The following lesson plan was written by Nicholas Decoulos for Don't Forget to Write: for the Secondary Grades (Jossey-Bass, 2011), a collection of lesson plans compiled by 826 National, a network of nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping students, ages six through eighteen, with expository and creative writing, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. This lesson plan is intended for one session of ninety to one hundred and twenty minutes.
Anyone can say, “Same to you, buddy!” In this workshop, you’ll learn why it’s not wise to cross a poet; they will write clever and unflattering poems about you that may become famous! Learn to use the blazon form to make sure your next comeback has a certain sophisticated burn.
This workshop is meant to teach high school students about understanding humor and its boundaries, as well as forms of poetry that can be written to express humor.
The workshop begins with a short icebreaker of perhaps some funny personal story that happened to a student. (Best to start with one of your own.) It can also be a joke the student might know. (Note: Unfortunately, because they are high school students, it may be hard to censor the story or joke that the student might tell, but this can be an opportunity, as the lesson
is designed to help understand the boundaries of humor, what is funny, what is just mean, and the problem of going too far. More on that later.) This becomes a jumping-off point to then discuss…
What makes a story funny? Many students might answer: “A punch line.” But then we have to pull specifics. A lot of times a joke is funny because it’s either hyperbolic or simply unexpected. And even if it seems inane, a great example of this is “Why did the chicken cross
the road?” Even though we may not laugh now because we know the joke, it was once funny
because it was just simply unexpected to the person who first heard it.
Next, the teacher selects a poem that contains humor, something easy to decipher—preferably with puns. Read the poem aloud with the class and you may hear laughs. Once the poem is finished, ask those students who laughed why they did. Have the students really try to understand where that laughter stems from.
Then have the class read a more difficult, but still humorous poem. The best example is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130. This poem is riddled with the unexpected and hyperbolic. This one could be more challenging, so you may want to read it twice. Afterward, ask those students who laughed why they did. If they didn’t, ask why they didn’t. See if they can find what should have been funny or why this might have been humorous at one time.
After finding the “funny” in two separate poems, ask the students how the two poems
compare. Often, the poems are about a person. You can share that Sonnet 130 is known as a blazon. This style of poetry doesn’t always have to be humorous but sometimes is, listing, for instance, the physical attributes of someone. Next, ask the students to write a joke or a short poem in the styles they’ve talked about or seen in the class. To prevent hurt feelings, you can tell
the students they should write about someone they don’t know personally, like a celebrity. Then have the students share what they’ve written.
Students will get the hang of it as they hear each other’s jokes or short poems.
The next step is to have students expand their jokes or short poems into longer ones—perhaps like the blazons they’ve read today. Some students may find it easier to write multiple short poems. In this case, suggest other styles of poems, like the haiku. This can challenge some
students to make a joke in only three rather short lines.
Throughout this workshop you may find students playing with boundaries a bit. Ask students to use discretion toward the person they are writing about—and if they must, to change a name and to never directly hurt anyone’s feelings. Once students understand that humor doesn’t have to derive from making fun of anyone and can come from hyperbole and the unexpected, it will be easier for them to recognize wittier humor and make it more accessible in their creative writing.
Ultimately, this workshop should help students understand different styles of poetry better and also understand how to develop humor or jokes in a way that perhaps doesn’t offend or cross lines that aren’t worth crossing. This workshop can prove to be an important tool for knowledge of poetry, social skill development, and experience in creative writing.