Lesson Plans

Exploring Satire with Shrek

9 - 12
Estimated Time
Four 50-minute sessions
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Because students are typically familiar with the characteristics of fairy tales, the movie Shrek, which satirizes fairy tale traditions, serves as an introduction to satirical techniques. Students begin by viewing a scene from the movie and examining the ways in which it departs from typical fairy tales. They are then introduced to the four techniques of satire: exaggeration, incongruity, reversal, and parody, and identify these techniques in the clip from Shrek. Students next select a fairy tale to satirize and share their finished stories with the class or small groups.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

Popular culture, in the form of the movie Shrek, provides an introduction to the literary techniques that are commonly used in satire. This pairing of popular culture with traditional literary instruction provides what Meg Callahan and Bronwen E. Low call "a meeting place where students and teachers can share their expertise" (52). Through their extensive research with secondary students, Callahan and Low concluded that "many students identified the use of popular culture in the classroom as a catalyst for complex thinking" (57). Callahan and Low identify popular culture as "a site where students can experience competence at the same time that the teachers provide appropriate challenges through careful support, reframing, and questioning" (57).

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • DVD or VHS copy of Shrek

  • Fairy tales for students to satirize (see Website section for suggestions)

  • Television, and DVD Player or VCR




  • This lesson plan works well after an exploration of fairy tales; however, if students are already familiar with fairy tale traditions, their prior knowledge will be adequate for the lesson.

  • In this lesson, students write satirical versions of favorite fairy tales individually. The instruction below ask students to choose their own tales; however, depending upon resources and students, you can have students work in small groups, rather than individually. Additionally, you can narrow the fairy tales that students choose, bringing in 4 or 5 stories for students to choose among rather than having them select tales themselves.

  • In addition to choosing fairy tales from the Websites listed in the lesson, you can supplement the choices with children's books from the library.

  • Test the Literary Elements Map interactive and the Plot Diagram interactive on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • brainstorm genre characteristics based on prior knowledge.

  • use visual literacy skills to analyze, interpret, and explain non-print media.

  • identify the techniques of satire in a satirical work.

  • analyze a satirical work to determine the comment or criticism being made about the subject it is ridiculing.

  • use the elements of satire in narrative writing.

Session One

  1. Before class begins, cue the clip from Shrek, which begins at 51:20 and ends at 53:20 on both the DVD and VHS versions of the movie.
    The clip depicts the capture of Princess Fiona by Robin Hood, who mistakenly thinks that the Princess has been taken against her will by the ogre, Shrek. After "rescuing" the princess, Robin Hood and his Merry Men pause to introduce themselves by performing a ridiculous song and dance number. In the middle of the routine, Princess Fiona screams, "That's enough!" and single handedly attacks and subdues Robin Hood and all of his Merry Men.
  2. When students enter the room, have the following brainstorming question ready for them to respond to in their reader response notebooks or journals: "What makes a fairy tale a fairy tale? What are the characteristics of the genre?"

  3. If desired, you can share the Common Elements of Fairy Tales to introduce some basic characteristics before asking students to begin compiling their own lists.

  4. After students have had a few minutes to gather ideas, open discussion by inviting students to share their characteristics with the class. List their ideas on the board or on chart paper so that you collect a class list.

  5. Once students have shared their ideas, read back over the list and make any revisions or additions. If desired, you might group similar characteristics together (e.g., descriptions of the hero, characteristics of the setting).

  6. Set up the film clip by explaining that you will show a segment from Shrek, which satirizes fairy tales by departing from the typical fairy tale characteristics in humorous ways.

  7. 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.
  8. Show the clip and ask students to pay attention to elements from the clip that depart from the typical characteristics of fairy tales. Be sure that the list of fairy tale characteristics that the class has brainstormed is posted in a place where students can refer to it while watching the clip.

  9. Once you've shown the clip, give students a minute or two to gather their list of details from the movie that depart from the typical fairy tale.

  10. Ask students to share their observations from the movie clip, and list the details on a new sheet of chart paper or a cleared section of the board.

