OER Administrator
English Language Arts
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • Grade 12 ELA
  • Satire
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    A Popular Way To Voice Criticism

    A Popular Way To Voice Criticism


    In this lesson, students will look at a classic satire that makes fun of and critiques various aspects of politics and government. Students will think, Why would satire have been a particularly popular way to voice criticism, especially when rulers were kings or emperors?


    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will choose for working with your students.

    Drawing of Gulliver's Trip

    • After students share their drawings in small groups, invite a few students to share their drawings with the whole class.
    • Students will discuss why they chose the part of the trip that they did as part of the next Whole Group Discussion.


    In small groups, share your drawing of a part of Gulliver’s trip.

    • Explain why you chose to draw the part of his trip that you did.

    Gulliver's Travels

    • This is a complex text! You may need to spend some time wading through the actual events of the two chapters, but it will pay off, as students realize that they can understand complex and ancient literature on their own. An annotation for the Gulliver’s Travels excerpt is provided to help you here and with the political annotation later in the lesson.
    • Both the drawing question and the favorite part question can naturally lead you to look at specific text and talk about its interesting features.
    • Students might pick the descriptions of the town for drawing, for instance, and you can lead students to talk about Swift’s great imagination and the entertainment it provides. This is a good opening for concrete detail discussion.
    • The favorite part is likely to be Gulliver’s action of dousing the fire, and you can talk easily about why this might have been included—for humor, entertainment.
    • The latter event, Gulliver’s successful extinguishing of the fire, is a great opportunity to talk about euphemism since the language Swift uses so fogs what’s actually happening. Ask students why this makes the section funnier. You can also talk about the farcical quality of the scene, since it’s an extremely unlikely situation. Situational irony is logical here, too, as is incongruity: all are the source of this very funny scene.
    • A particularly adept group could be given this scene to consider and close read, looking for the various strategies that make it funny, identifying each carefully.

    Work Time

    Discuss these questions about the two chapters from Gulliver’s Travels that you read for homework.

    • What actually happens in these two chapters?
    • Begin with Gulliver’s journey to the city Mildendo. What does he see?
    • What’s the gist of the conversation between Reldresal (the king’s principal secretary of private affairs) and Gulliver?
    • Where does Gulliver go in Chapter 5, and what does he do on the king’s behalf against the Blefuscus?
    • What crisis presents itself when Gulliver comes home, and how does he solve it? What’s the response of the empress?
    • Why did you choose to draw the part of his trip that you did?
    • What was your favorite part of the two chapters, and why? Why does this book remain popular?

    Vocabulary in Gulliver's Travels

    • Monitor students and lend assistance as needed.

    Work Time

    Note any unknown words from Gulliver’s Travels.

    • Work with a partner to look up definitions and rewrite them in your own words.

    Open Notebook

    To Vex the World

    • Allow students to have a Whole Group Discussion after they discuss the question with partner.
      • SWD: Since the academic vocabulary in this section is substantial, consider going through (explaining and defining as needed) prior to the discussion and also during the discussion. Encourage students to use the academic vocabulary in their own sentences as a way to apply the academic vocabulary as well as responding to the questions.
    • Swift’s book has come to be seen as a children’s story and has been incarnated many times as a movie aimed at young adults and children. This has happened because the aspects Swift included to make the satire more palatable and entertaining are what’s focused on, not his harsher political points. Do people lose sight of his more important points because of this candy-coating?
    • This point will recur with discussions of modern political satire, like that of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, so it’s worth spending a bit of time on here.

    Work Time

    One critic said that Swift meant “to vex the world, not divert it.”

    Discuss the following with a partner.

    • Was he successful? What examples from the text would you point out to support your thinking?

    Children's Version

    • As you discuss these questions with the class, you can also consider where this novel goes on the satirical tone scale—is it more Horatian or Juvenalian?
    • Consider asking students: How would Swift feel about what’s happened to his novel? Students who enjoy creative writing might write a short review from Swift’s point of view.
    • You can also hint at lessons down the road by asking if students can think of any political satirists today who similarly coat their satire with diversion.
      • ELL: Invite comments about political satirists from other countries, and encourage ELLs to share about their culture. Always infuse a sense of respect of other cultures by all students.

    Work Time

    There have been several children’s movies produced based on this novel.

    Discuss the following with your classmates.

    • Why? What aspects of this novel lend themselves to children?
    • If you were writing a children’s version of this novel, what would you include, and what would you leave out?

    Political Satire Annotation

    • This part of the lesson and most of Lesson 20 aim at close reading of the text and a sharp focus on political satire.
    • This individual student work sets up a jigsaw activity in Lesson 20.
    • Lesson 20’s jigsaw activity consists of two rounds. In round one, students meet in groups based on the area of satire they were assigned and share their findings. In round two, they reassemble in new groups that contain at least one “expert” per area of satire and teach to the other students what she or he has learned.
    • Therefore, it is important to assign areas of satire as evenly as possible. Depending on the number of students in your class, some areas of satire might not be covered.
      • ✓ If you have 16–19 students, assign four of the topics to four or five students each.
      • ✓ If you have 20–24 students, assign five of the topics to four or five students each.
      • ✓ If you have 25–29 students, assign five of the topics to five or six students each.
      • ✓ If you have 30–35 students, assign each topic to five or six students.
      • ✓ If you have 36 or more students, assign each topic to six or more students.
    • Absenteeism is a potential problem in Lesson 20. In round two of the jigsaw, each group must have an expert for each of the assigned areas of satire. Keep this in mind when assigning the areas of satire.
    • Students can be assigned annotation tasks based on difficulty level. Swift’s views on imperialism and views on firepower are probably the most difficult tasks. The easiest tasks are his views on political parties and the causes of war.

    Work Time

    This novel is most famous for its commentary on various aspects of government and politics.

    Annotate the excerpt from Gulliver’s Travels for the area of satire assigned to you.

    • Swift’s views on the causes of war
    • Swift’s views on firepower
    • Swift’s views on imperialism
    • Swift’s views on political parties
    • Swift’s views on religion
    • Swift’s views on the fragility of a king’s favoritism

    One Key Point

    • Ask at least one student from each topic to share one key point with the whole class.


    Consider what you annotated about your topic.

    • Be prepared to share one key point with your classmates.

    Political Satire Annotation

    • Encourage students to write down any questions they have about the text and bring them to class.


    Continue to reread the excerpt from Gulliver’s Travels.

    • Annotate the text for your area of political satire.
    • Consider as you annotate: how does Swift feel about leaders and their advisors?