Why Use Wikis in the ESL Class

Nowadays keeping students interested in class can be a bit of a challenge. As teachers, we find ourselves competing – so to speak – with the students’ ubiquitous cellphones and never ending distractions. Often students would rather be checking their Facebook accounts or sitting in front of the computer surfing the net, rather than doing the homework assigned for their ESL class or reading a book in English so as to practice and improve their language skills. One very effective way to increase students’ interest in your class and their daily interaction with the language is to create a wiki and have students collaborate in it.

A wiki is a simple way of creating a class webpage. Wikis are collaborative platforms that can be viewed by everyone and edited by whoever has joined the wiki. A class wiki is like a virtual board for your class that can be updated, modified and used by students and teachers in many different ways. There are three main sites that offer free hosting for wikis: Wikispaces, PBWiki and Wetpaint, and most of these offer an advertisement-free option for educational purposes.

Using Wikis as Class Webpages

The simplest way to use a wiki is to create one as a class website where you can post your class’s resources. This is much simpler and faster than creating a website and can prove to be very convenient for students who miss a class, or need to review any material that you presented in class.

A wiki page works in almost the same way as a word processor once you click on the ‘Edit Page’ button, so adding content to your class wiki can make you a much more efficient teacher as well. Instead of looking up a link for a YouTube video you want to show your students, you can embed the video right into your wiki page and it’s ready for you in class, or ready for your students to watch once again when they go home or if they missed it. If you work with younger students, you can even ask parents to join the wiki so that they are also aware of what their children are learning.

Even though students don’t collaborate much when you use a wiki in this manner, they are still motivated to check the class wiki after class. Also, the availability of the material for them when they go home ensures a better chance at practicing as well.

Moreover, you could add other pages to the class wiki such as a calendar (where they add important dates), a FAQ page about your class, a homework help area where they can help each other, and many other features.

Getting Students to Collaborate with Wikis

Once you are comfortable using a wiki – which can happen almost instantly nowadays – you can ask students to join the wiki and collaborate by adding material to it as well. For ESL classes, this is particularly useful because students will be interacting online using the target language and they will be practicing almost all their skills by adding content. Furthermore, since wikis are easier to handle they will not find the task of adding content to it daunting at all. In fact, the challenge will be masked by the fun they will be having. Working on the wiki will resemble their online interaction on social media and, without knowing it, they will be practicing their language skills. At first, students will be reading and writing only, but as they get more comfortable with the platform they can even begin to post videos of themselves talking or even listening material they have come across and find interesting or challenging.

The possibilities are endless and will only be restricted to how creative you and your students can be. On the next post there will be concrete ideas of what to do with an ESL class wiki.

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