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March 27, 2015

Satire’s role in current events – Lesson Plan

Introduction

April Fool’s Day is a yearly opportunity to show off your best jokes. It’s also a good day to think about the role comedy plays in our everyday lives and our perception of news events. This lesson asks students to think critically about their relationship to comedy–in particular, satire–and explore the question of how it helps us interpret global events.

Subjects

History, Sociology, Arts

Estimated Time

One class period, plus homework for extension assignments if desired

Grade level 

9-12

Materials

  • Computer and Internet access
  • Handout #1: “Facebook ‘satire’ tag could wipe out the Internet’s terrible hoax-news industry” – Article
  • Handout #2: “Obama vetoes Keystone Pipeline expansion” – Article
  • Handout #3: “Keystone Veto Buys Environment At Least 3 Or 4 More Hours” – Article

Objectives

To develop an understanding of satire, students will:

  • Become familiar with the underlying concepts behind satire
  • Analyze the interaction between satire and current events
  • Apply their knowledge of satire and the news to create their own satirical pieces

Main Activity*

  1. Students read the Washington Post article on how satire stories appear on Facebook (Handout #1). Ask students: What does this article show us about the difference between satire and “real” news? Where do the two overlap? Why do some people mistake satire for straight news?
  2. Couple the teaching of a current news event (“Obama vetoes Keystone Pipeline expansion” from PBS NewsHour Extra, Handout #2) with a joke article on the same topic (“Keystone Veto Buys Environment At Least 3 Or 4 More Hours” from The Onion, Handout #3).
  3. Discuss: What knowledge is required to “get” the jokes? How can even serious historical events be rendered in humorous ways? Does the passage of time give us the ability to joke about the past? Students then write their own mock headlines news stories about the historical events of their choice designed to reward a sophisticated grasp of cultural and historical context.

Extension Activity

  1. Students choose a current event, research and write their own Onion-style article on the topic. Ask students: What background research is necessary to write the piece? What elements of your article function as satire, and how do they play on our understanding of the event? Students can discuss these question in class, in small groups or in a writing assignment.
  2. Students watch this clip of The Daily Show on the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Ask your class to discuss: What elements of satire does Stewart use in his critique? What are the differences between this clip’s approach and The Onion article above, and what underlying attitudes do those approaches reveal? Based on these two sources, do you think it is possible for satire to be unbiased?

*Note: Parts 2 and 3 of this main activity are excerpted from The New York Times Learning Network’s lesson plan “That’s Funny: Comedy Across the Curriculum.'”

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