Friday, October 16, 2009

Teaching Irony

Last evening a six-year-old named Falcon Heene dominated the news and social media as the world looked on anxiously as a mylar balloon presumably containing the boy drifted across the state of Colorado. Turns out he was in no harm, having instead nested comfortably in a box tucked into the corner of the family's attic. Followers of the story are now singing a chorus of “Foul!” with rumors circulating that the spectacle was all an elaborate publicity stunt for a family who seems to love being in the spotlight.

Unlike countless other bloggers logging in to contribute their two cents to the story, I don't really have much to say about the family, their possible motivations, or the viral (and admittedly very funny) meme videos that are surfacing. Instead, I want to share something that one of my students said to me this morning.

A few weeks ago I began preparing my classes to read the O. Henry short story, “The Ransom of Red Chief.” It seems nearsighted to teach O. Henry without first discussing irony, so after taking a day to give the classes a definition and a few clear examples (none of them being the ironically un-ironic song by Alanis Morrisette), we were set to read. (If interested, here are some of the examples I used.) Students were able to identify irony in Red Chief, so I felt I did an adequate job.

This morning I had a student come to me with an exciting observation. While watching one of the major news outlets cover the story of the “Balloon Boy,” she had overheard the reporter mention that it was ironic that a boy named Falcon has been suspected of taking to the skies. My ever-observant student couldn't wait to share the reporter's error with me.

She eagerly explained that the reporter had mistaken a coincidence for irony. After all, the student noted, our class definition of irony is an outcome that is the opposite of what is expected. In this case, it would have been ironic only if the boy's name had been that of a land-dwelling creature. A boy named Turtle or Goldfish flying off into the Colorado skyline would have been ironic.

The true test of learning is the transference of knowledge. My students will soon forget the specifics of the story they read with me, but they will never forget what irony is.
Save to delicious Saved by 0 users
Digg Technorati StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo
ma.gnolia squidoo newsvine live netscape tailrank mister-wong blogmarks slashdot spurl

5 Responses:

Mr. Tom Krawczewicz said...


Great example! I will share it with my students on Monday. I really like the example of irony you put together using SlideRocket and wanted to let you know that I created a pbworks site ( that has several VISUAL examples of literary terms, including irony. It seems to help the students get those abstract concepts such as irony. I hope your students can get something out of it as well.

Chris said...

It would be ironic if Falcon grows up to be a well adjusted, productive member of society!

Winnie Yu said...

I would be ironic that he didn't actually fly. A falcon not being able to fly freely in the sky. The ill-built balloon could, but he couldn't.

lix said...

Loved your slide rocket presentation! Thanks for sharing with us.

Cara said...

What is the first example in your slide show from? Movie/television show?

Thanks for posting this!