Standard Lesson

Collaborating, Writing, Linking: Using Wikis to Tell Stories Online

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 60-minute sessions
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When students read online, they engage with text differently. Clicking on links and images for more information easily takes them down unexpected paths, links to e-mail addresses allow them to interact with authors, and wikis allow them to make changes to published text. This lesson has students create stories that reflect this kind of reading. Students begin by reading untraditional books that use fragmented storylines, multiple perspectives, and unresolved plots. They apply these same types of strategies to their own writing, which they then publish using wiki technology. In doing so, students practice important literacy skills including searching for information, integrating images into text, and creating storylines that are reflective of the new types of reading found on the Internet. With different on-level literature, this lesson can also be adapted for high school classrooms.

From Theory to Practice

  • Students are used to having to read and write in traditional ways when they are in school so it is critical that teachers make the distinctions between the traditional ways of thinking about reading and writing and the new ways necessitated by new types of texts.

  • Students need to think out loud and make comparisons between what they are typically reading and writing in schools and what they are being asked to read and write with nontraditional texts.

  • When discussing radical change books, focusing on the ways in which the images and the text further the storyline rather than simply reflecting the storyline will help students when it comes to creating stories using images as well as links and written text.

  • Students are extremely motivated to create their stories on the Internet, like linking to each other's stories and incorporating images. However, the teacher plays a critical role in setting the right tone for students to feel free to try these new ways of writing and collaborating. The teacher must feel comfortable with the use of wiki technology.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne (DK Publishing, 2001)

  • Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei by Peter Sís (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1996)

  • The Three Pigs by David Wiesner (Clarion Books, 2001)

  • Black and White by David Macaulay (Houghton Mifflin, 2005)

  • Computers with Internet access




1. If you are not already familiar with wikis and their use, spend some time learning about them before starting this lesson. A wiki is an online application that allows users to add content to a website and also allows other users to edit the content without requiring a high degree of technical knowledge. The term wiki also refers to the collaborative software used to create such a website. The name comes from "wiki wiki," which means "rapidly" in the Hawaiian language. For more information about wikis see Wikipedia: Wiki and Wiki Wiki Web. Note: One good way to familiarize yourself with how users participate in producing wikis, including how they use links, is simply to spend some time browsing different entries on the Wikipedia website.

2. Consult with your school's IT or media specialist to determine what type of wiki you should use with your students. There are multiple options including downloading free software from MediaWiki or using a website that provides server space and the software without requiring you to download anything. Some charge a small fee for this service and some, like Create Your Own Free Wetpaint Wiki, offer them for free. The only problem with free sites is that you may find too much advertising. Once you have determined what type of wiki you will use, create one for your class that has limited access so that only your students can see and make changes to it.

3. Reserve your school's computer lab for Sessions 2, 3, and 4, and bookmark the wiki homepage you created on the computers students will be using.

4. Since wiki writing requires students to think differently about story writing, it is useful to introduce them first to nonlinear (or multilinear) storylines and to ways that images can tell a story without words. Radical change books are a genre of children's books that attempt to both expose and challenge conventions and norms in children's literature by interrupting traditional narrative conventions through fragmented or unresolved storylines and multiple perspectives. They also use illustrations as an important medium for conveying content and meaning to the extent that different readers may interpret the text quite differently depending on what caught their attention and how they put pieces of the book together. This genre puts the reader into a more active role of determining what is relevant to them and making sense of what they are reading.

This lesson uses four radical change books:

  • Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne

  • Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei by Peter Sís

  • The Three Pigs by David Wiesner

  • Black and White by David Macaulay


Obtain and familiarize yourself with these books. You will be dividing your class into four groups; each group will look at a different book and you will need one copy for each student in the group. To find different books, refer to Radical Change: Books for Youth in a Digital Age by Eliza Dresang (The H.W. Wilson Company, 1999).

5. Divide your class into four heterogeneous groups that integrate English-language learners and struggling readers. In addition, assign each student in your class a partner, making sure that at least one student in each pair is proficient on the computer.

