Teaching Verbal, Situational, and Dramatic Irony

According to the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts, irony is a literary device that should be taught in both 8th and 11th grades. To help you tackle teaching this complex skill of recognizing irony and the effects of its use, I have put together some definitions and examples of irony, plus a super helpful worksheet for middle and high school students.

No, irony is not the opposite of wrinkly!

Irony is a literary device in which words express a contradiction between appearance and reality— in irony, the reality is usually the opposite of what it seems. In literature, there are three types of irony:

  • Verbal irony is when a speaker or writer says one thing but actually means the opposite. For example, when your mom walks into your filthy bedroom and says, “I see you’ve cleaned your room!” Sarcasm is one type of verbal irony.
  • Situational irony is when the outcome of a situation is inconsistent with what we expect would logically or normally occur. It is the reverse of what we expect will be or happen. An example of situational irony would be if a thief’s house were broken into while he was robbing someone’s house.
  • Dramatic irony is when the audience or the reader is aware of something that a character does not know. For example, when Romeo believes Juliet is dead, but the audience knows that she has only been given a potion to sleep.

Generally, irony involves some deliberate deception or pretense. Authors use irony to make a point and bring attention to some important aspects of a story. Irony can be both comic and tragic.

For example, in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, several instances of verbal, dramatic, and situational irony are used to enhance the reader’s understanding and appreciation of the novel. Through irony, we can see what the animals do not, and therefore, can understand the deeper meaning and the warning that Orwell intended.

Here is an example from Animal Farm exemplifying both dramatic and verbal irony:

The animals now also learned that Snowball had never—as many of them had believed hitherto—received the order of ‘Animal Hero, First Class.’ This was merely a legend which had been spread some time after the Battle of the Cowshed by Snowball himself. (Chapter Eight)

We, the reader, know that Snowball had in fact been awarded “Animal Hero First Class” although the pigs are now denying it. The words “as many of them had believed hitherto” and “merely a legend” are ironic in tone.

To help you teach irony to your students, I have put together this fun, low-cost activity: Verbal, Situational, and Dramatic Irony Activity

Some of my favorite short stories to illustrate the power of irony include:

  • The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
  • The Necklace by Guy De Maupassant
  • The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin
  •  The Sniper by Liam O’Flaherty

Need help deciding if something is ironic? Give isitironic.com a try. Members submit examples, and readers vote on whether they are examples of irony, some of which are hilarious!

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