Sunday, 12 April 2009


This article from the MELTA News archive was written by Lucy Mellersh. She also set up a wiki for MELTA at

Dear Auntie Web,
I keep hearing my students talking about wikis. I don't want to show my ignorance by asking what they are. Could you help? Love from Victoria

Dear Vicky,
A wiki is a website with an edit button. Clicking on Edit transforms the browser into an editor and you, the reader, into a co-author.

For starters, here's Lee Lefever's introduction to Wikis in Plain English:

  • Wikis are free
  • Wikis are very easy to create and change, you don't have to know any html. You notice a typo? Just click on Edit, correct it, and save your changes. Some information is missing? Just click on Edit and add it.
  • Wikis are designed to be edited by groups of people rather than just one individual. Wikis are perfect for collaborative projects because they allow a group of people to work together on the same document.
  • Wikis are stored and edited on the Internet so you can access them from anywhere.
  • The history of changes to a wiki is stored alongside the wiki itself, so you can easily revert to a previous version.
  • A discussion area is attached to every wiki page where you can ask questions and make suggestions about that page.
  • Wikis are good places for collecting and structuring information. A wiki is a linked group of pages that can include text, pictures and even audio or video clips.
The best known use of a wiki is for Wikipedia an online encyclopedia written by its readers. But don't let this example restrict your ideas about ways to use a collectively edited website with your classes. There are several types of wiki in use, all wikis achieve the same aims using slightly different software. For some wikis, such as Wikipedia, you will need to use commands for formatting text, I like to use Wikispaces because there are no commands to learn.

What about business English?

In the business world, wikis are increasingly being used as knowledge bases in company intranets. Specialist information can be recorded that might otherwise be lost when an employee leaves. Wikis remove the bureaucracy that creates obstacles to the collection of knowledge.

Wikis in the classroom

If you've ever thought it would be nice to have a class website, a wiki is ideal. The wiki format is particularly suited to mixed ability classes because it allows everyone to contribute in their own way. Creating meaningful content brings the language alive, students will be scanning and reading for gist when searching for information to include. Students can edit and add to each-other's stuff thus honing their composition, grammar and vocabulary skills, while playing a part in creating a piece of work they can all be proud of. Here are some ideas for using wikis with your class:
  • A city guide for Munich or for a town in an English speaking country.
  • A class or language school web page showcasing student work or with useful info about nearby cafes and parks or the closest public transport.
  • Students can work on wiki pages focussing on a hobby, interest, or a subject relevant to their work
  • Create a wiki project around an existing story. If you're dealing with a particular book or film in your class, you could create a wiki to expand on this theme. Get students to write imaginary interviews with the characters, tell the story from a different point of view, describe what they think happened next, or what happened before.
  • Students could compile a guide giving tips and links for practicing English
  • Students could collect information about a particular aspect of the target culture. The Edinburgh Fringe, American food (with recipies), table manners, the South African music scene.
  • Create a learning record where language tips and vocabulary can be collected and expanded upon as they come up in class. Asking a weaker student to put something into the wiki will help them to review it and gain a deeper understanding of the topic. You can check and modify the resulting information.
  • Students could make a wiki about accents or regional language differences (you can even embed audio and video into a wiki).
  • A glossary of difficult words and phrases. Students could just add a word, or they could attempt to define it or describe its use.
  • Students could write reviews of easy readers from the class libarary
  • Teachers could share teaching ideas to go with a particular textbook or curriculum unit.
  • Teachers could collect and structure teaching ideas and reviews of teacher development workshops.
Wikis support collaboration regardless of the time of day or location, so you could even use the wiki in projects with partner classes abroad.

Editing a wiki

Try out an existing wiki at
  1. Go to
  2. Click on the Edit button (anyone can edit it).
  3. Make your changes (maybe by adding another limerick), the editor works like a simple word-processor.
  4. When you're finished, click on the Save button (you can also leave a short note about the edit and give your name in the note field at the bottom of the page)
Joining Wikispaces
There are many implementations of the wiki idea. Wikispaces is easy to use and free and therefore the perfect wiki for beginners. Create an account with Wikispaces by choosing a user name, entering a password and your email address and clicking on the Join button.
Creating a wiki
Create a new wikispace for your class, your school or your community. Do it at the same time as joining from the Space name field on the Join Now! page, or if you're already a member, click on the Make a New Space link under Actions. Choose a name for the wiki, this name will be shown at the top of the pages as well as becoming part of the web address. For example, A tutorial will walk you through some of the wiki basics, or you can just start by editing the first page (Home).


Create links from your wiki by highlighting a word and then choosing the link icon (looks like a chain).
A window appears asking where you want to link to. Choose from a list of pages belonging to the same wikispace or enter a URL to link to an external web page.

Adding a page

Create additional pages by clicking on New Page at the top of the sidebar on the left. Pages created in this way will automatically get added to a table of contents on the left.

Note that you can only create new pages when you are logged in. You will be prompted for a page name.

Adding pictures

Upload images and files from your computer and add them to your wiki or add them directly from the Internet. Only logged in users can upload files and images. Click on the picture icon
A window appears where you can browse and upload files from your computer. Once you've uploaded the image it will appear in the window, double-click on it to insert it onto your wiki page.

Adding members

Once your wiki is set up, you might decide to restrict editing to just your own students.
  1. Ask your students to register with wikispaces.
  2. Ask them to request membership of your space by clicking on the Join this Space link near the top of their sidebar.
  3. Go to Manage Space (link in the sidebar)
  4. Under Space Settings, click on Members and Permissions
  5. Scroll down the page and add them from the list of Pending Membership Requests
  6. When all members of your class have joined your wiki, click on Protected under Space Permissions to stop other people from being able to edit.
Useful links Wikis for teachers
These two sites offer educational resources for teachers and they provide a platform for sharing learning materials you have created: Love, Auntie Web


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your post! It's a lot of work.
Best regards,
Laura Martin
(English teacher at EOI Guía, Spain, Canary Islands)

Anne Hodgson said...

Welcome, Laura :) Do you use wikis, or are you planning to? How do/would you use them?
Kind regards, Anne

Anne Hodgson said...

Larry Ferlazzo has warmly recommend Lucy Mellersh's explanation of wikis.

This has moved him to list this blog among the best places to learn Web 2.0 basics.

What an honor!

Thank you so much, Lucy :)