Wikipedia in your classroom

CC BY-SA 3.0,

We’ve done a good job training our students: ask them if they can use Wikipedia for research and you will hear a resounding no. They can even give good reasons for saying no: it’s full of mistakes, anyone can edit it, it’s not reliable, etc. Here’s the only problem with that: Wikipedia is not full of mistakes, not anyone can edit it and it actually is pretty reliable. So how can you use it responsibly with your students? Here are some quick tips you can use in your classroom.


Checking for Accuracy

Is there inaccurate information on Wikipedia? Sure there is but luckily there is a very easy way to distinguish between the good and not-so-good pages.

Open up any page on Wikipedia and check in the top left corner, you will see 2 tabs: article and talk. The talk tab is full of useful information and it also tells you how good a page is. Almost every page on Wikipedia has a quality ranking, if you find a page that doesn’t have one don’t use it because you don’t know how accurate it is. The example below has a B-class rating, so what does that actually mean?

Quality rating of Wikipedia pages

You can find out by clicking any of the [show] links on the right to see more details, go ahead and click it. One of the things you see now is a link to the quality scale, go ahead and click that as well. This next page should make you very happy: a rubric that shows the different quality levels. Want even more? Go ahead and click the [show] link for any level in the rubric. You will notice that the criteria for “Featured Article,” “A” and “Good Article” are pretty strict and most articles in the top three bands of the rubric actually passed an impartial peer review. This link shows you an example of a quality rubric on Wikipedia. Only about 0.1% of all articles on Wikipedia reach “Featured Article” status and only about 1% of articles on Wikipedia are in one of the top 3 bands.

Keep It Simple

Wikipedia is available in 284 different languages and dialects. One of these languages is called “Simple English” and all the articles on this version of Wikipedia are written in basic English. What this means is that these pages are written using only the most basic English words. The articles on this version of Wikipedia aren’t subject to the same level of scrutiny as the pages on the regular English version but it’s a great starting point for younger readers and ELL students.

Creative Commons

One of the great things about Wikipedia is that all of the media you find on Wikipedia is in the Creative Commons. That’s not all, Wikipedia also provides a portal to help you search for all these things: Wikimedia. Want more? Wikimedia also provides correct attribution for each picture. For more on Wikimedia and other ways to find images check this post.

Things to try

  • If you still think Wikipedia is full of mistakes find a Wikipedia page that students might use for your class and make sure it has a mistake. See if students can find the mistake as well.
  • If there is a mistake challenge students to edit the page and fix the mistake.
  • Have students add missing information to a page.

Images and Copyright

By Carlos ZGZ [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
We’ve all done it, we’ve all used Google to find images and then stuck those pictures into presentations, lab reports and posters. If it’s on Google I can just use it, right? Wrong! What most of us don’t realize is that most of the pictures we find on Google are protected by Copyright. We could have long discussions about things like “fair use” and citing sources but the bottom line is that there is only one way to make sure you are not violating any Copyright laws when using images from the internet: Use Creative Commons images and attribute them correctly. Alternatively you can always use your own images.

That sounds like a lot of work!

It might sound like a lot of work but it doesn’t have to be. There are some great resources out there to help you find and correctly attributing images you find online. Have a look at the different options, give them a try and see which one works for you.

1. Photos For Class

Photos For Class is definitely the easiest option for finding Creative Commons images and attributing them correctly. Just enter a search term, click “Find Photos” and you will be presented with Creative Commons images from different sites that match your search term. 1555348 When you download one of the images the correct attribution is automatically added in a black bar at the bottom of the image, it does all the work for you! The attribution is part of the image so you are not able to select the text if you want to copy it.

+ Good range of search results
+ Attribution is embedded in image
+ Search results are filtered for school
– Attribution is not editable

2. Wikimedia

I love Wikipedia, it’s a great source for all kinds of information. Even if you don’t want students using Wikipedia for research you should encourage them to use it to find images because all images you see on Wikipedia are licensed as Creative Commons. All these images are hosted on Wikimedia and Wikimedia also helps with citing the images correctly.

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 13.40.45
Screenshot of Wikimedia page. Image: CC BY 2.0,

Just go to Wikimedia Commons, enter your search term in the top right box, hit enter and you will get all the images that are available on Wikimedia. Clicking an image will open an image browser and give you the option to download, when you download Wikimedia will tell you if you need to attribute the author. If you need an attribution for your image just click “Show me how” and you will be presented with the correct attribution for your image. You can even get the attribution in HTML if you want to use it on a web page.

+ Attribution is editable
+ Attribution in text or HTML
– Limited search results

3. Compfight

Compfight searches a wide range of sites for Creative Commons images, search results include mostly images that are not copyrighted but also include “premium” images. These premium images are usually shown at the top of the screen and are not free to download. Attribution is only given in HTML format but can be converted to regular text with a bit of work.

+ Wide range of search results
+ Search can be filtered for school
– Citation only in HTML format

4. Your own images

Even when you use your own images you should be citing them so people know where they are coming from. Here is an acceptable format for citing your own images:

Last Name, First Name. “Photograph Title/Description.” Year Created. Digital File Type

Here’s an example:

Langlands, Rob. “Leopard in Kruger.” 2015. jpeg file.