The Wizard of Wikipedia

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Often we, as teachers, make lessons about famous people. We focus on celebrities, entrepreneurs, people who inspire us to do better.

Today, I wanted to focus on a person who may not be saving lives or making tools that we rely on, but who has left an impact on many of us without us even knowing it. So let’s focus on a man who has edited over 30% of all the Wikipedia articles that we can find: Steven Pruitt!

Self-portrait by Steven Pruitt. License: CC BY-SA 4.0
Self-portrait by Steven Pruitt. License: CC BY-SA 4.0

Here’s what I’ve done and what you can do with your students:

1) Start the lesson by asking where they find out the latest news and any information that’s interesting for them. Write down their answers on the board. Ask them which of the sources they’ve given they trust the most and why. Then, ask them how this has changed over the years.

2) Give your students the following questions to discuss:

1) Which websites do you visit to read about different things?
2) What kind of random things do you like finding out more about?
3) What do you think about Wikipedia?
4) How often do you read articles on Wikipedia?
5) Do you trust the information you find there?
6) Who do you think contribute information to Wikipedia? Why?

3) After getting feedback from your students, tell them that they’re going to watch an interview with a person who contributes to Wikipedia. But before watching the video, print out these questions for your students to discuss. Ask them to make notes about their partner’s ideas.

1) What kind of people do you think contribute to Wikipedia?
2) What motivates these people to contribute to Wikipedia?
3) What do you think people earn when they add information to Wikipedia?
4) How many articles do you think the top contributor to Wikipedia could have written?
5) How much time in a day do you think people devote to editing Wikipedia?
6) If you’ve met a person who constantly edits Wikipedia, what would you think about this person?

4) Get feedback from your students by asking what they disagreed about and why.

Note: I would suggest cutting out the following parts of the video and my plan follows these edits:
00:00 – 00:31
01:31 – 01:58

04:14 – 04:20
04:29 – 04:42

5) Before playing the video, have your students look at the man pictured on the TV in it (Not the host) and ask them what they think about this person. Then, have them watch Steven’s interview with CBS and ask them to compare their answers to the 6 questions above to what they will hear.

5) After watching the video for the first time, get feedback on what the answers to the questions were and ask your students what surprised them the most about Steven. Ask them if their opinion of Steven has changed after watching his interview.

6) Give your students the 8 questions below to check their understanding of the video. Ask them to complete as many of the questions as they can. Then, have them watch the video for the second time to check their answers.

7) After completing the questions and watching the video twice, ask your students if they’d want to find out more about Steven. Give them the extract below and ask them to find facts which they haven’t seen or heard in the video.

During the workday, Pruitt is part of the records and information governance team at U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Washington, D.C. One thing his team does is help the agency’s offices transfer records to the National Archives. And while he does his Wikipedia work for free on a volunteer basis, Pruitt believes it helped get him the job three years ago.
Alla Pruitt says that her son would spend a lot of time around grownups when he was a child. “For some reason that I still don’t understand, wherever we lived, there were no kids of his age,” she says. “As I keep telling him, we ruined his life because we would always take him to museums and concerts and operas and different countries. Since the age of 1 or so, he’s been traveling all over the world.”
What does his mother think of his Wikipedia work?
“I have to confess, I’m wrong. At first we didn’t want the computer because I knew it’s addictive and time-consuming. Then his teacher said the child needs a computer.”
Steven was in third grade at the time. “I think I was the last kid in my class to get a computer,” he says.
“He did a lot of Photoshops and pictures and silly things. And then he started on Wikipedia. I said, ‘What is Wikipedia?’. My attitude always was, ‘Why do you waste all the time? Why don’t you read a book instead?’ But then, I realized he’s doing something valuable and important.”
Was she surprised when the Time magazine article came out?
“It was kind of unexpected. But it makes me very proud as a parent.”
Despite spending countless hours in front of a computer screen, Pruitt is far from antisocial. His friends describe him as outgoing, likeable and adventurous.

8) After getting answers from your students, ask them to discuss the questions below with their partners:

1) If you could ask Steven any question, what would you ask him and why?
2) Do you think what he is doing is changing the world? How so?
3) Which Wikipedia articles are your most favorite ones? Why?
4) Do you think the people who contribute over a million edits to Wikipedia are crazy?
5) Would you ever consider doing any free volunteer work? Why/Why not?
6) Wikipedia is considered as a bad source for any academic work. What are the reasons for that? Do you think this could change in the future?

9) While they’re discussing the questions. Write down 2 sentences from the article on the board:

Alla Pruitt says that her son would spend a lot of time around grownups when he was a child.
We would always take him to museums and concerts and operas and different countries.

If you don’t have the time to get feedback for each question you’ve given them. Focus on the first one and get ideas from each pair.

10) Tell your students to look at the sentences and ask them which sentence talks about a finished habit and which sentence describes typical past behavior. Ask CCQs about the topic, such as:
Are we talking about the past, present or future?
Does Steven often travel now?

11) Ask your students what they can use instead of would. Check what they know about used to and would by giving them these 3 questions.

12) Check their answers and focus on the fact that changing used to to would when you have a finished state gives the sentence a different meaning. You can give them an example, such as I used to like chocolate and ask them if we can change used to to would and what the second sentence would mean.

13) Give your students these facts about Steven Pruitt and ask them to rewrite these facts using would if it’s possible.

14) After they’re done and you’ve finished checking the answers, ask your students to make 6 sentences true for them about their past habits and typical behavior using used to and would. Ask them to share their sentences with their partners and ask extra questions about each fact. To get feedback from your students, ask them which fact about their partner surprised them the most and why?

15) Give your students a sheet of paper with the following task:
Think of how Wikipedia has changed our lives and our education using used to and would.
Write about how and where we looked for information, which sources we used, how accurate they were.
Do you think these changes are good or bad? Why?

You can ask your students to write an essay on the topic and collect them after the lesson or, alternatively, ask them to make notes to help them talk and then get feedback from each student.

I hope your students will love this lesson!

If you have any ideas on how to make it even better, leave a comment and have a good weekend! 🙂

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