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Lesson Plan

From Dr. Seuss to Jonathan Swift: Exploring the History behind the Satire

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From Dr. Seuss to Jonathan Swift: Exploring the History behind the Satire

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Three 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Traci Gardner

Traci Gardner

Blacksburg, Virginia

Publisher

National Council of Teachers of English

 

Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two

Session Three

Following Sessions

Extensions

Student Assessment/Reflections

 

STUDENT OBJECTIVES

Students will

  • review literary elements of symbolism and satire.

  • discuss contemporary and historical connections to situations in texts.

  • compare satirical techniques used by two authors.

  • conduct research on historical allusions in a text.

  • synthesize information to draw conclusions about a text's message.

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Session One

  1. Begin the session by explaining that you are going to read a children's picture book, The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss, aloud to the class.

  2. Allow time for students to comment on Dr. Seuss books they remember from their childhood.

  3. To provide historical context, point out that The Butter Battle Book was published in 1984. Ask students to share anything that they know about the year 1984. What have they seen on television or read in books? What were the major events of the year? If desired, use the Wikipedia list of events for 1983 and 1984 to set the context.

  4. Read The Butter Battle Book to the class, asking students to listen for details that compare to historical or current events.

  5. Once the reading is complete, ask students to share immediate thoughts and reactions to the book. It's likely that students will see parallels to current events, if not historical events.

  6. Introduce the following definition of satire to the students:
    A literary work that ridicules its subject through the use of techniques such as exaggeration, reversal, incongruity, and/or parody in order to make a comment or criticism about it.
  7. Ask students to identify the general comment or criticism that is made in The Butter Battle Book, as a beginning place for further research.

  8. With the basic themes of the book identified, arrange students into four to five small groups.

  9. Explain that the goal for each group is to find additional information that will provide background or explanation on the information that Dr. Seuss is exploring in the picture book. Each group will present their findings during the next class session.

  10. Remind students that the book was published in 1984, so historical references will most likely have to do with the early 1980s.

  11. If possible, give each group a copy of The Butter Battle Book to refer to. Otherwise, make the copy or copies that you do have available for groups to use as they conduct their research.

  12. Assign each group a reference text to explore in more detail. You can use books and reference material from your library as well as students' own history texts. The following Websites are also appropriate for the research task:

  13. As students work, circulate among groups, providing feedback and support.

  14. At the end of the session, remind students that they should be ready to present their findings at the beginning of the next session.

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Session Two

  1. Give students a few minutes to make last-minute preparations and to practice their presentations.

  2. While students prepare, draw a chart on the board or on chart paper. Label one column "The Butter Battle Book" and the other "Historical References."

  3. Gather the class together, and ask each group to present findings that explain details in Seuss's book.

  4. As students explain their research, chart their information on the board or on chart paper.

  5. Once all groups have presented their findings, review the information on the class list. Make any corrections or revisions.

  6. Pass out and review the Satirical Techniques Definitions.

  7. Ask students to identify the techniques that Dr. Seuss uses in his story.

  8. With this background on satirical techniques and historical connections, introduce Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels by providing some basic plot summary and detail on the author. Review as much of the plot as you'll cover in the class.

  9. Read the passage describing the Big Endians and the Little Endians in Chapter IV of Swift's Gulliver's Travels to the class.

  10. Ask students to respond to the passage, especially in light of their exploration of The Butter Battle Book. Students usually point out the parallels between Dr. Seuss and Jonathan Swift without any prompting. If not, ask questions to encourage them to draw such comparisons.

  11. Using the footnotes in your text on the historical references in the passage, explain the background on the events that Swift satires in the passage. If you have created a transparency, display the Historical References in the Endian Passage. Otherwise, create a chart on the board with the following information. The passage makes the following references:
    Text Reference Historical Reference
    England and Little-Endians England and the Protestant English
    Blefuscu and Big-Endians France and the French Catholics
    Emperor who publishes edict to break eggs on the small end Henry VIII
    Emperor who loses his life Charles I
    Emperor who loses his crown James II
    Law forbidding Big-Endians from holding jobs The Test Act of 1673
  12. Return students to their small groups, assigning each group one of the text references to research.

  13. Introduce the Gulliver's Travels Travelogue to the class, and explain how students can use the online tool to investigate historical references.

  14. Ask each group to find information on the particular historical reference and explore how the reference contributes to the satire of the passage. Students will present their findings during the next class session (just as they did with Dr. Seuss' Butter Battle Book.