  11. Once students have shared their ideas, read back over the list and make any revisions or additions.

  12. Place the original list of fairy tale characteristics beside the list of observations from the movie clip and ask students to make connections between the two lists. Allow students to associate freely, without worrying about naming any of the connections unless the additional information is a natural addition to the discussion.

  13. Introduce definitions for four techniques of satire:

    To enlarge, increase, or represent something beyond normal bounds so that it becomes ridiculous and its faults can be seen.

    To present things that are out of place or are absurd in relation to its surroundings.

    To present the opposite of the normal order (e.g., the order of events, hierarchical order).

    To imitate the techniques and/or style of some person, place, or thing.
  14. Referring to their notes, ask students to identify at least one example from the clip for each of the four techniques of satire. You can ask students to work individually or in small groups.

  15. If desired, show the clip again, to help students review the events that take place with these four satirical techniques in mind.

  16. After students have gathered their examples from they clip, gather the students as a full group and ask them to share their responses. Possible answers include the following:

    Princess Fiona fights and successfully defeats Robin Hood and all of his Merry Men without any help and without any weapons.

    Princess Fiona uses her ponytail to deliver a knockout punch to one of the Merry Men. While frozen in a mid-air martial arts kick, Princess Fiona pauses to fix her disheveled hair before knocking out two of the Merry Men.

    The roles of the hero and the damsel in distress have been reversed. In this clip, it is Princess Fiona, the rescuee, who fights and defeats the foe.

    The fight scene is an exaggerated imitation of the martial arts style and special effects used in movies such as The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

  17. Ask students to identify the primary comment or criticism about society that is being made by the satirical techniques in this clip from Shrek. Students might respond in one of these ways:

    • The traditional story of the knight rescuing the damsel-in-distress is not a realistic depiction of the roles filled by men and women in modern society.

    • Current Hollywood action movies like The Matrix have become ridiculous because they are too focused on special effects.
  18. If students have difficulty identifying the satirical commentary, you might ask them what the underlying lesson or unwritten moral is in the story.

  19. Close the discussion by explaining that in the next sessions, students will write satirical versions of fairy tales (or scenes from fairy tales) themselves.

  20. For homework, ask students to choose a fairy tale that they'd like to satirize. Students should read the tale and be completely familiar with it before the next session. If possible, students should print out a copy of the story for reference as they write.

  21. Share the following fairy tale Websites, where students can find tales online:

Session Two

  1. Prior to this class, students should choose a fairy tale to satirize. If possible, they should bring printouts of the story to class for reference. Also prior to the session, choose a story to use with the class. To ensure that you choose a story that none of the students are planning on using, you might choose a fairy tale from another culture, such as Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti (Holt, 1987) or Arrow to the Sun: A Pueblo Indian Tale (Puffin, 1977). Alternately, you can use the scene from Shrek, played in the previous session, as your example.

  2. To demonstrate the process of analyzing and satirizing a fairy tale, read the story that you've chosen to the class, or if you're using a story that students are familiar with ask students to brainstorm the key elements of the plot in a general class discussion. Note their ideas on the board or on chart paper.

  3. Review the literary elements of character, setting, conflict, and resolution as an introduction to the Literary Elements Map.

  4. Demonstrate the Literary Elements Map to students by collaborating to complete the information for the fairy tale that you've read. You can complete the "Character Map" in the tool for multiple characters from the story (e.g., the heroine, the villain, the hero). Be sure to print the findings so that students can refer to the information in later sessions.

  5. Once you're sure students understand the tool, have them complete the Literary Elements Map for the fairy tales that they've chosen. Remind students to print their finished graphic maps and that they can complete the "Character Map" in the tool for multiple characters from the story (e.g., the heroine, the villain, the hero).

  6. Once every group has completed the Literary Elements Map and printed their responses, gather students as a group and ask them to begin thinking of how to apply the techniques of satire to their tales.

  7. Remind them that satire has the overarching goals of commenting on or criticizing society. Again, you might call this commentary an underlying lesson or an unwritten moral.

  8. Return to the list of common fairy tale characteristics from Session One and discuss how the elements might be used in satire. For instance, a satirized fairy tale might focus on the role of the hero to comment on how unrealistic the character is.

