Satire, used often with political subjects, is criticism with the use of humor, irony, exaggeration or ridicule, according to the Oxford English dictionary. Satire can be difficult to teach, because it requires some background knowledge of the subject being ridiculed as well as the devices writers use to poke fun yet encourage deep thought about a subject.
Define the term “satire,” and outline some devices satirists use to elicit either a bemused or angry response. Hyperbole, or outrageous exaggeration, is one common technique in satire. Caricature, for example, visually exaggerates a physical trait to make it seem ridiculous or to highlight faults. Parody imitates a person, place or thing in an attempt to ridicule it. Incongruity involves presenting things that do not belong, so they seem absurd in their surroundings. Irony indicates that things are the opposite of what they seem; for example, an event can be made to seem trivial to point out that the event is actually important and people should pay more attention to it.
Show students some examples of satire, such as a recent political cartoon. Ask a series of questions about the subject of the cartoon, its main message or how students respond to or feel about the image. Explain that satire is meant to present an argument, so it attempts to convince a reader or viewer to have a particular opinion about a subject. Satire might be mildly humorous, encouraging the audience to laugh or find amusement in the subject. It could also be more biting or aggressive, inciting an angry response from audience members who might perceive the subject or treatment as offensive. Remind students that satire is not ridicule for the sake of ridicule; instead, it intends for the audience to think critically about a problem or point out foolish wrongs that should be changed.
Finding Satire in Pop Culture
Engage students by finding examples of satire in popular culture, such as a television show, movie or news article. For example, the movie “Shrek” satirizes traditional fairy tales. Watch various scenes from the film and ask students to identify what technical devices the movie uses and provide examples. You can also ask students to find examples of satire from popular culture and bring their examples to share and discuss with the class.
To ensure students have a firm grasp on the concept of satire, give writing, art or dramatic assignments in which they must create their own works of satire. Assign a fairy tale and encourage students to write an exaggeration or parody of that story. Choose a political controversy and have a mock interview in which the interviewer uses satirical techniques like irony or understatement to highlight problems with the political figure being interviewed. Assign a particular political or social problem and encourage students to draw a satirical cartoon, or ask students to write a “fake” news article expressing satire. Have each student share his creation with the class, and discuss which techniques students used and how effective their work was.
- Oxford Dictionaries: Satire
- Mrs. Matthews AP Language and Composition: Teaching High School Students How to Critique and Create Satire -- Ada Travelsted Skillern, Bowling Green High School
- ReadWriteThink.org: Satirical Techniques Definitions
- PBS.org: Political Analysis Through Satire
- ReadWriteThink.org: Exploring Satire With "Shrek"
- nuvolanevicata/iStock/Getty Images