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

    Experts On Political Satire

    Experts On Political Satire


    In this lesson, students work in small groups to share their information about an aspect of Jonathan Swift’s political satire. Once students are an “expert” on their topic, they will meet with others who are experts on different aspects of the satire. Students will teach each other.


    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.
    • Be prepared to organize students for the second part of the jigsaw.

    Ideas for a Satire

    • The best writing comes when students have thought for a number of days about their choices or about their topic.
    • By giving time at the start of class, you’re putting the later assignment on the front burner, signaling to students that it matters to you.
    • Even if students don’t have a chance to think about the assignment between classes, their thinking will begin to layer and multiply, just because there’s time in between the journaling opportunities.
    • It’s too early for students to have really nailed down a topic. Encourage them to experiment before they settle into a single one.
    • You can remind them too of some of the other satirical topics you’ve looked at so far: high school characters, the rich or city life, poverty, politics.


    Later in the unit you’ll write a satire on a topic of your choice.

    • Take some time to brainstorm about a satirical topic you might want to write about.

    Open Notebook

    Maybe you’d like to tackle one of the target groups you didn’t look at earlier: women, romantic love, parenting, or education.

    The important thing with brainstorming for a more formal piece is not to worry about how much sense you’re making: try to get as many ideas out there as you can.

    Political Satire Jigsaw: Round 1

    • This style of lesson is called “jigsaw” because members of the first group are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, fitting together to learn a topic; they then reconfigure into another puzzle, each piece responsible for a different function.
      • ELL: Some of the words in the questions can be somewhat difficult for some ELLs to follow. If necessary, rephrase using words you know students can understand, or explain as appropriate to allow all ELLs to fully participate and to have a fair chance to answer the questions.
    • Jigsaw is highly effective because students take responsibility for mastering information so well that they can teach others; the weight of responsibility pushes them to learn hard, in most cases without any teacher intervention.
    • Remember, the jigsaw activity consists of two rounds. In round one, students meet in groups and share their findings based on the area of satire they were assigned. In round two, they reassemble in new groups that contain at least one “expert” per area of satire and teach what she or he has learned to the other students.
    • In round one, your groups (one for each topic covered) should look like this:
      • ✓ For 16–19 students, four groups of four or five students each
      • ✓ For 20–24 students, five groups of four or five students each
      • ✓ For 25–29 students, five groups of five or six students each
      • ✓ For 30–35 students, six groups of five or six students each
      • ✓ For 36 or more students, six groups of six or more students
    • Consider how you will quickly regroup students in round two. One method is to assign each student in a round-one group an identifier (for example, a letter or color). Then in round two, all the “blue” students from the round-one groups get together, for example.
    • Absenteeism is a potential problem. In round two of the jigsaw, each group must have an expert for each of the assigned areas of satire. Make adjustments as necessary.
    • If you haven’t used jigsaw circles before, you’ll love how student-centered this lesson is. It almost teaches itself, once students understand their responsibility.
    • You may need to remind students to take careful notes to aid them in their teaching in the next group.
    • While students in their groups are discussing their topic, you’ll want to circulate to answer questions and to help where needed.
    • The questions are in order of importance, so if some groups don’t quite finish, that’s okay.
    • Terms that should get discussed are hyperbole, incongruity, situational irony, farce, caricature, euphemism, Juvenalian, and Horatian.

    Work Time

    Meet with others who also annotated for the same area of satire in Swift’s novel. The idea is that you’ll learn enough from each other to become “experts” on your topic. That way you’ll have a good amount of information to share in your next group, where you alone will represent the first group and teach its findings.

    Be sure to take notes, because you’ll be working solo to teach classmates in your next group. You alone have this responsibility; your group will look to you for information.

    All that your class will learn today will come from students’ brains, not that of the teacher: you are in charge of your own learning. You might be surprised at how well this works!

    Answer these questions as a group.

    • What does Swift have to say about your area of satire? Look back through the text and highlight any passages that you as a group think help answer the question.
    • For each example, explain what’s happening.
    • Then, interpret it: what do you think Swift’s philosophy on your area of satire was, given this text?
    • How does this philosophy fit into his view of people and government, in general, from what you’ve read?

    Political Satire Jigsaw: Round 2

    • Help students reorganize into new groups so that each group has at least one expert for each topic covered.
    • Use your discretion to determine how to handle those topics that have more experts than groups. You could have both experts present separately or have them present together to their new group.
    • In round two, your groups should look like this:
      • ✓ For 16–19 students, four groups of four or five students each (four topics)
      • ✓ For 20–24 students, four groups of five or six students each (five topics)
      • ✓ For 25–29 students, five groups of five or six students each (five topics)
      • ✓ For 30–35 students, five groups of six or seven students each (six topics)
      • ✓ For 36 or more students, six groups of six or more students (six topics)
    • Again, most important is that you be accessible when groups call on you for help.
    • Your job is also to keep time, to ensure groups move quickly forward.
    • Again, some terms that are important in this reading are hyperbole, incongruity, situational irony, farce, caricature, euphemism, Juvenalian, and Horatian. You might put them on a board and tell students that all of these should be covered at some point in these second groups.
      • SWD: Be ready to explain these terms again should there be any confusion about their meaning. Don’t assume that because they have been “covered” they are fully learned or absorbed. Invite questions and be ready to provide explanations as necessary.

    Work Time

    Now, you’ll meet in a new group. Each of the original groups will be represented by at least one student in the new group.

    You’re responsible for teaching one another all the material you learned in your last group. Feel free to use your notes! And take notes while others are presenting. If you need more information from another group member, be sure to ask!

    You won’t have as much time as you did in the last group, so take about 2 minutes or so each to give the most interesting or important information from your last group.

    Take turns to explain your group’s findings.

    When all are done, try to synthesize what you’ve heard as a group.

    • What is Swift saying, more generally, about humankind and government?
    • What makes this a satire?

    The Most Important Point

    • These are relatively difficult questions because you are not just asking students to give you back what they learned: they need to synthesize the information from other groups and consider.
    • The students’ responses should give you a clear picture of where they are in understanding political satire.
    • If there is time, have students share their responses.
      • ELL: Since summarizing one’s learning entails such a high level of understanding of the topic and command of the language, allow ELLs additional time to come up with a response to this question, and encourage them to work in pairs if necessary. Dictionaries should be allowed throughout the class, but especially in this section.


    Write a response to the following prompt.

    • Other than information from your own area of expertise, what do you think is the most interesting or important point Swift is making? And which is most familiar in politics today?

    Open Notebook


    • Remind students to select satires that are appropriate for school. Let them know that you will be reading and commenting on their findings.


    Do some research on your own.

    • Find some satirical video clips or articles from contemporary authors or publications, and choose one that you especially find interesting. (Make sure it is school-appropriate.) Share it for the class, with a brief explanation of your choice.
    • Be sure to look at others’ findings—at least five! It may take some time, but it should be entertaining!