  15. In addition to determining the meaning of the references, ask students to identify the satirical techniques that the reference employs, referring to the Satirical Techniques Definitions.

  16. As students work, circulate among groups, providing feedback and support.

  17. At the end of the session, remind students that they should be ready to present their findings at the beginning of the next session.

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Session Three

  1. Give students a few minutes to make last-minute preparations and to practice their presentations.

  2. While students prepare, draw a chart of the list of Historical References in the Endian Passage on the board or display an overhead transparency with the information.

  3. Gather the class together, and ask each group to present findings that explain details in Seuss's book.

  4. As students explain their research, fill in the "Satirical Techniques" column on the Historical References in the Endian Passage chart.

  5. Once all groups have presented their findings, review the information on the class list. Make any corrections or revisions.

  6. Discuss the process of investigating historical references with the class, reinforcing strong research strategies.

  7. Pass out copies of the Historical References for Part I, or a customized list of references that you have created.

  8. Explain the research project that students will complete using the list:
    Using the reference resources, you will find details on one of the references listed and prepare to present your research and discuss its relevance to the book when the class reaches that part of the novel.
  9. Ask students to create a one-page handout or poster on their research to share with the class. These resources can be used as students review the work for tests or to write journal entries or papers.

  10. Detail how students will work on the project (individually or in groups) and allow students to choose an item from the list (or match topics to students based on abilities if desired).

  11. Review the resources that students can use for their research, pointing to library materials, the class text, the Satirical Techniques Definitions, and the Gulliver's Travels Travelogue.

  12. Answer any questions that students have about the project, and allow the rest of the session for students to begin their research.

  13. As students work, circulate among groups, providing feedback and support.

  14. At the end of the session, remind students that they will present their findings when the class reads the related section of the text.

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Following Sessions

  1. Allow additional sessions for students to continue their research on the topics as necessary.

  2. Assign sections of Gulliver's Travels for students to read as you normally would, reminding students who are responsible for references in each reading that they will be presenting during the next session.

  3. Have students present their findings as they have during previous sessions. Encourage students to make connections to the overall satire of the book and to the other historical references in the text that have been presented.

  4. If students create posters or handouts, arrange for the resources to be shared with the class as the exploration of the novel continues.

  5. As the project comes to a close, ask students to write a concluding paper synthesizing the exploration of historical references, using the following prompt:
    Satire ridicules a subject in order to make a comment or criticism about it. Based on the specific historical references and the additional details on the government and monarchs in Gulliver's Travels, write an essay that summarizes and explains the satire's commentary and/or criticism of the British government. Your analysis should explain the overall message that the text communicates about society.

    Your essay should make specific references to details in the text that support your interpretation. Be sure to provide documentation for quotations from the text as well as from outside resources you have consulted for historical information.
  6. Pass out copies of the Gulliver's Travels Essay Rubric which will be used to provide feedback on students' essays, and discuss the expectations for their work.

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EXTENSIONS

  • Encourage students to investigate historic references in other texts that they read, using general reference resources in the library. Students might journal about at least one historical reference each week or in each set that they submit for your review.

  • Consider these additional questions for discussion of Part I of Gulliver's Travels:

    • What kind of person is Gulliver? What kind of people are the Lilliputians? How do the two compare?

    • What is Gulliver's opinion of the Lilliputians? How does he treat them?

    • How do his feelings about them change of the course of the time that he spends with them?

    • Who is the reader supposed to admire or identify with? Why?

    • What is the purpose of the size difference in the section?

    • Why does the story include details about urine and excrement?

    • How is blindness symbolic in Lilliput?

    • How does Gulliver's Travels satirize travel writing?

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STUDENT ASSESSMENT/REFLECTIONS

  • Class Discussion
    During discussion of the references in the texts, listen for historical accuracy in the details that students share as well as correct identification of the satirical techniques. Encourage and support clear connections between the historical references and the plot and characters in the passages.

  • Class Handouts
    Having practiced the technique of analyzing historical references in the first two sessions, students should be well-prepared to complete research on their own. Remind students to use the same techniques and resources that they used during earlier sessions as they work more independently. Use feedback on the handouts as an opportunity to provide support and encouragement for the analytical abilities that students will tap as they write their final papers. As with the class discussion, encourage and support clear connections between the historical references and the plot and characters in the passages.

  • Analytical Paper
    Use the Gulliver's Travels Essay Rubric to provide formal assessment of students’ papers. Look in particular for indications that students have gained knowledge of satirical techniques and the ability to connect historical allusions to their meaning in the text.

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