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Irony Lesson Plans: Short Stories for Teaching Irony in Literature

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/17/2012

Irony can be a hard concept for students to grasp, even when every other word out of their mouth is sarcastic. Help students understand irony in literature with these short stories.

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    Before reading these short stories for teaching irony in literature, you may want to review what irony is. Of all the lesson plans I've tried, this one works best.

    It works a lot better than the time I got so enthralled with teaching irony in literature that I stayed up all night writing irony lesson plans, all of which had the same purpose: to convince students that everything in life is ironic (except for things in that song by Alanis Morissette, which is ironic).

    After not sleeping for three days and accidentally stapling my hand to a bulletin board, I decided the best way to teach irony in literature is to use the following short stories.

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    Short Stories for Teaching Irony

    1. Kate Chopin's "Story of an Hour" - First her husband's dead, which makes her sad but happy. Then her husband's alive, which kills her. All this takes place in an hour (you may have figured that out from the title). After reading "Story of an Hour," I started feeling paranoid and plotted to derail a train I was supposed to be on in order to test my wife. The Department of Homeland Security frowns on such activity, so I continued my life as before. Here's a good "Story of an Hour" lesson plan.
    2. Isaac Asimov's "The Machine that Won the War" - The ultimate in situational irony as Earth defeats a technologically advanced alien civilization by using the simplest machine ever created -- a coin. It's like the time you got a 'B' on your physics test after studying for hours and Donny Dumbbutt got an 'A' using a random number generator on the multiple choice and matching sections. Examine statistical anamolies to teach just how ridiculous this victory was. Explain what the odds are of flipping a coin x number of times and coming up with the correct answer each time. For sports fans, look up statistical anamolies in sports: Villanova's shooting percentage in the 1985 NCAA championship game, the Orlando Magic's 3-point shooting percentage in the 2009 Eastern Conference NBA Finals, the odds of David Tyree catching a pass with one hand against his helmet in the 2008 Super Bowl, or me finishing first in the 2008 Gran Pheelasco Sprint Triathlon in Boulder City, NV.
    3. Susan Glaspell's "Trifles" - Yes, I know it's not a short story. It is, however, a short play with irony. Chauvinistic men don't learn the mistake of overlooking seemingly unimportant Trifles. If you've never read "Trifles" with your class, let me change your mind with this "Trifles" review (Note to male readers: never strangle your wife's bird).
    4. Saki's "The Interlopers" - Don't you hate it when clan leaders sign a peace treaty and get eaten by wolves before they tell anyone else? The "Interlopers" makes for good creative writing lesson plans: (1) rewrite the ending; (2) imitate the story's style with a modern day update; (3) write about how the story would be different if cell phones had been invented.
    5. Stephen Crane's "The Blue Hotel" - Don't you hate it when you accuse someone of wrong doing, hire a private investigator, spread lies on the Internet, causing him or her to commit suicide? In "The Blue Hotel," the roles are reversed. A man accuses another of cheating at poker and nobody believes him.
    6. O'Henry's "The Ransom of Red Chief" - Anybody who's ever babysat a brat can relate to Red Chief's kidnappers. A prereading discussion on wishing for something, getting it, and wishing you hadn't makes for an engaging discussion, kind of like the time I begged my Mom to let me open a Christmas present the week before Christmas, her not letting me do it, opening the corner of it when she went to the grocery store, and finding it replaced with coal on Christmas morning.