Humour can contribute a great deal to the second language classroom. It enables you not only to create an affective or positive environment, but is a source of enjoyment for you and your students. Language is seen in authentic and real life situations. Humorous situations allow your students to express themselves without fear of ridicule and criticism. Anxiety and stress is reduced and your students are encouraged to take more risks in using their second language.
As with all language activities care must be taken to prepare students before the activity and guide them along the way. Although the teachers may perceive the exercise as a lighthearted moment in the course of their lesson plan, humour should be an integral part of a positive learning classroom environment. Specific goals and objectives must be pre-established and clear in the mind of the teacher. Humour, along with encouragement and praise should be one of the many useful tools used by language teachers to make their classrooms more inviting and conducive to learning.
Dickinson, D. (1998). The Humor Lounge; Humor and the Multiple Intelligences.
Fleke, C.L., Kuhs, T., Donnelly, A. Ebert, C. (1995). Reinventing the Role of Teacher: Teacher as Researcher. Phi Delta Kappan , 76 , (5), 405-407.
Gilliland, H., Mauritsen, H. (1971). Humor in the Classroom. The Reading Teacher,24, 753-756.
Kristmanson, P. (2000). Affect*: in the Second Language Classroom: How to create an emotional climate. Reflexions , 19 , (2), 1-5.
Loomax, R. G., Moosavi, S. A. (1998). Using Humor to Teach Statistics; Must they be Orthogonal?, Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, April 17th, 1998.
Lavenne, C. (1988). Le Dessin humoristique dans la salle de classe. Fiche pratiques/images, V., Le Francais dans le monde, (215), mars.
Mollica, Anthony (1976). Cartoons in the Language Classroom. Canadian Modern Language Review, 32 , (4), 424-444.
Provine, R. Ph.d (2000). The Science of laughter. Psychology Today, November/December 2002, 33 , (6), 58-62.
Rhem, J. (1998). Humor in the Classroom. The National Teaching & Learning Forum (online), Vol. 7, No. 6.
Sadowski, C.J., Gulgoz, S. et all (1994). An Evaluation of the use of Content-Relevant Cartoons as a Teaching Device . Journal of Instructional Psychology , 21 , (4), 368.
Underhill, A. (2000). The Psychological Atmosphere We Create in Our Classrooms. The Language Teacher Online.
Vizmuller, J. (1980). Psychological Reasons for Using Humor in a Pedagogical Setting . Canadian Modern Language Review, 36 , (2), 266-71.
Watson, M.J. Emerson, S. (1988). Facilitate Learning with Humor. Journal of Nursing Education,2 , (2), 89-90.
The Wil-Burn Type Humour Test.
English as Second Language; Being Creative. TELE-Learning & Secondary English Language (online).
 Dickinson, D., "Humor and the Multiple Intelligence", New Horizons for Learning, Seattle, WA,
 Kristmanson, P., "Affect*: in the Second Language Classroom: How to create an emotional climate", Reflexions, 19, (2000): 1
 You may be interested in determining your "Humour Type". The "Wil-Burn type Humour Test is available on line (http://www.cheersproject.com/wil-burn.htm). Try it! It will make you laugh and give you a possible insight into "your" sense of humour.
 Provine, R.R., Ph.D. (2000): " The Science of Laughter", Psychology Today , 33 (2000): 61.
 A quote by Tom Davis, in Elaine Lundberg & Cheryl Miller Thurston (1997): "If They're Laughing ...", Cottonwood Press, Inc., Retrieved on the World Wide Web: "Guidelines for Using Humor in the Classroom", http://venus.cottonwoodpress.com/extra/ideas/humor.htm
 Watson, M.J, Emerson, S., " Facilitate Learning with Humour", Journal of Nursing Education 27 (1988): 89.
The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. VIII, No. 3, March 2002
Artikel http://www.faculty.armstrong.edu/roundtable/4717458.pdf Weaver, R.L., & Cotrell, H.W. (2001). Ten speficif techniques for developing humor in the classroom.
