This exercise has both individual and group activities.

Overview:  There are stories that we believe (at least to some degree) about our world and its dangers and pleasures.  We hear these stories, tell them, retell them.  The telling and retelling, rather than the factual accuracy of the stories, is evidence of their importance and their value.  In this exercise, you will examine some beliefs and ideas held by others, and by yourself, and think about what role they play in your life and worldview…why they are told and enjoyed.


In this activity you will:

  1. Read some stories (urban legends and internet lore) that are currently popular and circulating
  2. Retell some stories you’ve heard yourself, and find out what your classmates are hearing and repeating
  3. Think about what makes a story worth repeating—what role stories like this serve for the people who tell and hear them
  4. Formulate some basic policies for evaluating stories that you hear, receive in email, or read—and some techniques and resources for checking their accuracy.


These stories spread, in contemporary times, very rapidly and widely, through the medium of email and the internet.  There are so many stories and “facts” coming into our email in boxes, and they’re so easy to send on to all our friends with just one click, that there’s even a humorous list of “advice” about them to post next to your computer (which is itself often sent around through email).  Take a few minutes to read this “advice.” (As a group).

Exercise (60 minutes total)

Step 1 (25 minues):  Working individually, browse the stories posted at The Urban Legends Reference Pages ( http://www.snopes.com ).  Be aware that some of the stories, and some of the categories contain explicit and disturbing content—if you want to avoid that, those stories and categories are clearly marked.  Make a note of any stories you find particularly interesting, funny, or especially any that you have heard or told yourself. (Take special note of the colored “dots” which indicate whether stories are true or not).

Step 2 (15 minutes):  As a group, look at the stories each person noted.  See if there are any that you have in common, and notice any similar themes in the stories you chose, even if the stories themselves are different.  See if anyone found anything surprising or familiar.  Pick one “favorite” story, to represent your small group.

Step 3 (10 minutes):  As a group, make a list of reasons why people would tell this story, and why they would believe it to be true (whether it is or not). 

Step 4 (10 minutes):  Working individually, think of some steps to use to check similar stories when they come to you.  Then as a group, write a list of guidelines for verifying these stories.

Various writing/reading/research assignments could come from this exercise….think of some!

More resources on Urban Legends/Internet Lore and related subjects:

·         About.com’s Urban Legends Site

o        http://urbanlegends.about.com/

·         Hoaxbusters

o        http://hoaxbusters.ciac.org/

·         Vmyths.com—The truth about computer security hysteria

o        http://www.vmyths.com/

·         Quackwatch—medical hoaxes and ineffective treatments

o        http://www.quackwatch.com

·         Christian Urban Legends

o        http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_cul.htm

·         The James Randi Educational Foundation—investigating claims of the paranormal

o        http://www.randi.org

Small Group Discussion (45 minutes):

Gather with others who did this activity. Reflect on and discuss this activity with your small group, using the following sequence of questions as prompts. At the end of this time, prepare one member of the group to share key points of your discussion with the larger group.

·         What did you learn from this activity? What could students learn from a classroom version of it (including the sharing and exchange of presentations)? What other kinds of writing or presentation outcomes could this activity support?

·         What are the strengths and weaknesses of this activity? Is it a good vehicle for developing student skills in inquiry, critical thinking, and writing? How could it be improved?

·         How would you describe the pedagogy that informs this activity? What skills and modes of thinking does this activity support? Do the electronic materials being engaged suit the assignment's pedagogy and methodological goals? What can we learn from this activity about the kinds of inquiry assignments that work best when using new media resources?

·         How does the inquiry approach used in this activity compare with inquiry approaches you have used in your classes? What is similar? Different? What are the advantages and disadvantages of inquiry learning, in your experience? Where does it fit in the repertoire of teaching in your field?