English Language Arts, Reading Literature
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • Grade 12 ELA
  • Satire
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Studying Swift's Essay

    Studying Swift's Essay


    In this lesson, students will continue to study Swift’s famous essay “A Modest Proposal.” Why did Swift write the essay as he did?


    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.

    Effectiveness of Swift's Essay

    • Give students 3 minutes to complete their Quick Write before discussing their responses.
    • An informal opening discussion on current views of Swift’s essay will help things get going.


    Complete a Quick Write.

    • Is Swift’s essay effective or not? Explain.
    • Do you like it or not? Explain.

    Open Notebook

    Why Swift Wrote the Essay as He Did

    • Students here should begin to discuss the appeal of irony: that it doesn’t shove a point down the audience’s throat.
    • Students should also begin to see how satire’s entertainment, when it exists, is also appealing.
    • Facilitate a discussion about the pros, cons, and effectiveness of writing a satire like “A Modest Proposal.” Ask students how they imagined Swift’s contemporaries reacted to the essay.
      • ELL: As students participate in the discussion, be sure to monitor for knowledge of the topic. Stay alert to follow up on interventions that seem unclear or ambiguous. When ELLs contribute, focus on content, and don’t allow grammar difficulties to distract you from understanding the meaning (as much as possible). Help ELLs who make grammar mistakes by rephrasing, but do it only when your rephrasing will not become an interruption or interfere with his or her thinking.

    Work Time

    In trios, take a look at “A Modest Proposal” and consider why Swift wrote the essay as he did.

    • Why not write a straight-out column, as Kristof did, or simply describe the ravages of Irish poverty?

    Share the insights your trio group discussed with the rest of the class. Build on each other’s ideas.

    • How do you think Swift’s contemporaries reacted to his essay?

    The Cloak of Satire

    • This will help you assess where students are in seeing the power of this essay.


    One scholar said Swift “is using the cloak of satire to say what he really means.”

    • Why is satire a cloak? What’s the problem with saying what you really mean? Why is satire effective here?

    Open Notebook

    Examples of Verbal Irony

    • Students are writing to learn here. By articulating their thinking in writing, they move forward and also consolidate what they’ve learned.
      • SWD: Go through the homework with all students (but especially with SWDs) to make sure that they fully understand what is expected of them. If you find out that some of the terms are not clearly understood, explain them again and encourage students to use a dictionary as needed.


    Look at “A Modest Proposal” again.

    • Find two important examples of verbal irony, understatement, distortion, or some other satirical strategy. Explain how it works in Swift’s essay.
    • Write a paragraph for each. Explain your choices.

    Open Notebook

    You will share your homework response in Lesson 14.