Using Humor In The College Classroom To Enhance Teaching Effectiveness In "Dread Courses" Kher, N., Molstad, S., & Donahue, R. (1999). College Student Journal. Humor is a valuable teaching tool for establishing a classroom climate conducive to learning. This article identifies opportunities for incorporating humor in the college classroom, reviews the impact of humor on learning outcomes, and suggests guidelines for the appropriate use of humor. Of particular interest is humor in "dread courses" which students may avoid due to a lack of self-confidence, perceived difficulty of the material or a previous negative experience in a content area. Appropriate and timely humor in the college classroom can foster mutual openness and respect and contribute to overall teaching effectiveness.
As institutions of higher education engage in organizational soul searching, the teaching activities of the faculty are receiving increased attention. Scholars in the field of higher education underscore the importance of effective teaching and facilitating student learning outcomes has become a primary concern of university faculty and administrators. Well respected scholars such as Ernest Boyer, Alexander Astin, and Sylvia Grider have highlighted the need for instructional improvement in higher education in recent years. The focus on the student is a fundamental theme in instructional effectiveness (Kher, 1996).
The role of the teacher in producing student-centered learning has been the subject of considerable discussion. Pollio and Humphreys (1996) found effective teaching revolved around the connection established between the instructor and the student. The behavior of the teacher influences the quality of instruction and the learning environment that is created (Lowman, 1994). It is the faculty members who primarily determine the quality of the experience in the classroom (Cross, 1993). Duffy and Jones (1995) describe the professor, content and student as interactive and interdependent, each shaped by the characteristics and requirements of the other two. Lowman found the most common descriptor of effective college teachers was "enthusiastic," and teachers are considered to be both performers and motivators. As Loomans and Kolberg (1993) remarked, enthusiasm and laughter are often infectious.
Teachers must be creative because of the critical role they play in creating an environment conducive to optimal student learning. Humor is often identified as a teaching technique for developing a positive learning environment (Ferguson & Campinha-Bacote, 1989; Hill, 1988; Schwarz, 1989; Warnock, 1989; Walter, 1990). When an instructor establishes a supportive social climate, students are more likely to be receptive to learning. Humor is a catalyst for classroom "magic," when all the educational elements converge and teacher and student are both positive and excited about learning. Instructors can foster classroom "magic" through improved communication with students by possessing a playful attitude and a willingness to use appropriate humor (Duffy & Jones, 1995).
The purpose of this article is to identify opportunities for humor in the college classroom, discuss how humor affects learning outcomes, and present guidelines for the appropriate use of humor, particularly in "dread courses." A "dread course" is one that students sometimes avoid due to a lack of self-confidence, perceived difficulty of the material, or a previous negative experience in a content area such as mathematics. According to Korobkin, (1988) humor can diminish this anxiety and reduce the threatening nature of the course by changing the tone of the instructional process. Research also suggests humor is helpful in teaching sensitive content areas such as Sexuality Education (Adams, 1974) and high anxiety courses such as Statistics, Research Design, and Tests and Measurements (Berk & Popham, 1995). By reducing anxiety, humor improves student receptiveness to alarming or difficult material, and ultimately has a positive affect on test performance (Bryant, Comisky, Crane, & Zillmann, 1980).
Opportunities to Incorporate Humor
Humor in the classroom can take many forms. In a classic study of humor in the college classroom, Bryant, Comisky, and Zillmann (1979) classified humor in lectures as jokes, riddles, puns, funny stories, humorous comments and other humorous items. Professors have discovered other creative ways to incorporate humor in classes such as cartoons, top ten lists, comic verse, and phony or bogus experiments (for a complete discussion of sources and forms of humor see Wandersee, 1982).
