Satire Through Subtlety-- Using the Comics of Savage Chickens to Teach Satire in High School English

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I am a HUGE fan of Doug Savage's Savage Chickens "comics."  Savage Chickens is a single-frame comic drawn on a sticky note that illustrates the life of chickens whose experiences reveal the "savage" truths of the human existence.  Savage Chickens is sometimes absurd, sometimes dark, sometimes Shakespearean, and sometimes profound.  Savage Chickens takes a satirical look at life through the lens of chickens to satirize what it means to be human.  Isn't that the entire point of comedy and the entire point of satire?  

Teaching satire in secondary English classes really engages most students!  In fact, satire is my favorite unit to teach because my students get so much out of it!  In order to prepare students for longer, more complex satirical texts such as Brave New World and 1984,  I like to have my students learn the tools of the satirical trade by first using short pieces-- and Savage Chickens is a great text for doing just that! 

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Introducing Satire with Savage Chickens

1.  Direct your students to www.SavageChickens.com and have them select a "sticky note" comic to analyze either individually or with a group.  Alternatively, select a comic to share with the entire class.  Check out the book publications by Doug Savage and consider purchasing his books for your classes.  One of my FAVORITES is his book on Shakespeare!  Students can use these as a lens to further their understanding of Shakespeare's plays.  I've even used one on a TEST in the past and had students explain the connection between the comic and the play.  Students were LAUGHING their way through the test!

2.  Once you've decided upon the comic, use the "Getting Savage with Satire" FREE SATIRE GUIDE by Bespoke ELA to analyze the comic and identify the devices within the comic.

3.  After identifying devices, students then need to explain how each device makes the comic satirical in order to arrive at the satirical meaning of the text.  This is the same process students will use when analyzing longer satirical works, but beginning with shorter, more digestible texts will help familiarize them with the terms of satire before launching into an entire novel study. 

Sample Analysis

This Shakespeare comic pokes fun at the idea of the "inner critic" that we all carry inside of us that tends to rear his/her/its ugly head as we write or attempt to create something new.  This is the same critical voice that can stand in the way and inhibit the creative process, and it's important to learn how to turn that voice off during the initial stages of writing.  This comic uses irony through the fact that Shakespeare would use the words "omg" and "crap" but also ironic in that Shakespeare would struggle at all with writing since he was a genius.  In reality, Shakespeare would never have said these words although he may have struggled with writer's block at times.  The word "unreasonable" in the caption also brings to light the idea that we are our own worst enemies and that we are hypercritical of our ideas.  With Shakespeare, even his worst ideas would have probably seemed brilliant to everyone else simply because of his writing prowess.  This comic uses mockery to poke fun at the idea that we cannot allow our inner critics to stop us from creating something new.    

Typically, I would have students practice with at least three comics by Savage Chickens before we move on to short written texts from The Onion and then ultimately to the novel study.  These shorter pieces are sure to spark the interest of students while teaching them the devices that satirists use to convey their messages about life.

Be sure to check out this "Getting Savage with Satire" FREE SATIRE GUIDE to use with your students for your next unit on SATIRE!

How do you introduce and scaffold the skills required to understand the nuances of satire?  We'd love to hear from you!


About the Author

Meredith is the founder and creator of TeachWriting.org and Bespoke ELA.  She has taught high school English for 10+ years in Dallas, Chicago, and New York City and holds a M.A. in Literature from Northwestern University.  She has always had a connection to the written word-- through songwriting, screenplay writing, and essay writing-- and she enjoys the process of teaching students how to express their ideas.  Meredith enjoys life with her husband, daughter, and sweet pups.


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