What in the World Is Wikipedia?

Contributor: Tara Ondra. Lesson ID: 13309

Wiki what? How did this giant online encyclopedia start? Who writes all of the articles? Who checks its facts? When should I use it? Get the answers here!


Software and Applications, Teaching Tips & Tools

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Surely you've heard of Wikipedia, but what exactly is it?

Most people think Wikipedia is a giant, free, online encyclopedia; but it's much more than that. Let's start exploring.

What is Wikipedia?

Wiki is the Hawaiian word for fast. Online, Wiki is used in the name of websites where information can be shared, edited, or modified. Think of it as one big information-sharing project.

Wikipedia is the largest, most popular example of a Wiki website. There are many smaller Wiki sites both privately and publicly run by individuals such as Wikimedia and WikiArt.

Wikipedia was founded in 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. Today, it is home to over 6 million articles in English as well as articles in over 300 different languages.

How does Wikipedia work?

  • Did you know that Wikipedia is run almost entirely by volunteers?

That's right. All those articles full of information are written, edited, and published by volunteers.

  • Why would someone do all that work for free?

We're all experts on something. Wikipedia is a way for people to share their expertise with others just for the sake of learning.

  • So how do you know if the information on Wikipedia is accurate?

Well, that's why a very important role of volunteers is to critically examine or vet the information that is published in each Wikipedia article. That means you, too. Take the information on Wikipedia with a grain of salt.

Watch Wikipedia - The Greatest Collection of Human Knowledge, from Tapakapa, to see how it all works:

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If you're writing a research paper for school, Wikipedia is great for providing you with general context. However, to verify facts, you should look in books, scholarly articles, international newspapers, or other reliable primary sources related to your topic of research.

Is Wikipedia a Credible Source?, from Seeker, explains further:

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Can I contribute to Wikipedia?

You certainly can. Wikipedia is a huge, ongoing project. Creating a unique article is a huge undertaking, but there are many existing articles that could use improvement. This could be adding a picture, reorganizing the text, or even translating from one language to another.

It's not something to be taken lightly. You would first want to start with reading Wikipedia's editing guidelines, and then do some practicing in the sandbox or testing area.

When you're ready, continue on to the Got It! section to learn more about the editing process in Wikipedia.

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