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Satire in your publications:
Who is the joke really on?


by Jeff Kocur


Satire in your publications: Who is the joke really on?


Students think of themselves as smart and funny, but does that mean they can handle satire? Satire opens students up to many legal risks including libel and invasion of privacy. Use this activity to explore some of the pitfalls of using satire in your publications.


  • Students will explore the legal and ethical risks of using satire.
  • Students will identify potential ethical issues in using satire.
  • Students will become familiar with mistakes other school publications have made in publishing satire.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.2 Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.1.B Work with peers to promote civil, democratic discussions and decision-making, set clear goals and deadlines, and establish individual roles as needed.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range of formal and informal tasks.


50 minutes

Materials / resources

Case Studies Worksheet

From the Experts Worksheet

SPLC Article on UW-superior

Texas 1984



‘Advisory board’ formed after Ga. student paper runs ‘Modest Proposal’-style satire

Student satire publication lost funding, put on probation after article on sexual harassment

SPLC search results for “high school satire”

From experts:

Digiday highlights why many newspapers don’t do it.

NSPA and Hiestand explanation

Lesson step-by-step

Step 1 — Introduction (5 minutes)

Share a hypothetical satirical headline on your most high profile sport’s losing record.

Ask the students to identify the potential problems that might come with publishing a story like this.

Step 2 — Group assignment and work (40 minutes)

Separate the students into six groups and assign each of them a reading from the list above.

Students will read and complete the attached worksheet for the appropriate reading and report out to the class.

You could also turn this into a slideshow shared on Google docs with your students to fill out and present.

Step 3 — Exit ticket (5 minutes)

Students should answer the following:

What are the legal risks of running a satirical piece in student media?


Students could take this lesson a step further and develop a position of the use of satire. If they decided to use satire, they could also create an ethical statement outlining the ethical position of the students plus how they could handle satire ethical. See model for ethical guidelines, process.

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