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Student: Nadina González Moni

The Urban Legend “The Hitchhiker”: An Analysis of motivation in EFL Classrooms by using this legend “I don’t like the texts we are given” was the most chosen option in a survey carried out in Ituzaingo, Bs As, Argentina (González Nomi & Mendez, 2012). The students that participated in the survey study English as a foreign language. They were asked to carry out a survey about their feeling when facing a text in English. Being an Argentinian teacher of English, I could say that this adolescents’ dislike about reading in English seems to be something usual. As students enter secondary school, their motivation to read begins to decline (Aarnoutse & Schellings, cited by Mc Clure, C, 2008). Recent researches show that one way to overcome this problem is to introduce young adult literature (YAL) which is literature aimed at adolescents and which might consequently engage students in reading. Following this idea, this paper will look at an example of urban legend, “The hitchhiker”, to explore the possibility to motivate students to read in EFL classrooms. In doing so, this paper will base on recent researches in the field of adolescents’ reading preferences and theories of Young Adult Literature, as well. The aim of this paper is to explore whether the story concerned belongs to Young Adult Literature and, consequently, if it is useful for motivating students to read in EFL classrooms. In the urban legend “The Hitchhiker”, a boy called Jacob is driving along a dark road. He offers a ride to an attractive young girl who is standing by the road under the rain. Her arms are crossed over a book. And her pale blue eyes are full of tears. As the beautiful girl is extremely wet, Jacob gives her his jacket. As they approach their destination, the driver turns to tell the woman they are arriving, only to discover she has vanished from the car without a trace! Looking forward to seeing her again, he manages to find the girl’s house in order to return the book she has left at the car and to have his jacket back. The story finishes when Jacob knows that the girl had died several years before. It is a very interesting story. It is clear that adolescents will certainly prefer to deal with a legend such as “The Hitchhiker” rather that long novels. However, is it possible to say that this legend is

appropriate for adolescents? In other words, is it possible to say that this legend is a case of YAL? According to Sarah K herz and Donald R gallo, “YAL has proven to be an effective mean to motivate adolescents to read” (1996). This motivation might be due to the characteristics that YAL literature has (Small, cited by Herz & Gallo, 1996). YAL stories are usually short. The main character is a teenager who is positively portrayed and whose actions and decisions are major factors in the outcome of a conflict. By dealing with such stories, it is possible to engage adolescents to read in EFL classrooms. This type of literature is “less demanding and more appropriate” (Herz & Gallo 1996) for adolescents. Taking this into consideration, the legend “The Hitchhiker” can be taken as a good example of YAL literature. Most adolescents will certainly be motivated while reading the story due to the type of fiction it is. There are several studies as regards adolescents’ reading preferences. Most of these studies have something in common. Their results proved that adolescents prefer horror fiction. For example, the analysis of a survey carried out in Ituzaingo, Bs As, Argentina gave as a result that most students preferred the horror genre. Evidence for this is provided by the fact that the 30,19% of the students chose “horror” as their first alternative while a 16, 98% chose “science fiction” and only a 13,21% chose romantic genres (González & Moreschi , 2011). According to Gonzalez and Moreschi, horror was the most chosen genre just because students like to be scared. “Teenagers like mystery and suspense” (Florencia González & Moreschi Karina, 2011). Another example of a survey is the one carried out by Angela Santi and Rago Maria (2012). This survey also gave evidence that adolescents prefer the horror genre. Not only can this type of fiction assure adolescents’ interests, but the opportunity of identification that the story “The Hitchhiker” gives can also assure adolescents’ engagement. Students will probably be engaged with this legend since the reader can identify with the main character. And this identification will certainly make students feel like reading. One point of interest for adolescents could be what the main character feels. He is unable to resist the girl’s occasional glance in the mirror. He has so many questions: why is this beautiful girl alone on such a night? Where has she been? Where is she going? Any

adolescent may identify with Jacob since most adolescents feel the desire to know about a person they are interested in. However, adolescents might like the story not just because of this possible identification, but because of the mystery and suspense the story contains, as well. The moment the boy is driving along the dark and dangerous road under the heavy rain, he suddenly finds a girl. The journey with the strange girl gives also suspense to the audience and the reader. All the time when the boy is giving the girl the lift, she behaves strangely. She says no words and does no gestures, but she constantly stares at Jacob. Another example which shows that the story contains suspense can be found in the following extract: “You must take care, Jacob, this is a very dangerous road”, the girl says.

This makes Jacob feel nervous because he finds difficult to understand what the girl means. After the girl warns him about danger, Jacob, startled by the mellow tone of her voice, turns to answer but the girl has gone. The more motivated adolescents are when they are read, the more motivated they will be to read the story by themselves. The fact that this legend is a horror story will probably assure adolescents’ likes. Surveys, which were carried out to analyze the relation between adolescents and their feelings towards reading in English, demonstrated that Argentinian adolescents dislike reading in English because they dislike the texts they have to read. This means that it is important to know about adolescents’ preferences. The development of adolescents’ reading skill is extremely important. Therefore, teacher of English as a foreign language should be aware of the genres adolescents prefer. The stronger connection adolescents make with the text, the stronger desires to read they will have. By introducing YAL students will certainly feel like reading due to the motivation the story causes. And a good case of YAL, which can motivate students to read, is the urban legend “The Hitchhiker”.


Sarah Herz & Gallo, Donald (1996) From Hinton to Hamlet: building bridges between young adult literature and the classics. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Young Adult Library services Association’ webpage “teen reader’s choces: An Analysis of Teen Students’ Reading Preferences with a Pedagogical Framework, Angela Santy & Rago Silvina, 2011.

Jan Harold Brunvand (1981) The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings. W.W. Norton & Company.

“Young Adult’s Reading: A Research About Their Preferences, Florencia González & Moreschi, Karina. 2011

Mc Clure, C(2008) (accessed October 19th) October 15th)

Heather Dunlevy-Scheerer (2009) What Are the Defining Characteristics of Young Adult Literature? Yahoo! Contributor Network (accessed October 25th)

Brunvand, H (accessed October 20th)

The Urban Legend “The Hitchhiker”: An Analysis of motivation in EFL Classrooms by using this legend