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Lesson Plan

Seeking Social Justice Through Satire: Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal"

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Seeking Social Justice Through Satire: Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal"

Grades 10 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Unit
Estimated Time Nine 45–50 minute class meetings, plus additional class meetings for students’ presentations
Lesson Author

John Wilson Swope

John Wilson Swope

Cedar Falls, Iowa


International Literacy Association


Materials and Technology

Student Interactives






  • Computer with Internet access and projector

  • Computers with word processing (such as Word) and presentation (such as PowerPoint) software

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ReadWriteThink Notetaker

Grades   3 – 12  |  Student Interactive  |  Organizing & Summarizing

ReadWriteThink Notetaker

Useful for a wide variety of reading and writing activities, this outlining tool allows students to organize up to five levels of information.


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  1. Print and review the printouts for the unit: “A Modest Proposal,” Guided Reading of “A Modest Proposal,” Commonly Used Satiric Devices, Mock Television Newscast or Editorial Assignment, Evaluation Rubric for Mock Television Newscast or Editorial Assignment, and Rubric for Assessing Guided Reading.

  2. Download and make a copy of the deer cartoon from Narrative Magazine: Literary Puzzler: Famous Last Words. Work through the “Analyzing a Single-Panel Cartoon” section of the Guided Reading of “A Modest Proposal” printout.

  3. Select a mock newscast from a recent episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, or the “Weekend Update” segment of Saturday Night Live for your students to view. Schedule any audio-visual equipment you may need to present it to the class. Work through the “Viewing an Episode of a Satiric Television Program” section of the Guided Reading of “A Modest Proposal” printout. Take note of the metacognitive moves that enable you to appreciate the humor of the broadcast.

  4. Review the websites providing background information on satire on Hodgart on The Conditions of Political Satire and on Swift’s biography and career at Jonathan Swift.biography.

  5. Read Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” noting the essay’s overall structure and Swift’s use of various satiric techniques.

  6. In addition to reviewing the entire Guided Reading of “A Modest Proposal” printout, prepare to model the application of your skills as an experienced reader in order to show students how you make sense of Swift’s prose. As before, note the various metacognitive moves you use to comprehend Swift’s ideas. For example, how does your knowledge of sentence syntax and the conventions of punctuation help you to distinguish the major idea from the numerous supporting points in the following sentence?

    I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust. (ll. 58-61)

    How do you incorporate the information provided in the footnotes to enhance your understanding of the ideas in the essay? In other words, as you reread Swift’s essay, observe what you do as an experienced reader to comprehend and appreciate Swift’s prose. You may wish to make marginal notes.

  7. Complete a copy of the printout Commonly Used Satiric Devices based upon your reading of “A Modest Proposal.”

  8. Using the division headings on the Guided Reading of “A Modest Proposal,” jot down your own paraphrases of Swift’s ideas with the online interactive Notetaker.

  9. Review the PowerPoint Tool Tips.

  10. Review the Mock Television Newscast or Editorial Assignment and the Evaluation Rubric for Mock Television Newscast or Editorial Assignment.

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