6 Ways to Wiki:

Using Technology in the Elementary Classroom
By Marilyn Western

Six Ways to Wiki

You’ve probably heard the term or come across it in a professional journal, but have you ever seen, used, or set
up a wiki? If you can use a word processor, you can wiki. In its simplest terms, a wiki is a free online word
processor. No software to install. Access it from any online computer. Click Edit. Write your ideas. Save.
That’s it!
I can highly recommend two free wiki locations: PBWiki (that’s Peanut Butter Wiki) found at pbwiki.com and

Wikispaces at www.wikispaces.com. Both encourage educational wikis, have how-to videos to help you along,
and can get you up and running within minutes. Now that you know where and can find out how, here are a
half dozen ideas to get you going.

1. Team collaboration

Instead of saving a template to our Shared drive for student teams to access, this year I tried posting a research
template as a wiki. I created pages on both wikispaces and pbwiki and found both to be easy and reliable.
Students could access the wiki I set up, click on the link for their group, and read the directions. When they had
researched information and were ready to add it to the wiki page, they simply logged in with the secret
password, made their changes, and saved. We did find that only one student could edit at a time, but students
quickly became experts at writing their research in a Word doc so they could quickly copy and paste into the
wiki. I was amazed by two things with this activity – students became more courteous about taking up wikiediting
time and, surprisingly, since students could access their research guide online, some teams actually
worked on their page outside of school!!! The spirit of collaboration was a-buzz in my lab as students divided
up the work, consulted each other with questions, and offered constructive comments about their team mates’
work. This project alone was enough to sell me on using wikis with kids!

Variations on the collaboration wiki:

During March-is-Reading-Month, have students post book reviews on a wiki page. Or ‘If I had a million
dollars, I would give the World …’ gift suggestions. Or ‘what I’m really good at’ sentences in September as a
Get to Know Us page. Students love the idea of using a secret password for anything – and posting to their own
web page for the whole world (as well as Mom & Dad) can be a good reason for editing and revising.
Set up a wiki as a pattern story based on books such as If You Give a Mouse a Cookie or The Important Book

and let students add their own piece of the story.

2. Show what we know

So you want students to show off what they’ve learned in the
latest Social Studies or Science unit. Setting up a wiki as a
class ‘ABC Book’ – each letter can have it’s own wiki page
that includes a student chosen topic for the letter, an original
paragraph with information about the topic, and (if you have
enough wiki space) an original picture to accompany the
article. Combine the efforts of two or three classes for a wellrounded

Variations on the ABC Book:
Create your own class dictionary or Word Wall of Math or
Science or Social Studies vocabulary
Studying the American Revolution? Why not have students document their studies by creating a Timeline Wiki.
Each linked page could be a decade with sequential historical data. The whole class could work on this together,
or set up small groups to be decade experts.

3. Links collection

I hesitate to send my students Googling, even with the Safe Search turned on. So, I make it a policy to collect
kid-safe links that they can explore (we do have ‘the talk’ about what is an advertisement and not to click on
links that take you off that particular site). I have a del.icio.us account that I keep for my professional link
collection, but I’ve found that a wiki is a much ‘cleaner’ environment for students to use. Summer is a great
time for searching out just the right web pages to support the curriculum we’ll be covering during the school
year. I’ve set up a wiki page for each curriculum area (math, language arts, etc.). I found that by inserting a
table on the page, I can keep unit links together (don’t you just love tables?). Be sure to have one page for those
educational games that students can explore when they have down time.

Variations on the curriculum links wiki:

Kids can add to this page. They may have favorite pages that parents, friends, or older siblings have located that
are of educational value. We celebrate students who can show me a worthwhile web site.
Have older students ‘pre-view’ a unit by researching the upcoming topic in KidsClick! www.kidsclick.org or

Ask Earl (Yahooligans) kids.yahoo.com/ask_earl to locate web sites that would be of interest to students
and/or may add interactivity to the unit. What a great way to start that prior knowledge acquisition before you
even start the unit! And the bonus is a collection of web sites, information, games, images, etc that students
show interest in.

4. Use as a file-keeper

Create a ‘personal’ wiki (keep it private) where you can upload files, images, videos that you can access from
any Internet-capable computer. Never again will you be at a loss because your doc or presentation is sitting on
your home computer when you are at school!

Variations on the file-keeper wiki:

Use a wiki as a classroom scrap book, documenting units, projects, assemblies, books read, and everyday life in
your classroom. Or have a couple of students write a paragraph each week telling about the week’s highlights
and point parents to this online newsletter.

5. A classroom web page

The problem with most web pages is that they have a tendency to get ‘stuck’ on the computer that uploads
them. With a wiki, as long as you can remember your password, you can access and update the page from any
computer. I’ve tweaked my classroom wiki – even in the middle of a class – when I find students are having
difficulty finding a particular piece of information, or I realize my directions on the wiki aren’t clear enough, or
a student points out a better way of doing something.
A wiki can also be ‘locked’ – so only you can make changes – to create a parent communication web site. It
takes just about the same amount of time to post a schedule change or upload a copy of a field trip permission
slip as it would to crank out a newsletter (actually, maybe less, because a wiki doesn’t have to have all the
‘oolala’ borders, clipart, etc that a newsletter seems to accumulate). What would you put on a web page wiki
for parents and/or students? How about a quick calendar (some wikis come with a calendar plugin, but you can
also post just a listing of dates and events – remember the K.I.S.S. principle!), homework reminders,
explanations, handouts, or a list of links for parents or students to use at home, those great poems that students
made this week, a picture or two of the latest fieldtrip or school assembly or activities at the Math Center. And
some fog delay or snow day, check out Google Gadgets at http://www.google.com/ig/directory?synd=open that
you can add to your wiki (free!).
I’ve noticed many web pages that are created just before school starts to welcome students & parents to the
classroom, list the homework policy, reading and math goals for the year, and all those little notices that crop up
in the 1st couple of weeks start out with a bang, but are abandoned when things get really busy in the classroom
– usually just before parent-teacher conferences. A wiki is so simple to maintain because you can update it in
less than 5 minutes. Just log in, jot a note on the main page, and save for that ‘fresh news’ look.

6. Student web pages

Yes – something you’ve thought about but quickly put aside. Who wants to try to teach 3rd graders html???
With a classroom wiki, each student can be in charge of one wiki page – which they ‘own’ and can post their
stories, reflections, digital images, fav links, writing assignments (tell me three ways that you used Math
yesterday after school), etc. Remember that students have the unique ability to get frisky with such publications,
so it might be a good idea to spot check pages fairly often. Also, for safety issues, you may want to have
students choose a pseudonym rather than using their own names. Vote on a classroom theme such as The Ocean
and individuals can become Shark, Sea Turtle, or Blue Whale. What fun!
As you can see, a wiki can be an easy way to share information online. Within a few minutes, you can set up a
wiki and add interest and excitement to your next lesson. So, how will YOU wiki?

Marilyn Western is a former member of the MACUL Board of Directors, a Discovery Educator Network (DEN)
scholar, an MTIP Scholar, TAPS winner, and a Mt. Pleasant Public Schools 5th/6th grade computer lab teacher.
Outside of the classroom, she has worked as the 1998-99 MDE Technology Using Educator on Loan, an ATA
course designer and instructor, a technology trainer for Gratiot Isabella RESD, a national presenter for the
Bureau of Education & Research, and a district Tech Guru.

More ideas on how to use a wiki in your classroom:
Wiki ideas
50 ways to use a wiki in the classroom

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