This lesson is designed for social studies, civics, language arts, visual arts, and theater classes, grades 9-12.
By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:
- Define the term satire.
- Identify, analyze, and explain examples of political satire.
- Develop arguments for and against campaign finance reform and draw conclusions.
- Compare and contrast the ways that journalism and satire address political candidates and issues.
- Discuss the role and impact of political satire in the democratic process.
- Create and present examples of political satire.
Related National Standards
These standards are drawn from "Content Knowledge," a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning), at http://www.mcrel.org/standards-benchmarks/
Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes
Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media
Standard 10: Understands the characteristics and components of the media
Standard 19: Understands what is meant by "the public agenda," how it is set, and how it is influenced by public opinion and the media
Level IV, Benchmark 7
Knows how to use criteria such as logical validity, factual accuracy, emotional appeal, distorted evidence, and appeals to bias or prejudice in order to evaluate various forms of historical and contemporary political communication (e.g., Lincoln's "House Divided," Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?," Chief Joseph's "I Shall Fight No More Forever," Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream," campaign advertisements, political cartoons)
United States History
Standard 31: Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the
contemporary United States
Thinking and Reasoning
Standard 3: Effectively uses mental processes that are based on identifying similarities
Standard 4: Understands the visual arts in relation to history and cultures
Three 90-minute blocks of time will be needed to complete the activities in this lesson. More class time may be required for students to complete their projects.
- Copy of the 7/11/03 NOW with BILL Moyers interview with Jon Stewart. (Note: A free transcript of this interview is available on the NOW Web site. Teachers may also tape the broadcast off-air and use it in the classroom for one year. Alternatively, programs are available for purchase from ShopPBS (http://shop.pbs.org).
- Handout: Viewing Guide (PDF file)
- Handout: Political Satire Project Outline (PDF file)
- Internet and library research materials
- Creative media for student projects, such as desktop publishing software, video/audio recording devices, and/or various art supplies
Backgrounder for Teachers
Satire has long been a tool of political criticism. Although the term satire may describe an entire work, a passage, or a tone, its characteristics are shared: among these, it employs comedy or humor; has a target and an ideal to compare it to; and describes folly or vice in detail. For a more detailed description of satire and a timeline showing the evolution of political satire in the United States, please review the NOW with BILL MOYERS resource, Who's Laughing Now? American Political Satire.
This lesson provides a fun context for helping students critically evaluate media messages related to the 2004 presidential election. Students will analyze pieces of satire, explore the similarities and differences between political satire and straight news reporting, and finally, create their own political satire. Doing so will require students to immerse themselves in political issues and current events so that they will be able to knowledgeably recognize and present any related humor.
One activity in this lesson requires the teacher to be familiar with Venn Diagrams. Guidance on how to teach with Venn Diagrams is provided online by the San Diego County Office of Education.
Assumed Student Prior Knowledge
In order to understand political satire examples presented in this lesson, students should have a basic knowledge about prominent political figures and current U.S. and world events. Students will also better understand some discussion in the video interview if they are familiar with the role television played in the Nixon-Kennedy debate.
To prepare for this lesson, gather a few current examples of political satire from various media, from political cartoons to songs to scenes from well-known television programs. (Note: Be sure to screen all content carefully to be sure it appropriate for students.) For best results, select hot news topics that students are likely to be familiar with. Some possible sources of political satire are listed in the Related Resources section of this lesson plan.
- Begin the lesson by explaining to students that you are going to show several examples of media that address politics and current events. Then, show the examples and allow students to enjoy and react to them. (5-10 minutes)
- Next, conduct a brief classroom discussion (10-15 minutes) that analyzes the examples you've shown. Ask students what all of the examples had in common. Then look at each example by itself and discuss:
- What or who is the subject of the piece?
- What is the example's main message?
- How would you describe its tone, or the feeling you get from it?
- What makes it amusing/powerful/attention-getting?
- How do word choices, visuals, tone of voice, and body language work to convey a particularly idea or meaning? How would changing one of these key elements change the message?
- Continue by writing the word "satire" on the board. Explain to students that the examples you have shown are all considered "satire". Based on this, have each student discuss what he or she thinks the definition of satire is with a classmate. Then have these pairs share their thinking with the rest of the class as you guide the students in developing a definition for satire (7-10 minutes). (Note: The NOW Web site offers a good definition and some excellent discussion resources.
