Tips on Teaching Irony to Adult Learners

Posted by on March 1st, 2016

There are many literary devices which your students should be familiar with as part of their Language Arts instruction. Among those concepts is irony. It is necessary to teach the concept both in definition and in practice so students are able to successfully identify irony in action.

Irony Defined

Irony is defined as a contrast between an expectation verses what actually happens. There are three types of irony: situational, verbal and dramatic. It is essential for students to recognize all three.

  • Situational – Something happens that we would not expect to happen.

Ex. The fire station burned down.

  • Verbal – What is said verses what is meant. The most common form of verbal irony is sarcasm. Overstatements and understatements are also considered verbal irony.

Ex. A person saying, “What a lovely day outside!” when it’s cloudy and raining.

  • Dramatic – Readers know something that the characters do not.

Ex. While watching a horror movie the audience sees the assailant hiding in the closet, but the characters are unaware.

Teaching Strategies

Many strategies exist for teaching irony to your students. Among them are the use of videos, music, slideshows, and performance tasks. Providing ample opportunities for students to engage with the concept will strengthen their knowledge and application ability.



Irony is often used in song lyrics. As a result, songs may be a strong tool for teaching irony. Artist Alanis Morrissett had a popular song entitled “Ironic” that can be used to introduce and demonstrate situational irony. The internet also boasts many lists of top ironic songs. Create a playlist of songs to listen to and review with students. Print the lyrics and have them underline the instances of irony as they occur.


Slide Shows

PowerPoints, Prezi, and other slide presentations are ways to enhance whiteboard instruction. With the ability to add sound, graphics and links, the information becomes more interesting for learners. Slide shows can be used to show the definitions of various types of irony. They can also be used to show examples and give students opportunities to practice identifying the irony being displayed.



YouTube and other sites offer videos that teach the concept of irony. The videos are often separated according to the three types of irony. As you prepare your lessons on irony, incorporate the videos as a hook or to demonstrate the specific concept that you are highlighting. The Web English Teacher site offers videos followed by short assessments and other research links.


Performance Tasks

Performance tasks can provide formal and informal assessment of students’ knowledge of irony. Worksheets allowing students to identify and categorize instances of irony are available in many formats. Written tasks such as journaling about irony as seen in the world provides an opportunity for students to make connections between the real world and what they are learning. An extension of this activity is having students share articles or stories they believe demonstrate irony and asking peers to agree or disagree.


Irony is a concept that plays out in a number of ways. Using a multi-faceted approach will allow you to cover irony in its entirety with your students. The layers of instruction will help ensure that students are equipped to recognize irony in many settings including real life, literature, illustrations and more.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *