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Avoiding libel in satire


This is a lesson reviewing libel and how to avoid it in writing satire. Students will review libel law and discuss how it applies to writing satire. Then they will look over their own satire paragraphs in groups and check them for law, ethics and aspects of satire.

The Law and Ethics section includes a lesson on libel by the Student Press Law Center that includes a section on satire, as well as a full lesson on libel for all journalistic contexts. Today’s lesson assumes students have learned that material already, or will cover it eventually, so it focuses more on libel in the context of satire. 


  • Students will be able to explain the danger of libeling someone in a satire.
  • Students will evaluate their own satires in regard to libel, ethics and aspects of satire.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills — Student Outcomes


50 minutes


Presentation: Libel and satire

Handout: Libel checklist

Lesson step-by-step

1. Building background — 20 minutes

Have students look at their own satire paragraphs and make a list of people, real and fake, mentioned in their stories. Ask whether the people in the story are presented in a positive or negative light and how the real people may feel if they saw themselves in the stories. Use the libel and satire slideshow presentation for direct instruction with note-taking to cover the key concepts.

2. Review in groups — 20 minutes

Distribute the checklists. Explain and model what you are looking for with each one. Divide students into groups of 3-4 to share their satire writing while others complete their checklists. Then students can work on revising their stories to make sure they fit the aspects of satire and are legally and ethically sound.

3. Revision — 10 minutes

Provide time for students to revise their satire piece after receiving peer feedback. If they mention people or groups at the school, they may want to run their satire subject by those groups before they submit a final draft next time.





Aspects of satire The piece includes at least two of the aspects of satire. The piece uses at least one aspect of satire. The piece does not use any aspects of satire.
Focused view The satire has a clear purpose and expresses a point of view on the topic it is about. The satire expresses a point of view about a topic, but it occasionally lacks focus. The goal of the satire is unclear.
Responsibility The satire does not harm anyone’s reputation or harm the publication’s reputation. The topic is exaggerated enough to be an obvious satire. The focus is on issues instead of personalities. No person is portrayed in a harmful way. The satire generally avoids legal or ethical issues, but it may do mild harm to the publication’s reputation. The satire portrays someone in the community, or a group of people, in a negative light.
Mechanics The piece follows the rules of spelling, grammar and punctuation. The piece has a few errors in spelling, grammar and/or punctuation. The piece has a distracting number of errors.
Total points