Humor may be interjected in various phases of the instructional process. For example, instructors could include a humorous twist to a syllabus by including a course prerequisite "must have watched 18 hours of Sesame Street" (Berk & Popham, 1995). They could use a top ten list to introduce themselves to the students, "top ten things you should know about your instructor" (Kher & Molstad, 1995). Humorous examples, test items or test instructions could reduce anxiety on intellectually demanding tasks (McMorris, Urbach, & Connor, 1985). Appendices A and B provide examples of how humor might be used by the instructor to help reduce student anxiety related to "dread courses." Starting each class with humor helps students relax and creates a positive atmosphere. Humorous breaks during a lesson promote learning by allowing the brain a "breather" to process and integrate lesson material (Loomans & Kolberg, 1993).
Humor can serve a variety of purposes for the college instructor. For example, having students share their "goofiest moment in a classroom" can be used as an ice breaker or to reduce stress and facilitate creativity (Korobkin, 1988). It can be used as a powerful tool to put students at ease and make the overall learning process more enjoyable. This is accomplished when instructors integrate humor with content and use both planned and spontaneous humor.
Humor may also be used to communicate issues related to classroom management. Teachers can display the "instructor's top ten peeves" to correct behavior in a humorous way, without unduly embarrassing any class members (see Appendix C). Humor has been used successfully to communicate implicit classroom rules, fostering greater understanding and rapport between the teacher and the students (Proctor, 1994). Walter (1990) noted that students who laugh reduce the need to act out and cause disturbances. Humor in the classroom is not the answer to all classroom management issues, but it is an excellent preventive measure and can often diffuse tense situations (Loomans & Kolberg, 1993).
Linking Humor and Learning Outcomes
Considerable research has been conducted to identify the relationship between an instructor's use of humor and learning outcomes. Humor is useful in facilitating attention and motivation (Bandes, 1988; Bryant et al., 1979; Wandersee, 1982) and comprehension (Gorham & Christophel, 1990). Kaplan and Pascoe (1977) found students were able to improve retention when instructors used humorous examples by linking learning to the use of mnemonic devices as shown in Appendix D. Jokes and anecdotes seem to provide a memorable context for student recall (Hill, 1988). McMorris et al. (1985) determined incorporating humor in test items reduced the negative effect of testing situations.
Students in a study by Bryant et al. (1980) tended to view male professors who used humor frequently as more appealing, better presenters and better teachers than those who did not use humor. The small number of women instructors in the study who frequently used humor received lower effectiveness ratings. Using a larger sample size, Gotham and Christophel (1990) did not find the use of humor to negatively influence the evaluations of female instructors. It has been shown that teachers who effectively use humor are able to convey course content more effectively (Downs, Javidi, & Nussbaum, 1988). Although researchers have not specifically identified "dread course" content in researching the impact of humor on learning, it is reasonable to expect similar results with these courses. Students perceive the barriers to learning to be inherent in "dread courses," therefore, the effect of humor on learning may be even greater than in the average course.
Guidelines for Appropriate Use of Humor
Humor is most effective when it is appropriate to the situation and reflects the personality of the instructor (Edwards & Gibboney, 1992). The appropriate use of humor is a powerful tool to build a sense of community, promote creativity, and reduce conflict. Judicious use of humor by the instructor sets people at ease and reduces the inherent inequity of the status relationship and the situation with the students (Korobkin, 1988). In contrast, inappropriate use of humor creates a hostile learning environment that quickly stifles communication and self-esteem (Loomans & Kolberg, 1993). When a college student is the target of ridicule, humor has a negative effect on the classroom climate (Edwards & Gibboney, 1992).
The power of humor is such that it must never be directed at an individual or a group; racial slurs or put-downs of a target group must be avoided (Snetsinger & Grabowski, 1993). The targeted students' discomfort is magnified by the fact that leaving the situation is not usually a viable option and thus they become class scapegoats. An instructor must resist the temptation to refer to ethnicity, family, disability, appearance or any other identifier that a student might find offensive when couched in a humorous context (Harris, 1989). A joke that is at the expense of a group or individual may result in a variety of negative consequences in the classroom and can even turn students away from an entire field of study.
