A Sneaky Introduction to Satire
Satire is a sneaky art form, so it requires a sneaky introduction. This lesson tricks students by offering them a satirical school memo and pretending it is an official one, leading to a deep engagement with the subject matter.
- Students will use background knowledge of school policies to identify a school memo as fake.
- Students will identify the satirical elements of the memo.
- Students will learn about satirical targets and attempt to identify the target of the memo.
- Students will brainstorm examples of satire and questions they have about satire in order to prepare for the next lesson.
Common Core State Standards
|CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6||Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness or beauty of the text.|
|CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.4||Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a text.|
|CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1||Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.|
Materials / resources
1. Setup — 30 minutes (to be completed in advance)
Adapt the lunch memo so that it reads as a memo written by your administration. Change the school name, dates and period to match the date you plan to distribute the memo and the period your class meets. Adapt the information about the lunch lines and food items so it matches the organization of your cafeteria and food choices. Print the letter on your school’s letterhead and make copies. Ask a colleague to interrupt your class and call you into the hallway a few minutes into the class period so you will be outside the classroom while students discuss the memo. Start class by organizing your classroom as though you were going to teach a lesson unrelated to satire: Put an agenda on the screen that has to do with some other topic, perhaps give them a bell-ringer sentence to edit for AP style.
2. Introduction — 10 minutes
If students ask what you are doing for the day, motion to the agenda. Let yourself appear harried and irritable. Give the class set of memos to a student to pass out. Say, in a distracted manner, that you’ve been asked to pass these out regarding a new school policy. While the memos are being distributed is the perfect moment for a colleague to knock on the door and ask if he/she can speak to you for a second. Instruct students to read the memo and, when they’re finished, work on the bell-ringer sentence. Leave the classroom with the door ajar so that you can hear their conversation.
Stay in the hallway, out of sight but within earshot, for several minutes. Students will quickly shift from quietly reading to not-so-quietly debating. Conversation might sound something like this:
“No chicken poppers?”
“They can’t get rid of chicken poppers.”
“First pop and now this? This school sucks.”
“There’s no way I’m going to take this class. I’m exempt! They can’t make me!”
“If it’s the law–”
“This can’t be real.”
3. Discussion — 10 minutes
Wait to re-enter the classroom until the “This can’t be real” kids have had a chance to bring some people over to their side (and the choruses asking about your whereabouts have reached a fevered pitch). They’ll demand to know if it’s real. Someone will probably say, “It can’t be real.” Direct your question to that person: “How do you know?” Call on several students for details that struck them as fake, then let them know that this is the introductory activity to a satire unit.
4. Group work — 10 minutes
In groups, students will use the lunch memo to complete the “How do you know it’s fake?” chart. Share answers. Their answers will most likely hint at some of the satirical devices that will be explicitly taught in the next JEA lesson: Introduction to Satire.
5. Think/Pair/Share — 10 minutes
Tell students that satire isn’t just funny; it criticizes a target. Ask students to identify possible critical targets of the lunch memo. They should work independently for a minute, share with a partner, then share with the class. Students will most likely struggle to identify the target. Some might answer a variation on “overweight kids.” A couple of pairs will probably say something like “the government” or “laws.” Encourage them to develop and support their answers.
6. Making connections — 10 minutes
In groups, students will finish the lesson by completing a modified K-W-L chart (“Developing a working definition for the most slippery of genres”). Discuss answers, and/or collect at the end of the period for an in-class grade. This also could serve as a homework assignment if necessary.
7. Exit ticket
Before students leave, make sure to collect all copies of the lunch memo. If you don’t, it is only a matter of time before students play the joke on others and the memo ends up in the hands of a confused administrator. (Since you published this on the school letterhead you might have some explaining to do. If your administrators lack a sense of humor you might give them a heads up before you conduct this lesson, just in case.)
During this lesson, note the students who most quickly identify the false nature of the memo. Also identify those who demand that you reassure them by clearly stating that the memo is false. Notice which individuals were most adept at identifying a reasonable critical target and which students struggled most. This will give you a good sense of who may require more help as the unit progresses.