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Simple English Wikipedia
Pros: Topics are more accessible for ELLs and other struggling readers; the chance to create articles provides a novel activity for more advanced students.
Cons: More articles, expanded language support, and more images would make the site more useful for beginning and intermediate level ELLs
Bottom Line: This empowering research tool for more advanced English learners has the potential for wider, more creative applications.
While research assignments can be daunting for many students, one can imagine how those struggling to read English must feel when faced with research materials they don't fully comprehend. Often, ELL students resort to copying and pasting parts of a standard Wikipedia article into their projects (at times, complete with the bracketed footnotes!). Simple English Wikipedia can help encourage and reinforce ethical research through providing more comprehensible material.
For more advanced students, an interesting project is to have them create or edit their own pages. The site has a student tutorial and FAQ section to help guide, as well as a forum to pose logistical questions to the Wikipedia community. There are also resources that offer support in how to write using basic English (useful for non-English teachers). Through the Gateway page, teachers will find a guide about setting up a class, project ideas, and potential trouble spots. Teachers can assign student logins and monitor student edits, with the ability to revoke student edits if they are inappropriate. This is a great alternative to a standard research project, with a more collaborative, tech-forward spin.
Simple English Wikipedia is an adapted version of the regular Wikipedia site for English learners, younger students, or anyone who struggles with reading. While the homepage looks very similar to the regular Wikipedia site, the articles are written using basic vocabulary and grammar. The site has over 100,000 articles; students can search by keyword, or choose a topic from a set of knowledge groups like Sciences or Culture. There are also links to other Simple English projects like Wiktionary.
There's also a Book Creator function that allows students doing research to collect a group of related articles in one place. The Schools Gateway page is geared toward helping students and teachers use Wikipedia in school, and includes a teacher's guide as well as a tutorial on how to create and edit articles.
With its basic vocabulary and grammar, Simple English Wikipedia can be a great tool to help some intermediate and advanced English learners access information and articles. However, the adapted site might not have enough built-in supports -- like translations and pronunciations -- for beginning ELLs. Teachers might also expect more pictures to supplement the articles, but seeing only a couple per page is a bit disappointing. Nevertheless, if used with some scaffolding, the site can be beneficial to learning.
Some teachers are wary about using Wikipedia as a research source, and with good reason -- anyone can write and edit articles. While this is also true of Simple English Wikipedia, a variety of users edit the site on a regular basis, and most cite their sources; on top of this, Wikipedia monitors the site for inappropriate content. For ELLs, Simple English Wikipedia would be a good starting point for accessible information about a topic. With that said, the adapted database is much more limited than the full version -- there are only 109,870 articles compared to the millions on the standard Wikipedia site. Teachers may need to help their students find additional sources.