Research shows humor can be used effectively as a strategy to increase student involvement and attention, as well as to painlessly disengage students from potentially confrontational situations.* The use of humor, particularly with male students, appears to have a positive effect upon learning gains.**
A teacher's sense of humor can contribute to positively managing a classroom by promoting relaxation and creating a comfortable social environment. Teacher humor has also been shown to reduce tension and produce positive physiological benefits.***
"A smile is the shortest distance between two people." –Victor Borge
Performance Learning PLUS is a monthly e-newsletter by Performance Learning Systems (PLS), a comprehensive educational services company that has provided a full spectrum of programs, products, and consulting services for educators and business professionals since 1971.
This issue focuses on HUMOR IN THE CLASSROOM.
Tips: Ways to Create Humor in the Classroom
Effective teachers use humor in the classroom to motivate students to learn, enhance group cohesion, and defuse tense situations. Here are a few ways you can bring humor into your classroom:
FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE.
Adopting a light, playful mind set helps establish a warm, safe learning environment.
PRACTICE VERBAL AND NONVERBAL PLAYFULNESS.
Use facial animation: smile, make lively expressions, and let your eyes sparkle. Use comfortable body language and a relaxed voice. Make sure your nonverbal messages match your verbal messages. (For example, if you say something intended as humor, but your body language is serious, your students could perceive sarcasm.)
USE HUMOR IN A STYLE THAT IS COMFORTABLE FOR YOU.
There are many ways to be humorous, and some styles may suit you more than others. Choose a style that feels natural to you.
KEEP A "HUMOR" JOURNAL.
Write down instances of when you used humor that worked well. Reflect on what happened and why your humor was well-received. Consider how you might employ that same type of humor in the future.
Develop your ability to read your students' tension levels. When you sense tension, try to defuse it by making a humorous remark or telling a funny story. (Note: This approach is most successful when a tense situation begins; once the tension has had time to grow, humor may not be an effective technique.)
TIE YOUR HUMOR TO THE CONTENT.
Humor does not have to be a diversion or digression from curriculum. Whenever possible, weave humor into what your students are already learning. (See examples below.)
Rewrite a familiar song to incorporate facts your students are learning. (For example, rewrite "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," replacing the simple lyrics with more difficult synonyms from your students' vocabulary list.)
Have your students demonstrate understanding of a book, play, or textbook chapter they've read by writing a humorous, modernized version. (For example, students could write a summary of "Hamlet" and perform it as a rap for the class.)
Put up a bulletin board and invite students to bring in humorous portrayals of a subject they're studying. (For example, jokes, cartoons, limericks, and so on.)
Create puns and mix metaphors when discussing a subject of study, and have your students create their own. This exercises their creativity as well as checking for comprehension. In the words of humor educator Joel Goodman, "Humor and creativity are intimately related -- there is a connection between HAHA and AHA."
Give the gift of humor to your students in one of the above ways, or tap into your own imagination for innovative ways to bring the many benefits of humor to your students' learning experiences.
Source: The above concepts are based on the PLS graduate course, Project TEACH: Teacher Effectiveness and Classroom Handling. For more information, see "Helpful Resources" below.
Project TEACH: Teacher Effectiveness and Classroom Handling is a registered trademark of Performance Learning Systems, Inc.
*LeMieux, A.C. (2000). Only Connect. ALAN Review, 27, 2 , 11-16.
**Gorham, J., & Christophel, D.M. (1990). The relationship of teachers' use of humor in the classroom to immediacy and student learning. Communication Education, 3, , 46-61.
***Rainsberger, C.D. (1994). Reducing stress and tension in the classroom through the use of humor: Unpublished document. : ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 374 101.
Humor In The Classroom: Cultivating Camaraderie To Maximize Learning
By Katherine Abbott and Mark Lewis
There are many reasons why I have been in love with teaching for over 30 years. Chiefly among them is the opportunity to experience moments of spontaneous humor that surface during certain classes. They are sporadic and fleeting—a clever ad-lib, a witty response, or a suggestive turn of phrase—but their timing and relevance to the class makes them inordinately funny. These moments are the end result of a concerted and deliberate attempt to inspire my students to learn.
There is much more to teaching than a solid curriculum. Although it is the essential core of every class, your curriculum will always be static and inanimate. You need a human element that will make it come alive. That human element must come from students who are interested in learning. When you train speakers and other teachers—as I do—this is especially true. My students improve their communication skills in real time by putting new ideas into action, on the spot. So I need them to be committed to the learning process. I can’t achieve this when students are reticent or reluctant. In every class I must find a way to get them excited and enthusiastic. This is the most important and usually, the most difficult task a trainer can face.
