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Lesson Plan

Hoax or No Hoax? Strategies for Online Comprehension and Evaluation

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Hoax or No Hoax? Strategies for Online Comprehension and Evaluation

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Four 60-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Deborah Kozdras, Ph.D.

Deborah Kozdras, Ph.D.

Tampa, Florida

James L. Welsh

James L. Welsh

Tampa, Florida


International Literacy Association


Student Objectives

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3

Session 4


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • Use research-based comprehension strategies to read and evaluate websites

  • Practice analysis by comparing hoax and real websites and identifying false or misleading information

  • Apply what they have learned about hoaxes by creating an outline of their own hoax website and evaluating the outlines of their peers

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Session 1

1. Ask students to think about how they read differently when they are using the Internet. Discuss strategies they use when reading websites. Questions for discussion include:

  • Do you read all of the text on the page?

  • How do you use pictures to help you read?

  • What do you look for on the homepage of a website?

  • How do you choose what links to click?
2. Distribute the Online Comprehension Strategies Diagram to students. Read through the strategies with students and discuss how these strategies can help with reading a webpage.

3. Model the use of the online comprehension strategies using Jo Cool or Jo Fool For Kids as an example (if possible, project the website onto a large screen; otherwise have students gather around the computer you are using). Think aloud as you navigate around the site, for example:

  • Plan. "What do I need to find out? I want to find the student activity. Where should I begin? I usually begin reading the main body of the website (the middle portion). Where do I want to go? Oh look, it tells me to click on the links on the right side bar to begin. What do I need to do first? Should I do Cybertour or Cyberquiz?"

  • Predict. As you mouse over Cybertour say something like, "I think this hyperlink will lead to the activity." Then mouse over the Cyberquiz and say "If I click here, I expect to find the quiz that is mentioned in the body text."

  • Monitor. Once you click on the Cybertour, ask, "Is this where I expected to be? What pertinent information stands out on this page? Should I skim or read more carefully? I think I should read carefully because this is the activity."

  • Evaluate. "Is this a likely and appropriate place for the information I need? I think I will read through this interactive and record any important information."
4. At this point, have students work through the Cybertour in pairs. Ask them to record any important information they learn on the back of their Online Comprehension Strategies Diagrams.

5. Ask students to discuss some of the ideas in the activity. What did they learn about the process of evaluating websites? Note: You may want to discuss some of the strategies in more detail using questions from the Jo Cool or Jo Fool Teacher's Guide.

6. End the session by having students complete the interactive activity at Deconstructing Web Pages. Note: This activity has students practice strategies for identifying credible websites; in addition, they will become familiar with the Five W's of Cyberspace that are modified for use in the Is This a Hoax? evaluation sheet that is used in the next session.

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Session 2

Project Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus onto a screen. Students should be working in pairs at computers with the same website showing.

1. Tell students you will work together to make a plan for reading using the strategies from the Online Comprehension Strategies Diagram. Model asking questions such as:

  • What do we need to find out?

  • Where should we begin?

  • Where do we want to go?

  • What do we need to do first?

  • What do you predict this site will be about?
2. Begin a discussion about the Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus homepage, soliciting observations from the students. Some things you may want to make sure they notice include:

  • The site's URL, which does not include any of the words pacific, northwest, tree, or octopus as one might expect it to.

  • On the left-hand side, the links under the heading Cephalopod News are regularly updated and most links lead to legitimate articles about this category of animal; ask students to explore some of these linked pages. (You might also choose to have students look up the word cephalopod to verify that it is a real word as well.)

  • The links found in the body text on the homepage are to a mix of legitimate and hoax websites.

  • In the bottom left corner, there is a link to an organization society called Green Peas.org that "supports the endangered Pacific Northwest Octopus." The link doesn't work.

