Teaching Sarcasm to ESL Students

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

Teaching sarcasm can be challenging, but it's not impossible. This lesson details methods and tips teachers can use to teach sarcasm to English as a second language (ESL) students.

Teaching Sarcasm: Techniques

The concept of sarcasm, or irony, is fairly universal, although the ways in which it is delivered can vary greatly among languages and cultures. Teaching sarcasm to English as a second language (ESL) students is difficult, but it can be accomplished with a combination of techniques, including:

  • Examples
  • Demonstrations
  • Exercises
  • Discussions

One of the best ways to begin the process is to simply ask students to define sarcasm. If your question is met with blank stares, try reading the dictionary definition of sarcasm in order to get the conversation started.

Examples of Sarcasm

Many ESL learners benefit from specific demonstrations and examples, largely because a major part of language acquisition is based on hearing and seeing the concepts being taught. When you speak, be sure to overemphasize which words should be stressed in order to convey sarcasm. To avoid insulting your students while using them as guinea pigs, find and show stock photographs of anonymous people and then demonstrate how a sarcastic comment can be made. For instance:

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