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Understanding irony is crucial to an appreciation of literature and rhetoric. There are a number of ways for an English teacher to show his or her students the nuances of irony. To create an irony lesson plan, you should come up with a good definition of irony and of various types of irony, find examples of each type, and create an activity to engage the students in the lesson.
Depending on what level you are teaching, the definition you use for "irony" can range from very simple to very complex. For lower secondary students, a definition such as "words that express something other than what they seem to mean" might suffice. For more mature students, a more in-depth definition of irony will probably be necessary and might include an explanation of the difference between literal and intended meanings of words. An age-appropriate glossary of literary terms can provide at least a starting place for your irony lesson plan.
You should mainly address situational irony, where situation turns out differently than intended; verbal irony, where there is a difference between what the words actually mean and what they imply; and dramatic irony, where the the characters in the story do not have information that the audience does know. Of course, for these definitions to be helpful to students, your irony lesson plan should include plenty of examples to show how irony is used in literature or rhetoric. You can write these examples yourself, or you can draw them from books or poetry that the class has read.
A good irony lesson plan will not only teach students the definition of irony, but also help them understand its effect on the reader. By the end of the lesson, students should understand that irony can be either tragic or comic — or sometimes both at the same time. In Romeo and Juliet, for instance, Romeo believes Juliet is dead so he kills himself, though the audience knows she is actually about to wake up. You might ask students to consider this scene from Romeo's perspective, Juliet's perspective, and their own perspective, so that they will understand how the dramatic irony in the scene forms part of the tragic climax of the play. This example could be contrasted with another one in which dramatic irony is used for comedic purposes.
To help students internalize the content, an irony lesson plan should actively engage them in some way. An activity might involve analyzing and making a presentation about examples of irony that you provide. Alternatively, you could have the students come up with their own examples of situational, verbal, or dramatic irony, either independently or in groups. The possibilities for activities are nearly endless, but whatever activity you choose should help students to recognize irony when they encounter it. Students should also be able to analyze why writers use irony as well as be able to use irony effectively in their own speech and writing.
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