The manner in which humor is delivered also affects how it is received by students. Instructors delivering humor through insult or sarcasm may be defeating the purpose usually served by humor (Brown, 1995; Edwards & Gibboney, 1992). Humor that is sexually suggestive is best avoided unless it is directly associated with content such as sexuality education. If such humor is used, great care needs to be exercised in the way it is presented to the class.
Teachers are powerful role models and as such can use appropriate humor in the classroom to enhance a sense of community (Harris, 1989). Humor can be nurtured and integrated into the classroom such that it fosters a sense of openness and respect between students and teachers. When students feel safe, they can enjoy the learning process and each other. The thoughtful use of humor by instructors can contribute to teaching effectiveness.
Adams, W. J. (1974). The use of sexual humor in teaching human sexuality at the university level. The Family Coordinator, 23, 365-368.
Bandes, B. (1988). Humor as motivation for effective learning in the classroom. Doctoral dissertation, Columbia Teachers College.
Berk, R. A., & Popham, W. J. S. (1995). Jocular approaches to teaching measurement, statistics and research design. Minicourse presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, April, San Francisco, CA.
Brown, J. (1995, September/October). Funny you should say that: Use humor to help your students. Creative Classroom, 10, 80-81.
Bryant, J., Comisky, P. W., Crane, J. S., & Zillmann, D. (1980). Relationship between college teachers' use of humor in the classroom and students' evaluations of their teachers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 72, 511-519.
Bryant, J., Comisky, P., & Zillmann, D. (1979). Teachers' humor in the college classroom. Communication Education, 28, 110-118.
Cross, K. P. (1993). Involving faculty in TQM. Community College Journal, 63(4), 15-20.
Downs, V. C., Javidi, M. & Nussbaum, J. F. (1988). An analysis of teachers' verbal communication within the college classroom: Use of humor, self-disclosure, and narratives. Communication Education, 37, 127-141.
Duffy, D. K., & Jones, J. W. (1995). Creating magic in the classroom. In Teaching within the rhythms of the semester, (pp. 27-54). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Edwards, C. M., & Gibboney, E. R. (1992, February). The power of humor in the college classroom. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Western States Communication Association, Boise, ID.
Ferguson, S., & Campinha-Bacote, J. (1989). Humor in nursing. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing, 27 (4), 29-34.
Gorham, J., & Christophel, D. M. (1990). The relationship of teachers' use of humor in the classroom to immediacy and student learning. Communication Education, 39, 46-62.
Harris, J. J. (1989). When jokes are not funny. Social Education, 53, 270.
Hill, D. J. (1988). Humor in the classroom: A handbook for teachers and other entertainers. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.
Kaplan, R. M., & Pascoe, G. C. (1977). Humorous lectures and humorous examples: Some effects upon comprehension and retention. Journal of Educational Psychology, 69, 61-65.
Kher, N. (1996). Excellence in teaching: Resources for faculty development. Summer fellowship faculty report, Northwestern State University, Natchitoches, LA.
Kher, N., & Molstad, S. (1995, April). Top ten lists as pedagogical aids: Using humor to enhance teaching effectiveness in "dread courses." Paper presented at Northwestern University Research Day, Natchitoches, LA.
Korobkin, D. (1988). Humor in the classroom: Considerations and strategies. College Teaching. 36, 154-158.
Loomans, D., & Kolberg, K. J. (1993). The laughing classroom: Everyone's guide to teaching with humor and play. Tiburon, CA: H. J. Kramer.
Lowman, J. (1994). Professors as performers and motivators. College Teaching. 42. 137-141.
McMorris, R. F., Urbach, S. L., & Connor, M. C. (1985). Effects of incorporating humor in test items. Journal of Educational Measurement, 22, 147-155.
Pollio, H. R., & Humphreys, W. L. (1996). What award-winning lecturers say about their teaching: It's all about connection. College Teaching, 44, 101-106.
