Introduction to Rhetoric through Analysis of Satire

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Objective

SWBAT explain humorous rhetorical choices by reading and commenting on light satire.

Big Idea

Students read with great insight to examine a writer's choices in creating light satire.

Video Clip and Introduction

15 minutes

Teachers have been using the Onion for years to introduce students to satire, and although some pieces can be inappropriate for younger audiences, with some vetting of the material, I think that teachers can guide students to look at words with humorous figurative connotations (RL.9-10.4) and to explore how humor and irony can help make a point (RI.9-10.6).  As such, students can gain a beginning appreciation for ways in which authors construct rhetorical choices to impact an audience.  I'm using this lesson as an additional lead-in to the unit because I think it will be approachable, humorous and interesting.  It will draw the students into thinking about the rhetoric of a message. 

To introduce my students to today's focus on satire and rhetoric, I will play this video about a little-known art, Contact Juggling.  (link)

Then, I will engage the students in a class discussion by asking:

  1. Can you identify the target of the satire?  What is being critiqued? 
  2. Is it Horatian (lighthearted and humorous) or Juvenalian (serious, contemptuous and abrasive)?  
  3. How is the satire different from mere sarcasm or teasing? 
  4. Why would a writer make fun of something like this?  Is there something deeper that he might be critiquing (i.e. hipster interest in all things 'alternative')?

 

Groups Read Satire Examples

30 minutes

On their Chromebooks, students can then read the following two examples from The Onion and then answer the following discussion questions in groups:

Reading #1 (link)

This article underplays the amount of effort a person 'barely jogging' exerts.  In a sense, this piece is critical of the various ways in which we get obsessed with exercise in ways that are not always authentic to fitness. 

After they finish reading individually, the students will work in groups to the following questions which I will type up and put on a slip of paper (satire examples, one for each group).  As you see from the standards, they are "stretch" standards to grade 11-12, so this lesson is meant more as an introduction than a mastery lesson.  Diction, for example, is addressed in the reading for information standard (RI.11-12.6) and irony in a literary standard (RL.11-12.6).

  1. Diction.  How does the article use specialized jargons, such as the diction of exercise, the diction of news reporting, or the diction of science in order to make a point?
  2. Situational Irony.  How are incongruous words that are meant to be taken ironically?  How is the situation a reversal of what is normally expected?
  3. Verbal Irony.  How are deliberate understatement and its twin, deliberate understatement used ironically?

 

Reading #2 (link).

The students will then move on to reading and responding to the next article (satire examples). They will answer the following questions in groups: 

  1. Diction.  How does the article use specialized jargons, such as the diction of sports reporting, the diction of morality news, or the diction of science in order to make a point?
  2. Situational Irony.  How are incongruous words or phrases applied in unlikely contexts?  How do we know that these words and phrases are meant to be taken ironically?  How is the situation a reversal of what is normally expected?
  3. Verbal Irony.  How are deliberate understatement and its twin, deliberate understatement used ironically?

 

 

 

 

 

Debrief of Examples & Exit Slip

15 minutes

Discussion.  After students work in groups, I want to debrief with the students as a whole class about the ways in which a writer can make rhetorical choices to impact the audience (RI.9-10.6).

I ask them (SL.9-10.1):

How does exaggeration or understatement make a stronger point?

How does ironic treatment of a topic sometimes work better for sensitive topics such as race, class, or gender? 

 

Prompt:

Then, after this quick discussion, I ask the students to respond to the following exit slip prompt in writing (W.9-10.10):

Use the diction of science to explain a scientific study that exposes some behavioral flaw like texting while driving, putting gum under desks, etc.