Common Sense Review
Updated March 2014

Simple English Wikipedia

Adapted resource can help some ELLs, with potential for other students
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Common Sense Rating 3
  • The site looks and functions like the main Wikipedia site students are familiar with.
  • The Schools Gateway page offers help and support.
  • The Book Creator helps kids gather related articles in one place.
  • An example article shows the simplified language.
  • There are a variety of topics, and students can add their own articles.
Topics are more accessible for ELLs and other struggling readers; the chance to create articles provides a novel activity for more advanced students.
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.
Kristina Duncan
Common Sense Reviewer
Classroom teacher
Common Sense Rating 3
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 2

While online research may or may not be fun to kids, the accessible language will help engage. Students may also be interested in fact-checking or writing their own articles -- their work will be online for the world to use.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 3

The database is only around 100,000 articles, but the simplified language makes topics much more comprehensible. Kids' learning will vary depending on how the tool is used, whether for research or article creation.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 3

Students can get vocabulary assistance through the Wiktionary links on the main page and within each article. There's also a student tutorial and a forum geared toward writing and editing Simple English Wikipedia pages.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

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.

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What's It Like?

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.

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Is It Good For Learning?

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.

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