Sometimes the only way to make progress is to leave something behind.
The Common Core State Standards require English teachers to incorporate technology into their writing lessons. One way to do this is to have students develop a literature guide wiki. Wikis are websites that are created collaboratively and can be updated by other users (Wikipedia is perhaps the best-known example).Such a project gives students a real-world opportunity to do more than simple word processing.
First, they learn to collaborate in the cloud — something they will likely have to do in the global workplace.
Second, students share their interpretations and understanding of a literary or informational (nonfiction) text, deepening their understanding of what they're reading.
Third, they take ownership of their work. (When students know that their work will be posted online and that a real audience — not just the teacher — may see it, they become more engaged in the exercise and will likely work harder.)
Fourth, students become comfortable with the revision process as their peers edit their work.
And finally, they produce a useful literature guide that they can refer back to as they prepare for a test or other related assignment.
Before beginning, build the wiki framework using a site such as Wikispaces (wikispaces.com/content/teacher) or PBworks (pbworks.com). Categories to be filled in by students could include setting, characters, themes, background information on the author, a summary or analysis of each chapter, and important quotes (and why they're significant). Also, ensure that students have Internet access and a copy of the literary text being studied.
Next, explain to students that they will be creating a wiki and initiate a discussion about the benefits and challenges of collaborative writing. Students might observe that wikis help writers consider multiple perspectives, allow the inclusion of helpful links, and make it easier to study and review the material with peers and other collaborators. One challenge that might be discussed is that writers can alter each other's work.
Divide students into two-person teams and assign each team a wiki category to write about (some categories may be assigned to more than one pair of students). Students should be instructed to research several sources for the background information that will inform their writing, and cite accordingly. For example, if students are writing a literature guide about The Scarlet Letter, sources might include Encyclopedia Britannica Online, History.com articles about Puritanism, or a PBS story about the author, Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Once students have written all of the content for their assigned category, they should read, edit and add to their classmates' sections. This process may extend over several class periods, as needed.
Conclude the project by having students reflect on their experience in creating the wiki and how their perceptions of wikis may have changed as a result.
This lesson was designed for English language arts students in grades six through eight, but it can be adapted for other subjects and grade levels.
Students should be evaluated on whether their writing is thorough and well organized, with accessible language and correct mechanics. Students also should be assessed on their edits to the other sections of the wiki.