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Do your students have a strong understanding of irony? In my experience, getting students to grasp the meaning of this literary device, particularly situational irony, can be a bit of a challenge. They tend to use the word loosely, often confusing irony with what is actually just coincidental. Over the years of teaching English, I have discovered some practical ways to help students understand irony—from learning the different types of irony to recognizing its appearance in art and everyday life. Below are my 5 best tips for teaching irony in the ELA classroom.
Before diving into my tips for teaching this concept, it is important to note the distinctions between the three different types of irony. There is verbal irony, dramatic irony, and situational irony. I have found this last type—situational irony—to be the one that causes the most confusion. Students tend to have a better understanding of dramatic and verbal irony, so I tend to focus most of my efforts on situational as it is the one that is most difficult to understand.
Here is a simple breakdown of the three different types of irony with some examples:
Even after breaking down the three types, students will still likely struggle to fully grasp what irony is. My first tip for how you can help solidify their understanding of irony is to show them examples in different forms. I like to show students real-world, visual, film, and literary examples of irony:
To take this a step further, you can get students to identify (out loud) which types of irony are used in the examples you give (i.e. verbal, dramatic, situational).
I think there is value in exposing students to a variety of examples, so I do this with an irony practice assignment. These consist of several written examples of irony. Students must read each example, identify which type of irony it is, and then explain why it is this type of irony. Here’s one example I use:
This, of course, would be an example of verbal irony. Mrs. Jones is saying one thing and meaning the opposite. She does not really mean that they do not do anything important in her class. She thinks the opposite.
I also suggest getting students to create their own examples. These can be similar to those that were created for them on the practice assignment. You can get your students to write examples of each of the three types on task cards. Or you might get students to actually write something—a story, for example—that employs irony!
My next tip is to get students to read short fiction that employs this device. Although isolating the term and its three types is necessary at first, ELA students should also be able to identify and understand it in the broader context of a whole story. To help with this, I like to assign stories that demonstrate clear examples of irony. Below are some stories that you can integrate into your curriculum for this purpose. Each one exemplifies situational irony.
Want to make your students extra engaged in your irony lesson? Add a competitive element. My favorite way to raise the stakes is with the Reading Escape Challenge. For this activity, students need to use their understanding of the different types of irony to reveal a code and escape from vicious alligators! This is a fun and interactive way to develop your students’ understanding of this device.
The last tip I have for teaching irony is to use intentional classroom decor. Incorporate irony into your classroom environment so that students are surrounded by helpful reminders of what they have learned. I like to hang “Isn’t It Ironic?” posters on my classroom walls to help students retain their understanding of situational irony.
Another idea is to start class each week with an ironic moment of the week bell-ringer. Simply hang a new “ironic moment” poster on the wall each week and get students to raise their hands to explain why the example is ironic at the beginning of class!
There you have it! I hope you found these tips for teaching irony useful! You can grab ready-to-use irony resources by clicking the images below. If you are looking for other tips and resources for teaching ELA skills, click here!
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