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Teaching Guide

Teaching Catch-22

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Like what you see? We've also got a complete Online Course about Catch-22, with three weeks worth of readings, activities, assignments, and quizzes.

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Almost everyone knows that a catch-22 is a situation in which there's no way out—basically a lose-lose. But that's just scratching the surface. Catch-22 is a deep, dense novel packed with war, bureaucracy, and ethics.

We want to make sure that you don't get trapped in a catch-22 while teaching Catch-22.

In this guide you will find

  • many assignments, including one that explores the novel's use of satire.
  • historical context on World War II.
  • reading quizzes on all 42 chapters of the novel. (Why not Catch-42?)

No catch-22s here. Using this teaching guide is a win-win situation.

What's Inside Shmoop's Literature Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring literature to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students.
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop’s teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

Objective: Catch-22 is a member of the satire society of literature, no questions asked. 

In this activity, your students will explore definitions of satire and ways in which satire plays out in the novel. They'll answer critical questions about specific satiric instances in Catch-22 and then write and enact their own satirical plays based on them (or another historical event). They'll also write brief analyses of their plays explaining the elements of satire they have chosen to include. 

Length of Lesson: 1-3 class periods. You'll need one class for the initial class discussion and to give students their assignment, and another 1-2 classes a week or so later for student performances (if you choose to have students perform their plays).

NOTE: If students who choose to work in groups are unable to meet in their groups outside of class, you may also need to give them some class time to work on their scripts and analyses.

Step 1: In class, direct your students to explore the definition of satire on the Literary Devices website. They should read the whole entry, including the specific examples of satire in literature. Additionally, have them read Shmoop's discussion of satire in another classic satirical novel, Vanity Fair.

While exploring these two discussions of satire, students should take notes on the following critical questions:

  1. What, exactly, is satire?
  2. What are some examples of satirical works that you have already read?
  3. How does Heller use satire in Catch-22? For what purpose? What are specific examples and instances?
  4. What are some examples of satire in your own life?
  5. What are some historical and political events that you think would be interesting to satirize?

Step 2: In class, lead your students in a discussion of the their responses to these questions.

Step 3: Assignment time. Direct students write their own satirical plays and then analyze their scripts, explaining the elements of satire they have incorporated and linking these to the novel. You can have them work individually, in pairs, or in groups for this part; you can also leave that choice up to them, which will keep both the introverts and the extroverts happy. 

Here's a prompt to get everyone on the same page:

Keeping in mind our class discussion, your thoughts on what satire is, and how Heller uses it in Catch-22, write and enact your own short play satirizing either political events depicted in the novel or another historical or political happening. If you choose the second option (another historical or political happening), you'll need to either draw on your own knowledge of the subject or do a bit of research to make sure you've got your facts straight. Or both. 

Once you've written your play, write a brief analysis of it that includes an explanation of the historical event that you are satirizing and points out the different elements that you have decided to satirize as well as how you approached doing so.

To summarize, here are the final pieces you'll need to submit for this assignment: 

  1. Your play’s script, complete with a catch-y title (get it? Catch-y? As in 22?) and cast list (a.k.a., Dramatis Personae);
  2. Your analysis of your play (1-2 pages).

Both of these pieces should be in final copy format, please.

Step 4 [Optional]: Give any students who wish to enact their plays class time to do so. If students worked alone on their plays, they can still share them. Just select a few folks for a read aloud and make sure everyone has a copy of the script. Follow each performance with a class discussion of the elements of satire in each student play. 

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th & 10th grade Reading 1.1, 1.2, 2.3, 2.5, 3.3, 3.7, 3.8, 3.9, 3.10, 3.11; Writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 1.8, 1.9, 2.2; Listening & Speaking 1.1, 1.3, 1.7, 1.9, 1.11, 1.14, 2.4, 2.6; 11th & 12th grade Reading 1.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 3.5, 3.9; Writing 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 1.7, 1.9, 2.2, 2.6; Listening & Speaking 1.4, 1.6, 1.7, 1.8, 1.9, 1.10, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5.)

Instructions for Your Students

Oh Heller, you’re a tricky one. Just when we think you’re saying one thing, we realize you really mean another, kind of like a catch…well, 22. 

Does any of this sound vaguely familiar? Think you’ve read Catch-22-type stuff before? Well, yeah, you probably have. You'll know for certain when you check out a definition of satire, and read about some other notable examples of satire that probably ring a bell. Then, once you have a handle on what satire is, you'll take a creative crack at writing and analyzing your own satirical play, either based on the novel or a political/historical event.

Step 1: In class, explore the definition of satire on the Literary Devices website. No skimping! You should read the whole entry, including the specific examples of satire in literature. Then check out Shmoop's discussion of satire in another classic satirical novel, Vanity Fair.

While exploring these two discussions of satire, take notes to help you answer the following questions:

  1. What, exactly, is satire?
  2. What are some examples of satirical works that you have already read?
  3. How does Heller use satire in Catch-22? For what purpose? What are specific examples and instances?
  4. What are some examples of satire in your own life?
  5. What are some historical and political events that you think would be interesting to satirize?

Step 2: Let's chat. Now that you've got some background, let's make sure everyone's on the same page. Take some time in class to discuss the questions from Step 1 and make sure your handle on satire is solid.

Step 3: Assignment time. 

Keeping in mind our class discussion, your thoughts on what satire is, and how Heller uses it in Catch-22, write and enact your own short play satirizing either political events depicted in the novel or another historical or political happening. If you choose the second option (another historical or political happening), you'll need to either draw on your own knowledge of the subject or do a bit of research to make sure you've got your facts straight. Or both. 

Once you've written your play, write a brief analysis of it that includes an explanation of the historical event that you are satirizing and points out the different elements that you have decided to satirize as well as how you approached doing so.

To summarize, here are the final pieces you'll need to submit for this assignment: 

  1. Your play’s script, complete with a catch-y title (get it? Catchy? As in Catch-22?) and cast list (a.k.a., Dramatis Personae);
  2. Your analysis of your play (1-2 pages).

Both of these pieces should be in final copy format, please.

Step 4 [Optional]: If there's class time available, you'll get a chance to enact your play for your peers. If you worked alone on your script, you can still share it. Just select a few folks for a read aloud and make sure everyone has a copy of the script.  

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