Wikipedia for Younger or ELL Readers

I’m a huge Wikipedia fan. An xkcd comic this week caught the sentiment of a lesser-known part of Wikipedia perfectly.

Haven’t heard of “Simple English”? Oh, it’s a wonderful concept. Simple English Wikipedia uses “only basic words”, perfect for non-native English speakers — and for my younger students.

As might be expected, Simple English Wikipedia isn’t as complete as (regular) English, but I’ve found it incredibly useful when looking up encyclopedic details on topics that can get complex really fast.  Science, math, and technology are just some types of topics that I specifically direct my students to. Here’s a great comparison:

  • Pythagorean Theorem in English
    (assumes you know what “right triangle” means)
  • Pythagorean Theorem in Simple English (explains a right triangle as “One of the angles of a right triangle is always equal to 90 degrees. This angle is the right angle. The two sides next to the right angle are called the legs and the other side is called the hypotenuse. The hypotenuse is the side opposite to the right angle, and it is always the longest side.”)

In my work with middle school students, I’ve found the Internet is an unfriendly place to read. Poor writing/editing and writing for an advanced audience are two major ways authors make life difficult for students aged 12 to 14. Simple English (in Wikipedia and hopefully applied elsewhere) helps my middle school students but let’s face it, simpler writing makes life easier for us all.