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Satire is hard


by Jeff Kocur


Satire is hard


Students are funny. Students are smart. But are they smart enough to be funny with satire in a way that advances the journalistic goals of the publication? Can they do it without violating the SPJ ethical guidelines or their own publications’ ethical guidelines? Use this lesson to help students understand purpose of satire as a journalistic tool.


  • Students will explore satire’s purpose in creating a message.
  • Students will explore satire in its application.
  • Students will discuss the mission statements of professional satirists versus their own.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.11-12.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.3 Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.


50 minutes

Materials / resources

Onion Mission Statement

Behind the scenes at The Onion

Your own mission statement

Understanding Satire resource sheet

Lesson step-by-step

Step 1 — Introductory video and discussion (15 minutes)

(The Understanding Satire resource sheet is to help provide teacher background)

Show the students the short video included which highlights the success of The Onion.

    1. Ask the students to work with pre assigned groups to answer two questions after viewing the video.
      1. What specific conventions of journalism is the Onion News Network critiquing?
      2. What is the journalistic message in the following stories?
        1. The story on the new congress threatening to move if they don’t get a new retractable roof.
        2. The story on daycare being outsourced.
        3. The story on U.S. breath being at all-time worst

Step 2 — Partner work (25 minutes)

Ask the students to read the mission statement for The Onion.

  1. What strikes you about the mission statement for The Onion?
  2.   Compare it to your own mission statement and have the students discuss the ways in which your mission statements vary. The students should come to a conclusion on why they vary so much.

    Step 3 — Exit ticket (10 minutes)

Before students leave, ask them to complete an exit ticket to answer the following:

In what ways is your newspaper’s mission statement incongruent with publishing work like The Onion’s? And what steps would you as an editor take to ensure your mission statement is not violated through the publication of a satirical piece.

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