"The job of the teacher is to get students laughing, and when their mouths are open, to give them something on which to chew. " 
Although the above quote is an interesting and humorous way to describe the use of humour, it is not our role as teachers to be stand-up comedians. Nor will we all use humour in the same way, or use the same humour. With this in mind there are certain points to consider before using humour in your classroom. Proper preparation is key as in all language teaching preparation. In so doing we really will have something for the students to "chew on."
1. Don't try too hard. Let humour arise naturally, encourage it, don't force it. Don't be discouraged if the first time it doesn't meet your expectations. As Provine (2000) states, your reaction to their non-reaction (to a cartoon for example) may be the most amusing part. Like all things, proper preparation is needed for proper delivery.
2. Do what fits your personality. Never force it, it won't work. You might want to venture outside your comfort zone and try a different genre, cartoonist, or style of humour. Remember you class is made up of individuals with different tastes.
3. Don't use private humour or humour that leaves people out. Your goal is not to become a comedian. The humour described here is through cartoons. It doesn't make fun of any particular group, nationality, etc ... Private humour, if you use it, should be for affective reasons as well, used carefully, never demeaning or sarcastic.
4. Make humour an integral part of your class, rather then something special. Humour works best as a natural on-going part of classroom learning. Be careful not to over use it, it could loose its value and effect. With practice you will develop a style and comfort zone with humour.
The use of humour will depend on the content you are teaching and the availability of appropriate humorous material. Have specific goals or objectives in mind. Using humour, like teaching, has to be well prepared. With time you will become more and more at ease, or self assured with its use. Allow yourself time to experiment and see what works well.
"When humour is planned as part of the teaching strategy, a caring environment is established, there is an attitude of flexibility, and communication between student and teacher is that of freedom and openness. The tone is set allowing for human error with freedom to explore alternatives in the learning situation. This reduces the authoritarian position of the teacher, allowing the teacher to be a facilitator of the learning process. Fear and anxiety, only natural in a new and unknown situation, becomes less of a threat, as a partnership between student and instructor develops."
5. Humour and cartoons should be related to what your are doing in the classroom. Humour may be used to solicit dialogue, conversations and develop vocabulary. At times you may want to use it as a break before going on to something else. However, the cartoon should always be of an appropriate nature and interest to your students.
It is useful, on occasion, to present a cartoon on an overhead projector as students come into class. The humour can relax and re-energize the students for class. It can also prepare them to converse in their second language. The cartoon can become the signal that they are now in French or ESL class. To help the students shift from their first language to their second language they could enjoy a lighthearted moment of discussion or interpretation of the cartoon. This interaction is authentic and can stimulate real discussion and or debate, so much so that at times you may have to bring the discussion to a close to proceed with the class.
6. The extent to which you use humour will vary on your class. Interpretation, discussion and analysis will vary on the proficiency of your class. The humour must be comprehensible, with themes that your students can relate to.
As with all communicative learning activities, prepare your students. Begin by discussing cartoons; what are their favorites, what are yours. Tell them you are going to use cartoons to illustrate what they are learning and to have fun. The pedagogical reasons for their use can be known by you. What the students will know is that the cartoon will help them better understand and learn the language.
Remember, it is important to keep it simple, with a specific objective. Don't attempt to use, for example, the future, passe compose, verb agreement and the use of idiomatic expressions all at once. You may want to use a specific cartoon again to illustrate another point. Although I recommend that you use a different cartoon and enjoy the humour more.
A Practical Example
In the past I have generally used cartoons with multi panels. They provide more material for communicative questioning and discussion. However, the choice of carton that you choose to demonstrate or practice a particular point will naturally depend on the theme, grammatical or cultural component you are teaching or examining. It is important to decide beforehand why you want to use it and how you want to use it. Ask yourself the question, "What knowledge do I want the students to demonstrate by interpreting this cartoon?" As mentioned previously try not to deal with multiple aspects at one time. Perhaps you simply want to illustrate or have the students demonstrate their knowledge of vocabulary or expressions related to emotions. However, nothing is stopping you from returning to the cartoon at a later date to talk about intonation and stress in the language and how it can change the meaning of what is said. As before, don't overuse the cartoon. I suggest you keep it simple and use other examples to illustrate supplementary points.
The absence of a title or any written dialogue allows your students to use their imagination and express themselves orally or in written form (I have primarily used cartoons to stimulate oral expression. I have used writing as a possible extension, a re-investment of the activity). Such an exercise allows students to defend their point of view and also to explore their interpretations of possible dialogue and scenarios.
It is motivating and interesting to have students suggest a before and after sequence to the situation illustrated by the cartoon. Students willingly offer possible "before" and "after" segments and delight in coming up with the most original. This particular aspect of the lesson can take place after each individual panel or once all panels have been shown.
To add variety to the use of such cartoons you may want to present the first several panels together and solicit an ending to the story or an interpretation of the story. Presenting the panels one at a time makes the activity more communicative and intriguing as students confirm or don't confirm their interpretations of what will happen next. More discussion and fun is had as the story unfolds with each segment. Anticipation builds as you approach the final panel. The ending takes on a greater value as everyone waits for the true ending!
Another approach is to ask your students to actually create, or imagine the dialogue for each panel. It could be an opportunity to introduce or review expressions of emotion, in this case, anger and despair. For example one could use a cartoon that depicts, what one would assume, is a mother scolding her child. However, in the final panel we discover that it is the house pet. If the class was an ESL class students could possibly come up with the following examples of ways to expression displeasure and disappointment:
"I'm not very happy with you."
"I'm very upset with your behaviour."
"I'm very saddened, unhappy, disappointed, bitterly disappointed..."
"I'm very annoyed."
"I'm very disillusioned, discontented, heavy-hearted..."
"I'm so ashamed, pained, ..."
"We (speaking for both parents) are so weary, tired, disgusted..."
"We are furious, incensed, infuriated, enraged by this behavior... "
"We feel blighted, dejected by this whole affair."
You may want to examine the role of intonation, stress and syllabication related to such a situation, on another occasion or at another point in your lesson.
Vocabulary work begins immediately with the presentation of the first panel, when the class begins to describe the scene and brainstorm what they see and understand to be happening. Examples of open-ended communicative questions that force students to go beyond a simple "yes" or "no" could be:
"Describe what you see in the first panel." "Where does the story take place?"
"To whom is the woman speaking?" "Imagine what she is saying."
"What do you think happened before this story began?"
"How will the story end?"
As with the multidimensional approach we seek to have students reinvest what they have learned by completing an extension activity or enrichment activity. A possible example suggested by Lavenne (1988) and enjoyed by students is to write the story as if reporting the news for a newspaper, if the cartoon can be adapted for such a reinvestment. If students aren't aware of the structure of a newspaper article it would be good to review it and provide authentic examples. Students can then model the style correctly in writing his or her own news report. Another option is to have students write out the dialogue. As in the case of this cartoon, researching and writing the dialogue to share with the class could be fun and entertaining. Such an exercise is motivating and enables you to see if students have mastered, in written form, the point of grammar, structure, vocabulary or expressions of emotions you have taught and have examined with them.