As English teachers, we love satire! What’s not to enjoy when you’re reading funny, witty literature? However, when it comes to teaching satire, it’s not always a bunch of laughs. Satire is a complicated concept that your students might struggle to understand. In this post, I hope to share some tips for teaching satire to your high school English students.
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Why Teach Satire?
Satire is a powerful tool for commentary, critique, and, most importantly, humor. Introducing high school students to the art of satire can be a rewarding, fun, and enlightening experience.
Cultivate Critical Thinking
Satire challenges students to think critically about the world around them. By analyzing satirical works, students learn to identify underlying issues, question societal norms, and understand the power of satire in bringing attention to important topics.
Enhance Language Skills
The study of satire hones language skills by requiring students to grasp subtle nuances, wordplay, and irony. By closely examining satirical texts, students improve their vocabulary and gain a deeper understanding of rhetorical devices.
Engage with Contemporary Issues
Satire is a timeless genre that adapts to reflect the concerns of each generation. Teaching satire allows students to connect with and comment on contemporary issues in a relatable and humorous manner.
Separate Fact from Fiction
More and more we’re seeing students unable to distinguish between real news and satire. Teaching students about satire directly will show them how to distinguish false stories from real ones.
I can’t tell you how many times a student has come to me with an Onion news article believing it was 100% real. Teaching satire can help our students avoid tragedies like this.
How to Teach Satire to High School Students Step #1: Definitions and Examples
Begin by defining satire and providing examples from various mediums such as literature, film, and cartoons. Help students understand the diverse ways in which satire can manifest.
Give students a broad overview of satire as a genre.
It might help to discuss some modern-day examples. If you mention SNL, Family Guy, The Simpsons, or The Daily Show, your students are bound to have an “a-ha” moment.
It’s important to emphasize to students that satire isn’t just humor–it’s being funny while critiquing society.
How to Teach Satire to High School Students Step #2: Analyze Satirical Techniques
Break down satirical techniques, such as exaggeration, irony, parody, and sarcasm. Encourage students to identify these elements in different media examples and discuss their impact on the overall message.
Go through satirical techniques one by one and offer examples of each for students.
YouTube clips can be especially helpful here.
Combing YouTube for examples of satirical techniques can take hours–trust me on this. If you’d like to skip this step, you can grab my done-for-you Satire Introduction Lesson.
One of the resources you’ll get In this lesson is a slideshow with a list of satirical techniques and links to pertinent examples.
You can, however, take examples from any media. Political cartoons might be another great place to find short, quick examples of each technique.
How to Teach Satire to High School Students Step #3: Examine a Longer Work
Once students have a foundational understanding of satire and satirical techniques, it’s time to put that knowledge into practice.
Give students a longer, but easy-to-understand piece of satire to analyze. You don’t want this first big example to be too long, too complex, or require a lot of context to understand.
In my Satire Introduction Lesson, I use Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax.” The film Shrek is another great example if you have the time.
These examples don’t require days of background building or high reading levels to understand. Students can jump right in and start looking for satirical techniques and the overall message.
Ask students to identify as many techniques as they can and to try and find the criticism being made of society.
How to Teach Satire to High School Students Step #4: Increase the Difficulty
Now that students have some practice under their belts, it’s time to let them analyze something even more difficult.
Chances are, you wanted students to learn about satire because you had a longer work you wanted them to analyze. Now’s the time to introduce that text.
“A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift is a classic satirical text that students could analyze next. Mark Twain and George Orwell are other classic authors whose works you can explore.
If you’d rather students analyze images instead of or in addition to text, The National Archives and Records Administration put out this wonderful PDF. It’s full of political cartoons with some historical backgrounds and an explanation of the satire behind each.
Whichever text you choose, be sure to prep students accordingly. Review the historical context of the text and frontload any necessary vocabulary.
If students still struggle, you may want to consider letting them work in partners or groups.
How to Teach Satire to High School Students Step #5: Have Students Create Their Own Satire
If you still have time in your satire unit, consider challenging students to create their own satirical work.
Start by having students choose an aspect of society today to criticize.
You can let them choose their medium–video, political cartoon, essay, etc.–or assign one to the class.
Make the requirements very clear. Do they need to include one satirical technique? Or at least three? Does their political cartoon need to be inked or in color?
Be sure to give your students a comprehensive rubric before they begin working. Then, enjoy the results!
You’ll want to also find a way for students to enjoy one another’s work whether you host a gallery or upload everyone’s work for all to enjoy.
Teaching satire to high school English students is an enriching journey that goes beyond the confines of the classroom. By exploring the nuances of satire, students not only develop a deeper appreciation for literature but also cultivate critical thinking skills that will serve them well in navigating the complexities of the world.
As educators, let us empower the next generation with the wit and wisdom that satire offers, encouraging them to engage thoughtfully and humorously with the world around them.
You can save time and tons of prep work by starting with this Satire Introduction Lesson. Inside, you’ll find an editable slideshow, a student handout, an exit ticket, and a graphic organizer for analyzing any satire.