Seeking Social Justice Through Satire: Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal"
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Jonathan Swift's 1729 pamphlet “A Modest Proposal” is a model for satirizing social problems. In this lesson, students complete multiple readings of Swift's essay: a guided reading with the teacher, a collaborative reading with a peer, and an independent reading. The online Notetaker tool helps students restate key ideas from Swift's essay as they read and elaborate upon these ideas postreading. After independent reading, pairs of students develop a mock television newscast or editorial script, like those found on Saturday Night Live's “Weekend Update,” The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, or The Colbert Report, including appropriate visual images in PowerPoint.
“A Modest Proposal”: Based upon the text taken from Project Gutenberg, Swift’s essay has been edited to conventionalize spelling and usage, with explanatory footnotes to provide historical and social contexts.
Mock Television Newscast or Editorial Assignment: This printout guides students in the development of their own satiric television newscast or editorial script based on a contemporary social issue.
Evaluation Rubric for Mock Television Newscast or Editorial Assignment: This rubric helps in the evaluation of students’ newscasts and editorial scripts.
From Theory to Practice
- To address students’ needs, teachers should cyclically return to a variety of instructional practices that include (among other things) use of modeling, guided practice, collaboration, and independent practice.
- Pearson and Gallagher’s (1983) gradual release of responsibility model includes three parts: modeling and guiding acquisition of new content, collaborating to refine students’ understanding of it, and presenting opportunities for students to try out new content independently (p.75).
The teacher’s use of guided reading provides students with a model for critical reading and for the sharing of the moves that an experienced reader uses to comprehend a difficult text.
- Langer’s (2002) call for balancing instruction includes separated, simulated, and integrated instruction.
- Separated instruction presents students with concepts, simulated instruction allows students to apply the concepts in specific contexts, and integrated instruction provides students with opportunities to apply their learning within a large and purposeful context of their own creation.
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.
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.
- 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
- 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.
- 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
- Computer with Internet access and projector
- Computers with word processing (such as Word) and presentation (such as PowerPoint) software
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Read Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” noting the essay’s overall structure and Swift’s use of various satiric techniques.
- 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.
- Complete a copy of the printout Commonly Used Satiric Devices based upon your reading of “A Modest Proposal.”
- 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.
- Review the PowerPoint Tool Tips.
- Review the Mock Television Newscast or Editorial Assignment and the Evaluation Rubric for Mock Television Newscast or Editorial Assignment.
- Enhance their comprehension of an edited and footnoted text of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” through multiple readings: guided, collaborative, and independent
- Identify Swift’s use of specific literary techniques in “A Modest Proposal” through collaboration
- Collaboratively identify a contemporary social problem, analyze it, and develop an outrageous satiric solution to resolve it
- Write the script for a fake newscast—supported by a PowerPoint presentation as a substitute for the blue screen graphics seen in broadcasts—as a means of presenting a satiric solution for a social problem to an audience
Session 1: Introduction to Guided Reading
- To introduce the idea of guided reading to students, begin by presenting a copy of the single-panel cartoon of two deer from Narrative Magazine: Literary Puzzler: Famous Last Words, and work through the first section, “Analyzing a Single-Panel Cartoon,” on the printout Guided Reading of “A Modest Proposal.”
- As you work with students, ask them to share what specific cognitive steps they used to understand the joke. You may need to share your steps first; however, emphasize that there are likely to be many sets of steps involved, all resulting in getting the joke.
- Introduce the idea of satire to students by presenting, reviewing, and discussing the website Hodgart on The Conditions of Political Satire.
- Ask students to give examples of books, essays, movies, and radio or television programs that employ satire. Ask them what issues these media criticize through the use of satire.
- Prepare students for their viewing of the episode of the satiric television program that you selected by reviewing the “Viewing an Episode of a Satiric Television Program” section of the printout Guided Reading of “A Modest Proposal.”
- Watch the program and discuss students’ various responses, again encouraging students to share the cognitive processes that allowed them to comprehend the satire.