So How Do You Do It?
Cultivate and nurture humor to generate camaraderie. Encourage your students to develop a group identity by letting them have fun together. Their attention will be diverted from the heavy task of “learning” and they will focus on enjoying themselves while supporting each other. They will associate the curriculum with the fun and quickly become committed to paying attention. Once they are relaxed and invested in the learning process you can take them anywhere you want to go.
Make it clear that your class is a place to have fun. Enforce ground rules that keep the class professional and productive, but give students’ plenty of leeway for infusing class activities with spirited excitement. When they are excited they will learn faster and retain information more fully.
Let your students generate the laughs. They are responding to each other as they attempt to complete the challenging tasks you give them. Their humor is driven by personal relationships set within the context of your curriculum, so it is bound to be more relevant than the comic relief you might prepare ahead of time. Instead of working on being funny, concern yourself with designing activities that precipitate moments of humor while retaining their educational value.
Using Humor Badly
Using humor in class is incredibly risky. It contains a thousand booby traps, all of which can sabotage the success of your class. Humor is subjective, contextual, ephemeral and above all, highly personal. Everyone has a unique perception about what is “funny” so there is no guaranteed way to make everyone laugh.
Recognizing bad or destructive humor is easy. You know it when you experience it. It is clearly inappropriate or it “just doesn’t feel right.” Jokes, ‘funny’ anecdotes and—of course—sarcasm are three sure-fire ways to poison the energy of your class. Why, because they are almost always based on assumptions and beliefs that exclude someone. Sarcasm is especially dangerous and almost always inappropriate in class.
Humor of any kind is hard to sustain. Do not waste your energy and credibility by attempting to prolong funny moments in class. If you score a hit with your students quit while you are ahead. At the very least, you risk adding dead weight to the class by telling bad jokes and banal stories. As the trainer you have the most to lose from using humor, so err on the side of caution. Less is usually more.
Using Humor Well
The best kind of classroom humor is “Just-in-time” humor. This is a spontaneous and contextual humor that arises naturally from your students and gives the class a little kick at just the right moment. “Just-in-time” humor can’t be forced. It has to happen on its own. And when it does you can assume that the students are ready to learn effectively; voluntarily on-task with minds that are open and relaxed.
As a trainer your job is to provide a safe learning environment where camaraderie is built upon shared humor. It is not your job to be a comedian. Encourage your students to cultivate humor they can all identify with, which is unique to that particular group.
Let your students take the lead, contain and manage the bad humor that could arise, and then feed off of the enthusiasm that results from the fun. Shared humor is an outward expression of the intangible bond between students that gets them excited about learning.
Tales From the Classroom: “Lady With A Pointer”
In a mixed class of men and women the students were practicing using visual aids. A female student was demonstrating how to use a pointer in front of the class. Fully retracted, the pointer was the size and dimension of a pen. Fully extended, it was about 2 feet long. Never having used a pointer before, she picked it up and began extending it as she walked towards the front of the class. Without a dirty thought in her head the woman casually said, “My, this thing gets really big!” As soon as the words were out of her mouth the class was in stitches.
Recognizing the innuendo, the woman broke out in laughter with the rest of us. By the way, off color humor is ok if it originates from the students and does not exclude anyone or make them feel uncomfortable.
The Power of Camaraderie
Camaraderie allows a disparate collection of people to become a unified group with a shared objective. In the classroom that objective is to learn. Camaraderie encourages students’ to open up and take risks—to break through their boundaries and explore new territory.
Tales From the Classroom: “The Rogue Pagers”
I was teaching a class in Silicon Valley with 12 students from the same company. Each student had a pager, laptop, cell phone, and palm device. With four-dozen electronic devices in the room the students were surprisingly disciplined about turning them off during class. After giving me their undivided attention for two whole days, I thought the class was getting restless. A student was teaching in front of the class when I saw three of the others dialing their cell phones. I rushed to contain the distraction but quickly realized what was going on. To have some good-natured fun, the students were paging their colleague at the front of the class. With a vibrating pager at his side, the student carried on gallantly as he plotted his revenge…
Hard Work Pays Off
When humor and good will lead to camaraderie in the classroom, students’ can discover their talent and capitalize on their potential more than at any other time. When students’ are having fun while feeling safe and supported, they break through existing boundaries and self-perceived limitations. This is when real learning takes place.