  9. For homework, ask students to identify three to five specific things from the fairy tales that they have chosen, and then pair those things with ways they might be used in satire. Students will be creating a list that is similar to what you've brainstormed at the end of this session; however, their lists will use specific details and references to their stories.

Session Three

  1. Begin the session by talking about what makes a good satire. Students can refer to the excerpt from Shrek as well as other popular or literary satires that they are aware of.

  2. Refer to the definition of satire from earlier sessions to remind students of the techniques:
    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.
  3. As students identify characteristics of a good satire, create a list on the board or on chart paper that students can refer to as they work.

  4. Once students have shared their ideas, read back over the list and make any revisions or additions. If desired, you might group similar characteristics together (e.g., details about the characters, characteristics of the plot).

  5. Working in small groups, invite students to share their homework ideas. Group members should help one another assess which satirical messages would make the best project. Encourage students to think about the characteristics of a good satire on the posted list as they talk about the possibilities together.

  6. Once students have had time to discuss their ideas, ask students to take a few minutes to write in their journals about the options they discussed in their group, the advice that they received, and the focus they've chosen for their writing.

  7. Gather the class together and invite students to share their decisions with the full class. Encourage students to refer to details about satire posted on the class list.

  8. Explain that in the remainder of the session, students can begin work on the fairy tale that they've chosen.

  9. Share the Rubric for a Narrative Writing Piece and discuss the criteria for students' satirized fairy tales.

  10. Ask students to get started on their fairy tales by spending the rest of the session summarizing the series of events that will take place in their revised version of the tale. Emphasize that these summaries will simply be notes that they can refer to as they work further. Parts of the summary may be used in the final version, but it's mostly likely that the notes will serve more as a loose outline for the work.

Session Four

  1. Remind students of the writing assignment, the Rubric, and the characteristics of good satire from previous sessions.

  2. As a prewriting activity, ask students to complete the Literary Elements Map in order to gather ideas and think through the story in more detail. Remind them to print their findings. Remind students that they can complete the "Character Map" in the tool for multiple characters from the story (e.g., the heroine, the villain, the hero).

  3. (optional) If desired, students can also complete the Plot Diagram interactive, to outline the structure of their fairy tales.

  4. After completing the interactives, students can use their notes to work on their drafts.

  5. Groups will continue their work on the project during the next class sessions. Monitor student progress, and help students move smoothly through the process, ensuring that they complete all the steps and answering any questions.

  6. Encourage students to check the lists of fairy tale elements as well as the printouts from the Literary Elements Map as they work. These class resources can provide answers to questions and inspiration for details in the fairy tales that students are writing.

  7. Based on student need and experience with writing narratives, you might add one or more minilessons that will help students complete their work. Any of the following items would make excellent minilessons for writers composing narratives:

  8. Allow time during the next class session for students to share their stories with the class or in small groups before students submit their finished stories.


  • View Additional Satirical Video Clips from Shrek and Shrek 2 and continue your exploration of the ways that these movies satirize fairy tales.

  • Use the interactive Fractured Fairy Tales to review how the genre works and practice fracturing three well-known fairy tales. Also, this booklist outlines picture books and fiction that "fracture" traditional fairy tales structures to explore different perspectives and comment on "fairy tale" worlds. The books can provide useful supplements as examples during class sessions or give students who are particularly interested in the genre of fairy tales additional resources to explore.

  • Share clips from a film version of the Robin Hood tale to encourage sharper analysis of the scene from Shrek. The 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn, is widely available and is rated PG. The Disney Robin Hood (1973) would also make for interesting comparisons.

  • Share Robin Hood and the Lady by Walter Crane, an illustration from the 1912 book Robin Hood and the Men of the Greenwood by Henry Gilbert. Ask students to compare Crane's depiction of the hero and heroine to the depictions in Shrek. Ask students to consider the extent to which Shrek relies on the visual appearance of the hero and heroine for the satire and the extent to which the satire is based on the actions that are depicted and the situations that take place.

  • Follow this lesson with the Exploring Satire with The Simpsons lesson plan which invites more in-depth analysis of satirical techniques in popular culture.

Student Assessment / Reflections