A Modest Proposal Activities

Instructor: Jaclyn Scotto

Jaclyn is a high school English teacher and college professor. She has a doctorate in Education.

~'A Modest Proposal~' can sometimes be a challenging text to teach due to its language, age, and use of satire. However, there are activities that can improve understanding and make this reading fun!

Students often complain about reading older texts due to the difference in language from 'modern' English. In addition to the language challenges, A Modest Proposal also relies heavily on satire, to which students may be unaccustomed. There are a variety of activities you can use to help students get past these two roadblocks of reading so they can enjoy the text.


One common complaint from students in regard to this text is that the vocabulary is too difficult. Since it was written in 1729, this is an understandable frustration! There are multiple methods for helping students define vocabulary words before really interpreting the text. Depending on your students' level, you can adapt this to fit your needs. Keep in mind it is best to have students define vocabulary words during a first reading of the text, before you start getting into any deep analysis.

One very effective way to teach new vocabulary is to use a vocabulary square. Start by making a list of vocabulary words that students must know in order to interpret the text effectively. Then, you can decide how many words to assign to each student or group. For example, each group of four could be in charge of four words, or each individual student can be in charge of two words.

A vocabulary square is a piece of unlined paper that is divided into four sections: 'Etymology/Part of Speech,' 'Synonyms/Antonyms,' 'Logo/Illustration,' and 'Sentence.' There should also be a box in the center for the word itself. Each vocabulary square is dedicated to one word. Students fill in all four sections using a dictionary for assistance. If you want to add a technological component, have students use a website like

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