Bear in mind that the word collaboration needs to be redefined within your classroom for the duration of the wiki writing project. Dividing the class into groups and discussing the books is a nice way to begin to develop the rapport you want your students to have with each other, since everyone contributes to the understanding of the texts. When students actually begin to create their stories and begin to link to each others' stories, there has to be a new understanding of ownership that allows all of them to revise, edit, and create each other's stories. Ideally, in the end, there will be one large class story that is the result of many individual efforts.

6. You will want to provide students with a list of safe sites that they can use when creating links on their wiki pages. There are several approaches you can take to create this list. You can choose from among the sites listed at Enhance Learning With Technology. Alternatively, between Sessions 2 and 3, you can read students' stories and conduct your own searches for appropriate websites and images based on the types of characters and stories students are writing. Add a page to the wiki you have created and list the websites there, where students can access them easily.

7. Make one copy of the Brainstorming for Wiki Writing and Wiki Writing Tips handouts for each student in your class.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Learn to identify the characteristics of nontraditional texts by exploring a series of books that use fragmented and unresolved storylines and multiple perspectives and then discussing these traits

  • Apply what they have learned to their own writing by brainstorming a story idea using a specific set of questions and then writing the story using a wiki tool

  • Explore the possibilities of online text, including the use of links and images, by writing stories online and then editing them

  • Work collaboratively to brainstorm and write their own stories and link them to the work of their peers

Session 1

1. Introduce students to the four books they will be reading by explaining that the books are probably different than other books they have read in school to this point (see Preparation, Step 4). Discuss some of those differences (e.g., they have less text and more images, images that tell the stories in ways the texts do not, and no clear beginning, middle, or end) or keep the introduction simple and let students determine what some of the differences are as they read the books in their groups.

2. Have students get into the groups you have assigned (see Preparation, Step 5) and have each group read a different story. Each group should then discuss what the story was about and present the story to the class. Students should outline the story and what they thought it was about, but they should also discuss the unique ways the author chose to tell the story. Keep two lists on the board, one for plot elements (although students may have different opinions about what happens in the story since it is not clear in every text), the second for the author's stylistic choices (e.g., the use of image and how it furthers the telling of the story in ways that the actual text does not).

3. By using the written texts to stimulate discussion about the differences between radical change stories and traditional texts, students will begin to think differently about what a story can look like. Once all the groups have presented, have students look at the lists and talk about the shared characteristics found in these stories (e.g., nonlinear/multilinear storylines, importance of images, reader interaction).

Session 2

1. Begin this session in your classroom by referring to the list students generated at the end of Session 1. Remind them that they are going to continue to think about texts differently and explain that they are going to begin writing stories similar to those that they read in their small groups.

2. This is a good time to introduce the term wiki and to describe the basic characteristics of wiki writing: it is Internet based, uses links, allows users to edit each other's work, and does not need to use the typical structure found in stories. Stress the role that links can play in this type of writing. Students should understand that they will work in pairs to write paragraphs for a shared homepage, but will then create links from these paragraphs that will go to their own individual pages where they can write about their characters in more detail. You may choose to share the Wiki Rubric with students at this point.

3. Have students get into the preassigned pairs (see Preparation, Step 5), give each student a Brainstorming for Wiki Writing handout, and have them work together to respond to the questions. Working with a partner allows students to have one person to work with in case they run into basic computer problems in the lab.

Note: Although partners brainstorm story ideas together and collaborate to start the stories, as soon as students write the introduction of the story on their initial wiki page, they will create links that allow them to describe and to develop their individual characters on separate pages. Therefore, it is important that they each have a brainstorming handout to work from as they get further into the writing of the story and further from the initial collaboration. The sentence all students use (in this case, "It wasn't supposed to be that far away") is aimed at helping make sure there are links and connections between their stories. You may choose to use a different sentence or to eliminate this requirement altogether.

4. Go to the computer lab and have students log in to the homepage of the wiki site you created (see Preparation, Step 2). Once they are there, each pair needs to create a page for their story; the Wiki Writing Tips handout provides instructions. This sheet also has instructions on how to add italics or bold to the wiki text and how to link to other pages.

5. Have students use their Brainstorming for Wiki Writing handouts to write their story introductions on their newly created pages. Students should write the introduction of the story together that includes at least one character for each of them to write about further. They can also talk together about what will happen to these characters and how they might collaborate on the ending of the story during the next session.