  • In the bottom left corner there is a button that says "Made in Cascadia;" when clicked it goes to a website for this "republic" which is supposedly made up of Oregon, Washington State, and British Columbia.
3. Discuss some of the things that make the website seem legitimate. These include the:

  • Quality of the design, layout, and text

  • Quality of the images including the photographs, magazine covers, and posters

  • Inclusion of two e-mail addresses as contact information

  • Fact that it is updated regularly

  • Copyright mark

  • Links to legitimate environmental organizations

  • Links from other websites

    Note: A website that has very few links to it from other websites may not be legitimate and the nature of the websites that link to it can also give clues to legitimacy. For instance, a website about a real animal would probably have links from zoos, universities, or federal agencies. Likewise, a website for a real country would elicit links from government websites and encyclopedias. You can find this out by entering link: website name in the Google search engine.
4. Hand out copies of the Is This a Hoax? evaluation sheet and review. Ask students if they feel there are any further questions they wish to add based on their work during Session 1 and their initial impressions of the Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus website. Tell them that their goal is to determine if the website is a hoax. Review the Online Comprehension Strategies quickly and remind students to use them to help as they read.

5. Once students have completed their work, have them discuss their responses. How did they figure out that the site was a hoax? Discuss also what is effective about the site. Questions for discussion include:

  • What about this site makes it seem credible?

  • How long did it take you to suspect that this site was a hoax?

  • Why would someone want to create a site like this?
6. Ask students how the Online Comprehension Strategies helped them read the website and determine that it was a hoax. Questions for discussion include:

  • What did you plan?

  • What types of predictions did you make?

  • How did you monitor your reading and comprehension?

  • What strategies did you use for evaluation?

  • What strategies did you use to help you keep track of the links you followed?
7. If there is time, have students spend some time looking at other websites that the tree octopus site links to including The Bureau of Sasquatch Affairs and The Republic of Cascadia and responding to some of the same questions.

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Session 3

1. Have students work with partners to evaluate a pair of websites (one hoax and one real). They should bring their Online Comprehension Strategies Diagram for reference. Provide blank copies of the Is This a Hoax? evaluation sheet for students to fill in.

Website pairs you might use include:

2. Once students complete the evaluation, they can use the Compare & Contrast Map to take notes about the similarities and differences between the sites. (If you think it is necessary, you might have them review the Comparison and Contrast Guide first). Students should print out these maps to use in Session 4.

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Session 4

1. Have students work in small groups to create an outline for their own hoax website on a topic of their choosing. The outline should answer the following questions:

  • What content will appear on the homepage of the site?

  • What will the navigation for the site be?

  • What kinds of articles or content will the site contain?

  • What other types of sites will this site link to?
Students should also discuss what they can do to make their website convincing. They can refer to the Compare & Contrast Maps they created in Session 3 to help them determine what characteristics their website needs to have.

2. When they have completed the outline, have each group create a sketch of the homepage for their hoax website, including title, pictures, navigation, and titles of possible articles. You might also have them go online to look for potential links to include on their websites.

3. Student groups should trade outlines and sketches. Each student should complete the Is This a Hoax? evaluation for another group's work; you may want to give them some time to go online and check the links that other groups used. Note: There will be some areas of this sheet that will not apply to the outlines. You can ask students to simply write "not applicable" in those boxes.

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  • For more practice with identifying credible websites, have your students take the tutorial at Vaughan Memorial Library: Credible Sources Count!

  • Students can use the outlines from Session 4 to create mockups of their websites including pictures and text for articles.

  • Have students use their Compare & Contrast Maps to write essays that outline the components of a real versus a hoax site using the specific sites they explored as examples.

  • Have students write either hoax or exposť newspaper articles that they publish using the ReadWriteThink Printing Press.

  • Have students create their own hoax webpage or website that is based on a real website they use routinely.

  • Have students create video public service announcements about Internet hoaxes and online safety. Instructions for creating video public service announcements can be found in the lesson MyTube: Changing the World With Video Public Service Announcements.

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  • Have students evaluate how well they are now able to read websites using the new comprehension strategies on the What I Learned self-evaluation sheet.

  • Collect both sets of student Is This a Hoax? evaluations and use the Teacher Evaluation Form for Online Comprehension to identify how well students understand the concepts. Look also at the outlines students create in Session 4 to see how well students were able to apply the characteristics of a hoax to their own work.

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