Thursday, February 25, 2016

4 Fake Sites to Teach Students Website Evaluation

As adults we (hopefully) know that not everything online is true. For our students though, this is a concept they need to learn.

Students can use Google to quickly find millions of websites matching their search request, but are they able to determine which sites actually contain information that is accurate, unbiased, up to date, and written by someone with authority?

One step in helping our students identify quality information online is to introduce them to the exact opposite… websites that pretend to be truthful but actually are full of intentionally incorrect information.

Such “fake” websites can be a great way to show students that just because something is online, does not mean it is true. You can ask students to do research on one of these sites as part of an assignment and then see how many were able to realize the site was not authentic. This can be a fun and engaging way to begin a lesson on website evaluation.

Now you might think this would be easy to do since there are so many sites online that are biased or misleading. However, if we are going to use these sites with students we need to look for certain characteristics:
  • Believable - The fake website needs to look not fake. That is, it should look reasonably modern and not like a practical joke from the late 90’s.
  • Child Safe - The site needs to avoid inappropriate content. There are loads of hoax / humor / satirical websites, but many of them have adult content not suitable for students (for example, I think The Onion can be hilarious, but it is absolutely not appropriate for education).
  • Operational - Sadly many of the great fake websites of the past are no longer maintained, or have shut down entirely.
So what are some great websites that meet these criteria, and that you can use with your students to help them learn how to evaluate online information? Below are four of my favorite “fake” sites…

Dihydrogen Monoxide
One of the oldest and still one of the best, this website provides loads of scientific data on the dangers of a common substance called Dihydrogen Monoxide. Of course, two hydrogens and one oxygen make up H2O, so it is just a fancy sounding name for plain old water. This is a particularly good site for older students as the content it more advanced and the site has a more academic look and feel.

Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus
This hoax website is easily one of the best looking sites, which goes a long way to making it look credible. On the site you will learn all about the amazing Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, complete with believable photos, videos, and downloadable plans to build your own tree octopus house.

All About Explorers
One quick glance at this website and you will be reminded of countless educational webquest sites from years gone by. Students can choose from many explorers and read a detailed, but highly incorrect, biography for each. The site is specifically educational though as they provide lesson plan activities that have the students compare and contrast the information found on the site with other reputable online sources.

Dog Island
And finally there is Dog Island, a wonderful location where thousands of dogs live natural, healthy, and happy lives. Be sure to check out the facilities, photos, and see how you can send your dog to this canine paradise!

What other sites or online content have you used with your students to help them learn about website evaluation? Share your links and ideas in the comments below.

Post by Eric Curts. Bring me to your school, organization, or conference with over 50 PD sessions to choose from. Connect with me on Twitter at and on Google+ at


  1. The tree octopus site was something I used with my biology students. I had a horrible experience where a student was presenting about "animal mashups," and was telling our freshman college biology class about how science had improved to allow an eagle head on a dog, and an elephant trunk on a monkey.

    I was horrified when I realized she was not joking. She thought these animals were real. Because she saw them on Facebook. ***smack my head***

    From one of our science staff

  3. Wait......stuff on Facebook might not be true???? :-) Feel your pain Amy!!!!

  4. I use your websites plus the velcro tree
    And many students think this one is real:
    I mix them with reputable websites. Target grade:7

  5. I use your websites plus the velcro tree
    And many students think this one is real:
    I mix them with reputable websites. Target grade:7

  6. Depending on the sophistication of the students you are working with, I tend to have them compare sites, analyze the type of website (.org, .edu, .com, etc.) and find the source of host of a site to discuss bias. At first glance, it looks legitimate. Click on any of the links, especially the source "hosted by Stormfront" link at the bottom and you realize that there's an obvious bias because it's hosted by a "white pride" group. I also send high school students to compare (promotes the use of child soldiers) with to have students investigate source and bias when doing online research.

    1. Excellent resources, especially for older students.

    2. Many schools I work at have the site blocked since it is a Stormfront affiliated site full of hate speech.