These days, students are inundated by information in all formats and from all corners of the world, and they are apt to believe what they see, hear, or read without carefully evaluating it. At my school, we frequently review website evaluation strategies with students and even have some "quick and dirty" methods to help them develop information evaluation skills (see the accompanying sidebar). Still, we find they are sometimes too trusting of the information they find on the World Wide Web.
To address the problem, we created a unit in which the students study urban legends, which has proven useful in helping them look at information with a more critical eye. They are genuinely drawn to this modern folklore, one that illustrates the most profound fears of society.
What Are Urban Legends?
We begin the unit by having the students listen to an urban legend. I often tell one of my favorite tales, "The Vanishing Hitchhiker," also known as "Resurrection Mary."1 The story is told as something that really happened to a "friend of a friend." Usually the first thing a student will ask at the end of the telling is, "Is that really true?" and I will respond with, "What do you really think?"
I inform our students that the story is an urban legend. We go on to define and clarify the term "urban legend." The students learn that "Urban legends are popular stories alleged to be true which spread from person to person via oral or written communication."2 They also learn that a more accurate term for these tales is contemporary legends, because these stories do not always have an urban setting.3
We use the whiteboard as we brainstorm about the characteristics and the subject matter of urban legends.
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