1. This lesson can be introduced by engaging students in a discussion about how many of them have used an encyclopedia, and for what purposes. You might also ask if any students have an encyclopedia at home.
2. Have all students explore the history of encyclopedias, including the Britannica, as background information.
3. Inform students that at the end of the week, they will be engaging in a debate on the relative merits of a print encyclopedia and an online encyclopedia.
4. Divide the class into two groups, assigning one the task of discovering the strengths and weaknesses of print encyclopedias, like the Britannica, and the other the task of discovering the strengths and weaknesses of online encyclopedias like Wikipedia. Because the groups will likely be large, students should divide up the work, including the preparation of “talking points” on strengths and weaknesses of their kind of encyclopedia.
5. Allow about three days for research and one day for debate preparation (see “Holding Your Own Debate” website, below, for suggestions).
6. At the end of a week, students should engage in a formal debate on the strengths and weaknesses of each. If appropriate, the whole class can vote on which “side” presented its case most effectively.
7. The lesson should be concluded with a general discussion on when one might profitably use a print vs. an online reference work.
History of the Encyclopedia Britannica
Definition of Wiki
History of Wikipedia
Holding Your Own Debate
This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.