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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



Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice



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.

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“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.

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Ross, D., & Frey, N. (2009). Learners need purposeful and systematic instruction. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53(1), 75–78.

  • 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).


Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Lapp, D. (2010). Responding when students don’t get it. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54(1), 57-60.

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.


Carroll, P.S., De Luise, R., & Howard, T. (2009). Best literacy practices for secondary English language arts classrooms. In S.R. Parris, D. Fisher, & K. Headley (Eds.). Adolescent Literacy, Field Tested: Effective Solutions for Every Classroom (pp. 94-104). Newark: International Reading Association.

  • 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.

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