The Internet TESL Journal

Online Collaborative Writing Using Wikis

Paul Sze
paulsze <at>
The Chinese University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong, China)


A wiki is a website where anyone can edit anything anytime they want (Richardson, 2006). It is thus a great tool for online collaborative writing activities.  I wanted to find out how applicable wikis are with ESL learners, so I planned and implemented a pilot writing project using wikis with a Secondary One (S.1) class at a secondary school in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, almost all families are equipped with Internet access. It occurred to me that wikis have great potential in promoting collaborative writing by learners outside of class.

Organisation of the Collaborative Writing Project

Rationale for the Organization

The Six Aspects of Secondary School Life

The project began at the beginning of October, after they had experienced secondary school life for a month. I invited each of the six groups of students to write on one aspect of their secondary school life. The six aspects were:

Procedure for the Writing Project

Stage 1: Introducing Students to Wikis and Prewriting

I conducted a workshop on using wikis for the 24 students. They learnt how to (a) write on a wiki page, (b) edit an existing page, and (c) view previous edits. They were also introduced to the writing topic and worked in groups to brainstorm some initial ideas for their own group topic.

Stage 2: Initial Writing by Students in Groups

A wiki was created for this project. The wiki contained six pages, one for each group. Over a duration of 10 days, they logged on to the project wiki in their spare time either at school or at home, and wrote on their group page on their assigned aspect of school life. I provided a few prompt questions on each group page to start them writing. (See below for the writing prompts.) They were also encouraged to read the work of the other groups. I also alerted the students to the following potential sources of ideas:

Stage 3: Revising the First Draft

A lesson on revising first drafts was given to the 24 students. This lesson focused on two writing strategies: organizing ideas into coherent paragraphs, and writing topic sentences. After thislesson, students went back to their own group page on the project wiki in their spare time and revised the draft of their group page. This went on for five days.

Stage 4: Proofreading

A lesson on proofreading was given to the students. After this lesson and in their own time, students proofread their group report for grammatical and lexical errors. This went on for four days.

Stage 5: Publishing

The “publishing” of the final wiki took the form of an announcement to all the teachers, and students and their parents, about the finished wiki. They were all given the wiki URL and invited to view the finished wiki at any time they liked.

The Writing Prompts

The following instructions were given to the six groups during Stage 2 of the project:

Group 1:  Special Rooms and Facilities

You are responsible for describing the rooms and facilities that are only found in the school, such as laboratories, libraries, and computer labs. You will describe these rooms and facilities, and what students do at these places

Group 2:. The School as a Big Family

You will describe people belonging to the school: the principal, teachers with special responsibilities, teachers in general, and other school personnel such as the administrative staff, the school social worker, lab technicians, janitors, etc.

Group 3: Interest Clubs/Extra-curricular Activities

You will choose and describe some of the interest clubs and extra-curricular activities: what are these clubs and activities; how to join them; how often they meet, etc.

Group 4: Lunchtime and Recess

You will describe what the students (especially the S.1 students) do during recess and lunchtime. For example, what do they do after lunch? Where do they go for lunch?

Group 5: The Secondary One Curriculum

You will describe the S.1 curriculum, with special attention to the subjects that you did not have in primary school. What are these subjects? What do you learn in these subjects? What are the lessons like? Do you find these subjects interesting?

Group 6: Adapting to Secondary School Life

You will report on how you and your classmates are adapting to your new life in a secondary school. Do you enjoy secondary school life? Why/Why not? Are there things which you need to make an effort to adapt to, such as the medium of instruction? Are you having more homework or less? Are you making new friends quickly?

The Students’ Response

1. Initial response was a bit slow, as it was the first time the students wrote collaboratively, not to mention in a wiki. But after the first couple of days after some of the students tried it and found it to be fun, participation speeded up quickly.

2. During the drafting stage, most students simply added their ideas to their group page. After the editing lesson, they began to look at their group page as a whole, and worked together to improve the organization of their group report.

3. The proofreading stage did not result in error-free group reports, as the students were still at pre-intermediate level. Nevertheless, I did not push that too far as I was of the view that instilling in them a long-term interest in writing was of greater importance.

4. Overall, the students were motivated and excited about the writing project throughout, because of the following reasons:

Further Ideas for Collaborative Writing Using Wikis

I was encouraged by the results of this attempt, and continued to explore other possible collaborative writing activities using wikis. Drawing on the methodology literature on the teaching of writing, I have identified the following activities for further experimentation:

Organising Students for Collaborative Writing

Given the versatility of wikis, there are many possible ways of grouping students for collaborative writing projects. The following are some examples:


I have found that wikis are useful for promoting collaborative writing for ESL learners. There are now a number of wiki tool providers on the Web where teachers and students can create their wikis for free. Wikis are easy to learn and use. Any text type can be used for a writing task with wikis. The grouping for a wiki writing activity can be very flexible. Furthermore, recent wiki tools come with a large range of formatting features, and they also allow uploading of pictures. As a result, ESL learners can easily produce written tasks that look appealing and professional. For the teacher, the process of drafting and revising by learners can be monitored and supported easily. With a little bit of imagination, teachers will be able to design wiki writing projects that effectively promote ESL students’ interest in writing, develop their writing competence, and enhance their collaboration skills.   


The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. XIV, No. 1, January 2008