Note: If you have not created a list of websites that students can use in their stories, you should do so before the start of Session 3 (see Preparation, Step 6).

Session 3

This session takes place in the computer lab. Students should sit next to their partners from Session 2, although each student will be working on his or her own story independently.

1. Have each student link from the page he or she created with a partner during Session 2 to a new page. Students should use this page to write about the character that they brainstormed last session. They should describe and develop the characters and the characters' relationships to the stories being developed.

2. Refer students to the list of links and images you have created for them to use (see Preparation, Step 6). Explain to students that links should provide pertinent information about the characters.

3. Encourage students to collaborate with their partners and come up with ways that they can create and link back to common pages where their characters interact with each other. They might write a conclusion to the story that includes both characters. They can also introduce additional characters or settings and link out from the pages where these characters interact with the original characters.

4. As students finish their own work, encourage them to go back to the class homepage, find their classmates' stories, and read them. After reading the stories, they can go back into their own stories and add links to the work of their peers. How might their characters fit into the other stories? For example, if a student's character really likes flowers and another student's character is a gardener, this might provide an ideal opportunity for a link. Additionally, if all students use the same statement in their stories, this might also provide a natural place for linking.

You could make it a class expectation that each person make at least one link to someone else's story. You could also make it a class goal to link as many stories as possible.

Session 4

1. Allow students time to re-read their own stories and to discuss the use of images or links to add new information to the stories with their partners.

2. Have students read their classmates' stories, editing and changing them. (You might want to assign a certain number, for example, each student might read and edit three stories). This can be quite enjoyable; however, a discussion about honoring the work of others is important. Students may find that it can be interesting to see how others might change the direction of their stories in new and intriguing ways.

3. After students have had some time to edit each other's stories, ask them to return to their own stories and read them through, making any final changes or edits. Then ask students to think about endings. This can be handled in a variety of ways, and you should keep in mind that there does not need to be a neat and tidy ending to the stories like there is in a traditional text. For instance, one fun way to end the stories might be to have no ending! To accomplish this, have each student conclude by linking to another student's story. Alternatively, students might decide to work in their groups from Session 1 to write four or five endings, on separate pages. Each story could then link to one of the endings.

Session 5

1. Give students time to explore the class story that has been created. Students can make small additions and changes as they go along. Allowing time for students to read and explore will give them the opportunity to really appreciate what they have created as a group.

2. Once students have had time to explore the story, bring them back together for a class discussion. Questions for them to consider include:

  • Do the links in the story provide the reader with additional information about the main characters? The setting? The theme of the story?

  • If we had more time, what would we want to elaborate on and why?

  • How have we used wiki technology to further our stories in ways that we could not have done if we had written this story on paper?

  • Do the images add more information to the stories or do they simply mirror the text?

  • How did the use of links affect our planning and writing?

  • What would we like to say to someone who is about to read the wiki story?

  • Given that a reader of the wiki does not have to follow every link, is there one link in particular that you think the reader should see?

  • How might this writing experience using wiki inform the ways that we will read on the Internet?
3. Students can also refer to the Wiki Rubric to reflect on their work.


Student Assessment / Reflections

  • While the focus of this lesson plan is really on the creation of stories in an online environment, a small “pop quiz” on the elements of a radical change book might help refresh memories before beginning Session 2. You might also have students rewrite a page or two of one of the radical change books. You could have them focus on the middle or ending of the story. This will give you a sense of students’ understanding of the text style and of their initial abilities to think and write in the way that you will be asking them to write their wiki stories. (This exercise works well in groups but if there is insufficient class time it would work as a homework assignment as well.)

  • You may choose to hand out a copy of the Wiki Rubric at the beginning of Session 2 and discuss your expectations. Once the last session has been completed, you can ask students to use the rubric as a self-assessment tool or use it to assess their work. You may choose to assign grades to the boxes of the rubric or you can use it simply to indicate growth if you plan to use wikis more often throughout the year.

  • Another choice for assessment might be to sit with pairs of students and ask them to walk you through their story. Ask them what they changed as they worked on the story and why. Have them explain their rationale for linking and explore the possibilities for additional links with them.


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