Areas of Expertise


Adolescent Literacy

Reading Strategies

Strategy: Phony Document Strategy

Vanderhoof, B., Miller, E., Clegg, L. & Patterson, H. "Real or Fake?: The Phony Document as a Teaching Strategy". Social Education, March 1992.

Baldwin, R. S., Readence, J. E., & Bean, T. W. (2004), Targeted Reading: Improving achievement in middle and secondary grades. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.

Baldwin, R. S., Readence, J. E., & Bean, T. W. (2004), Content Area Literacy. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.


The Phony Document Strategy is a critical reading strategy designed to motivate middle and high school students to use higher level thinking skills. Originally developed for history classes (Vanderhoof, et al. 1992), it was found to be also useful in other fields, such as English and science. (Baldwin, et al., 2004) The Phony Document Strategy is founded on a teacher-written letter that presents to the students a plausible description of a key aspect of a novel, a historical event, or the results of a scientific experiment. This letter, although seemingly believable and legitimate, contains many errors that must be discovered and refuted by the students.


  1. The teacher creates a phony but reasonably authentic document. This can take the form of a letter, news article, critique, or book excerpts. The teacher could also create a phony website to serve the same purpose.
  2. Students are asked to read the document and judge its accuracy, making sure to cross check all the information presented.
  3. The class is then divided into small groups to share their critiques.
  4. Finally, a whole class discussion takes place focusing on the document's accuracy.

Examples: An excellent example of the use of the Phony Document Strategy can be found in the above-cited text, Content Area Literacy, pages 208-209.


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