Sessions 2 and 3: Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”
- Distribute the edited text of “A Modest Proposal.” Have students read background material on Swift’s life and career from Jonathan Swift.biography.
- Direct students to turn to the edited version of Swift’s pamphlet that you just distributed, pointing out the title, date of publication, and footnotes and how to use them.
- Complete the Guided Reading of “A Modest Proposal” printout. For each section, pose the question(s) before reading, and allow students to read the section and record their responses before asking them to share their understandings. Be prepared to answer their questions about how you, as an experienced reader, process Swift’s ideas. Use the Rubric for Assessing Guided Reading to evaluate students’ understanding.
Session 4: Techniques Commonly Used in Satire
- Distribute and review the printout Commonly Used Satiric Devices.
- Divide the class into pairs of students. Working collaboratively, have each pair fill in the printout with personal examples.
- Have each pair work collaboratively to locate examples of the techniques within Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” Note that students’ responses are likely to vary widely. They may not find examples within Swift’s essay for all of the techniques.
- At the end of class, have students share their responses in either small or large groups.
Session 5: Independent Reading
- Have students review their responses to the Guided Reading of “A Modest Proposal” and their work on Commonly Used Satiric Devices.
- Working independently and using the section headings from the Guided Reading of “A Modest Proposal,” have each student paraphrase the major ideas of each section of “A Modest Proposal.” Have them use the online interactive Notetaker.
Session 6: Prewriting for Mock Television Newscast or Editorial Assignment
- Distribute and review the Mock Television Newscast or Editorial Assignment and the Evaluation Rubric for Mock Television Newscast or Editorial Assignment.
- Divide the class into pairs, and have each pair complete the prewriting section of the first printout. Note that you may wish to prescreen specific episodes of the television programs that students viewed and analyzed during Session 1 now in this prewriting section, which repeats the analytical questioning used in Session 1.
- If time permits, have students begin drafting the announcer’s script.
Sessions 7 and 8: Drafting the Mock Television Newscast or Editorial Assignment
- Have students begin or continue drafting their scripts, consulting the Web for supporting information as necessary.
- Once students are satisfied with their drafts, have them begin determining and locating appropriate visual images to accompany the script. (Note that the Mock Television Newscast or Editorial Assignment printout provides suggestions for locating these audio-visual components.)
Session 9: Refining and Rehearsing Their Presentations
- Have students revise and edit their scripts.
- While sitting at computers, have students quietly rehearse their presentations, incorporating their PowerPoint content. Direct students to the PowerPoint Tool Tips printout if they need extra guidance using PowerPoint.
Additional Sessions for Presentations
- Determine the order of students’ presentations. You may wish to have the pairs of students draw numbers to do this. Once students are prepared and know when they’re expected to present, you should be able to complete 5–6 presentations in a class session. For example, for a class of 24 students making 12 presentations, you’ll need two to three class periods.
- To encourage better listening, ask students to complete their own Evaluation Rubric for Mock Television Newscast or Editorial Assignment printouts to evaluate each presentation.
As a means of publication, digitally record and post several of the presentations to the website for either your class or your school. Be certain to secure written consent from your students’ parents first.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Observe student participation in the guided reading sessions. Collect students’ Guided Reading of “A Modest Proposal” printouts. On these, make comments about students’ work and address any individual questions that students pose. Because students’ responses to the activities are designed to scaffold their reading of satire, view these responses as pieces of expressive discourse where the emphasis is upon exploring ideas and understandings, not upon getting correct answers or writing well. With this type of writing, it’s better to ignore grammar, usage, and mechanics. To guide assessment of student participation in these activities, see the Rubric for Assessing Guided Reading.
- Collect, quickly review, and briefly comment on students’ work on Commonly Used Satiric Devices. Check for completion and in order to monitor students’ understanding and application of concepts.
- Use the Evaluation Rubric for Mock Television Newscast or Editorial Assignment to evaluate both students’ scripts and their presentations.
This could be improved if there was a key included
This could be improved if there was a key included
This could be improved if there was a key included