a number of options: Writing tasks lend themselves to being used for collaborative writing with, blogs or wikis the obvious choice.

Blogs and wikis – what’s the difference?

Whereas a blog is a web page used for regular diary or journal entries and tends to be kept by one person, a wiki is a collaborative web space and consists of a number of pages that can be edited by any user. A blog is read by its readers, who can comment on the entry or on someone else’s comment and thereby create an online discussion forum around the topic. Readers cannot create their own blog entry within the writer’s blog. A wiki, on the other hand, is started by one person but allows its readers to alter, delete or change the content. Therefore, it can have more than one author and is ideal for collaborative work such as a class project. One of the best-known wikis is the online encyclopedia Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org).

There a several free sites you can choose to set up a wiki. Some of the most widely-known are Pbwiki (www.pbwiki.com), Wikihost (http://wikihost.org), and MediaWiki (http://www.mediawiki.org). Setting up a wiki is a simple task, and you don’t need to be an expert to do so. Some sites require you to set up an account, others let you start straight away.

How can I use wikis?

You could use a wiki for an internal class project. Although the wiki itself is a public site, you can give it a password so that only those who know it can edit the wiki. Topics can include anything from famous people to writing about your own town/city, preparing a trip abroad or working on writing tasks for Cambridge examinations or school/university exams. Set it up, outline the topic and the task and write down the steps your learners have to take. Think about the timing for the task. As a rule, projects with a set aim and a deadline tend to work better than those without a clear end. Students can start by brainstorming ideas, writing them down and saving them. As soon as they are saved they are visible to their peers who can comment on or add to them. Work on the text begins with one student suggesting a paragraph and others working on the draft until they are satisfied with the result. The text illustrates a shared effort and is the property of the whole class. Therefore, the result needs to be regarded as a shared effort.

What are the advantages?

Students often find working with wikis more motivating and enjoyable because they can share the tasks, edit each other’s work and regard the result as a common achievement. Writing is thus turned into a social experience leading to developing their writing skills and learning how to give peer-to- peer feedback. Given the public status of the wiki, knowing that their work can be read by their peers and readers outside their group serves as an incentive for the whole group.

Are there any pitfalls?

While the skills needed to set up and contribute to a wiki are similar to using a word processing programme, its pitfalls are similar, too. All the wiki requires you to do is type your text, save it, and it’ll appear on the site. Make sure both you and your learners are familiar with editing and saving work. As with any document it is important to save it regularly – we all know how frustrating it is to work on a document for some time and then to lose it due to technical difficulties.
All in all, using wikis for writing tasks can help turn them into an interesting and motivating experience that helps develop you learners’ writing and social skills alike. Why not try it out soon?

You can find previous articles from this series below:

Introducing Macmillan English Campus as an integral part of your face-to face teaching

The big adventure: Implementing Macmillan English Campus into your teaching

Teaching in the 21st Century

Astrid

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