- To give students a deeper understanding of political satire, show Bill Moyers' x-minute interview with comedian and "fake news" anchor Jon Stewart. (See Materials Needed section.) The interview features several clips from "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and shows Stewart discussing the differences between "fake news" broadcasts and straight news reporting. Before viewing, distribute the Viewing Guide handout and go over the questions with the students. Have students note responses to the questions as they watch the interview. In addition, consider doing one or both of the following to advance the lesson, based on the needs and skills of your students:
- Use the clips from "The Daily Show" to give students extra practice in analyzing satire, based on the questions listed in step two of this teaching strategy. You may want to stop the video after each clip from "The Daily Show" and discuss.
- Have students confirm that the definition they developed for "satire" in step three makes sense when applied to the clips from "The Daily Show" shown in the interview.
- Following the video, address the questions from the Viewing Guide in a class discussion. (10-15 minutes)
- Next, work as a class to complete and discuss a Venn Diagram that visually compares and contrasts how journalism and satire address political candidates and issues. (10-15 minutes) You might use the following question to stimulate student thinking:
- When covering political campaigns and issues, how is the serious news media alike and different from satirists in the way they present the events/people/topics associated with the election?
- Students should now be prepared to try creating some political satire of their own. Distribute the Political Satire Project Outline handout and go over the project guidelines. (5-10 minutes) Projects can be completed individually or in small groups.
- Allow students sufficient time to conduct research, organize information, and create their projects. (2-3 class periods, depending on time constraints)
- Once all satire projects are complete, provide class time for each student/group to
present their work. As each project is presented, spend a few moments discussing
the people/events/topics that were the subject of the project and the message or point
of view the students were trying to portray. (60-90 minutes depending on the number of presentations and the depth of discussion)
Students may be assessed in several ways:
- Students' political satire projects could be evaluated using a scoring guide created by
the teacher, peer evaluation forms created as a class, self-evaluation forms, or a
combination of any of the three. When creating the scoring guides/evaluation forms,
consider including elements that focus on the student's understanding of the political subject, the actual use of satire, how effectively the piece conveys the student's opinions and ideas, and the overall quality of the presentation.
- Students could receive individual participation grades for being involved in class
discussion, brainstorming, and Venn Diagram activities.
- Students could receive credit for completing the Viewing Guide.
- Have students study the history of political satire in the U.S. Begin by asking each student in the class to research and share his or her findings about the political satire of a given time period. Depending on the course of study, this could date back to the American Revolution. The key is to have students focus on the political issues of the time period they are studying. In their research, students should focus on the following:
An excellent source of research information is the NOW with BILL MOYERS feature, Who's Laughing Now? American Political Satire. Once research has been completed, have each student create a presentation about what he or she has learned. Presentations could be a PowerPoint slide show, a large poster, a display board, etc. Students should share their projects with the class and be prepared to answer questions about the nature of political satire during the time period they investigated.
- What forms of political satire were popular?
- Who were some of the well-known satirists of the time?
- Find some examples from the satirists mentioned above.
- Be able to describe what the topic of each piece of satire is.
- Be able to explain the works to classmates by sharing information about the political issues being represented in the piece.
- Have students create a current events/election bulletin board where they place copies
of written or visual forms of satire related to current events, politicians, and election topics. Students could receive extra credit or be assigned to provide a piece of satire for the bulletin board on a given day. Each class period could begin or end with students sharing the examples of political satire they have chosen to add to the bulletin board. Then, the student contributing the piece of satire should discuss the person/issue/topic represented, the author's tone/point of view, and the reason the student thinks it is a good example of political satire.
For further research on this topic, consider the following:
At this Web site, current and former Congressional staffers use songs to provide a humorous look at political events and personalities.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
A smart and funny "fake news" broadcast that satirizes current events through interviews, features, and Stewart's analysis. This program is taped Monday through Thursday and airs on Comedy Central.
Find the daily Doonesbury comic strip online, as well as portraits and biographies of the characters featured in Doonesbury to assist new readers.
NOW with Bill Moyers: Who's Laughing Now? American Political Satire
This feature details the history of satire in U.S. politics. Links to satire examples from the 1700's to the present are also provided.
Online newspaper featuring satirical articles related to the current events of the day and people in the news.
A Web site containing political cartoons from well-known cartoonists around the world.
Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update"
This "fake news" broadcast segment delivers headlines with a humorous twist. The Web site includes transcripts from 1998 to the present.
The White House
This online newspaper features satirical articles related to the President of the United States and other Washington leaders and their political agendas, policies, and procedures.
About the Author
Lisa Prososki is an independent education consultant who taught middle school and high school social studies, English, reading, and technology courses for twelve years. Prososki applies this experience to the numerous lesson plans she has authored and edited for various PBS programs and PBS TeacherSource. Other work has included conducting workshops for teachers at a variety of state and national meetings, editing a wide range of educational and training materials for corporate clients, and authoring a book.