Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Lesson in Irony...

“You live you learn
You love you learn
You cry you learn
You lose you learn
You bleed you learn
You scream you learn.”
~Alanis Morrissette
You Learn
jagged little pill

How many of you remember Alanis Morissette and her CD Jagged Little Pill? Think back to 1995 when the CD was released…for me (and many of you dedicated followers of my blog) it was our freshman year of high school. I remember all too well how I played the CD over and over; Alanis and her harmonica were definitely one of my favorites. Well, I never would have thought that the lyrics to one of her songs could be used to teach students about irony. But today, I saw it in action, and it worked!

To understand how the lesson worked in a ninth grade English classroom, you need to know exactly what irony is. The following is exactly what students learned today:

Irony is an implied discrepancy between what is said and what is meant.

Irony is the use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning; a statement or situation where the meaning is contradicted by the appearance or presentation of the idea. Three kinds of irony are commonly recognized:

1. Verbal irony is a figure of speech in which the intended meaning of a statement differs from the meaning that the words appear to express. (When the author says one thing and means something else.)
2. Situational irony involves an incongruity between what is expected or intended and what actually occurs. (A discrepancy between the expected result and actual results.)
3. Dramatic irony is an effect produced by a narrative in which the audience knows more about present or future circumstances than a character in the story. (When an audience perceives something that a character in the literature does not know.)

Now, how boring is that? To a group of sleepy eyed freshmen in first block, the answer is VERY BORING!!! But then, we passed out the lyrics to Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” and you could hear the buzz begin in the classroom as they read over the words. “Who is Alanis Morissette?” one student asked. At that moment, I felt my age creeping up on me, but I couldn’t help but smile as I walked around the room overhearing conversations that were taking place. Students were given highlighters and asked to mark the different examples of irony found in the lyrics. Taking the task one step further, they were asked to converse with each other and identify the type of ironies they found. They were extremely receptive to this, and I watched as the student’s papers became a colorful collage of IRONY! They were laughing as they read the lyrics and discussed the assignment. And then the real kicker…the students watched the music video. I couldn’t help but laugh with them as we watched Alanis throw herself around in the car and talk to, well, multiple versions of herself. I thought back to when I was in the ninth grade, how awkward of a time that was, with my baggy pants and my Woodstock shirt that I am sure is now somewhere tucked away in the attic.

So, check out the lyrics and see if you can see the irony here...

Ironic By Alanis Morissette
An old man, turned 98
He won the lottery, and died the next day
It's a black fly in your chardonnay
It's a death row pardon, two minutes too late
And isn't it ironic?
Don't you think?

It's like rain, on your wedding day
It's a free ride, when you've already paid
It's the good advice, that you just didn't take
And who would've thought? It figures

Mr. Play-It-Safe, was afraid to fly
He packed his suitcase, and kissed his kids goodbye
He waited his whole damn life, to take that flight
And as the plane crashed down he thought, "Well isn't this nice?"
And isn't it ironic?
Don't you think?

It's like rain, on your wedding day
It's a free ride, when you've already paid
It's the good advice, that you just didn't take
And who would've thought? It figures

Well life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything's okay and everything's going right
And life has a funny way of helping you out
When you think everything's gone wrong and everything blows up in your face

A traffic jam, when you're already late
A "No smoking" sign, on your cigarette break
It's like ten thousand spoons, when all you need is a knife
It's meeting the man of my dreams, and then meeting his beautiful wife
And isn't it ironic?
Don't you think?
A little too ironic?
Yeah I really do think

It's like rain, on your wedding day
It's a free ride, when you've already paid
It's the good advice, that you just didn't take
And who would've thought?
It figures

Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
And life has a funny, funny way, of helping you out
Helping you out

So, do I think students now understand the three types of irony? You bet they do!!! And later today, I even heard one student still singing the song in the hall. Maybe I thought this was a cool assignment because we used some old lyrics to a song I’ve heard a thousand times. Maybe the students thought it was cool because they got to use highlighters. But the fact is, the lesson was cool because it worked. They were given words from a “text” that they could relate to and make “real-world sense” out of…the video and highlighters were just a plus.
And today, on my commute home, I couldn’t help but dig out my Alanis Morissette CD and throw it into my CD player. I turned it up and jammed to the lyrics. It’s amazing that it has lasted this long without a scratch. What was even more amazing is that I still remember the words to the songs. I guess I really am a product of the nineties, because I still love that whining harmonica and the grunge-pop sound of the guitar. Who knew that I was studying irony all those years ago without even being aware of it? I can’t wait to use this with my students in the classroom!


  1. You are awesome!! You're going to be a great teacher!!

  2. What a fantastic way to introduce the concept of irony. Love it!

    Also, I cannot tell you how much I loved this song back in the day -- and still do, if I'm honest! I vividly remember singing at the top of my lungs to it over and over again, and it brings back a lot of great memories -- some bittersweet. And to confess, I could still sing it from memory without missing a beat. Thanks for sharing!

  3. The only thing I worry about is that only one example of irony is even used in that song...the man afraid of flying who finally takes the step and dies. The rest is just bad luck or coincidence. Sorry but true.