Proctor, R. F. (1994, April). Communicating rules with a grin. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Central States Communication Association, Oklahoma City, OK.
Schwarz, G. (1989). The importance of being silly. Educational Leadership, 46(5), 82-83.
Snetsinger, W., & Grabowski, B. (1993, October). Use of humorous visuals to enhance computer-based-instruction. In Visual literacy in the digital age: Selected readings from the annual conference of the International Visual Literacy Association, Rochester, NY, 262-270.
Walter, G. (1990). Laugh, teacher, laugh! The Educational Digest, 55(9), 43-44.
Wandersee, J. H. (1982). Humor as a teaching strategy. The American Biology Teacher, 44, 212-218.
Warnock, P. (1989). Humor as a didactic tool in adult education. Lifelong Learning, 12(8), 22-24.
Appendix A Top 10 Things More Fun Than Stats
10. Having your wisdom teeth extracted.
9. Watching "Barney" for 12 consecutive hours.
8. Trying to get across the river at 5:00.
7. Listening to bagpipe music.
6. Having your computer crash on the last page of your term paper.
5. Having your paperwork lost at financial Aid.
4. Jogging at noon with a heat index of 112.
3. Waiting in line at fee payment.
2. Being attacked by a roving pack of Rottweilers.
1. Finding a parking spot on campus!
Appendix B STATISTICAL ANXIETY
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Appendix C Top 10 Pet Peeves of Your Instructor
10. The overhead projector just will not cooperate.
9. Students mistaking Wolverines for Spartans.
8. People think it's cute to imitate her accent.
7. Unable to find the perfect cartoon to go with the day's lesson.
6. People pronounce her name Dr. Cur or Dr. Carr.
5. People think all statistics teachers are nerds, dweebs or geeks.
4. Students click pens, talk among themselves, play cards or squeak their chairs while she lectures.
3. Students who not only sleep in class but snore!
2. Students who think "class break" means "class dismissed."
1. Students who say, "I didn't have time to do my homework," and think it's a good excuse.
Using Humor in the Classroom An under-rated tool for managing your classroom effectively is humor. I suppose it’s under-rated because many teachers don’t consider themselves to be very funny and so can never see themselves relying on humor to diffuse or de-escalate behavior problems. Instead they rely on other methods which they perceive to be easier to master – such as shouting, being stern and ‘not smiling until Christmas’.
But humor can be used by any teacher – with a little imagination and some prior planning. And there is a good reason to make it part of your lessons…
Students learn better in a fun environment because they are willing to explore more and don’t feel intimidated or afraid of making mistakes. Pupil attention and motivation is increased - as is creativity.
So how do you create a classroom that is open to the positive use of humor? Here are some ideas…
Create an environment that welcomes humor so that when anyone walks in your classroom they are immediately put into a happy mood. What about a clown mannequin, crazy cartoon faces hanging from the ceiling, off-beat or surreal 3D displays etc.
Incorporate strange and funny dates or celebrations to your teaching routine (October is National Pizza Month, April 15 is Rubber Eraser Day), and use funny stories as literacy exercises.
Always begin class with something humorous—quotations, jokes, stories, crazy photographs and make these into a routine that your pupils will look forward to. “Today’s Crazy Photo is….”, “The ‘Joke of The Day’ winner is…”
Involve the pupils in the creation of a humor-filled classroom. Have a ‘caption competition’ for the ‘Funny Photo Bulletin Board’ where pupils get to write down their entries in the hope of seeing their caption under the picture. Or have a Joke competition once per week and a special display for the winner.
Express your own humor through trademark behavior and silly habits.
Create moments for students to be comedians by adding an element of outrageousness to an assignment, such as having pupils explain their answers in the style of a famous person.
Have a ‘crazy props’ box filled with over-sized tools, silly hats, false moustaches etc. for impromptu sketches.
Recognize pupil achievements in a wild, wacky and fun way such as ‘The Wall of Fame’ (painted brick wall with a gold plaque on), ‘Gold Discs’ (old vinyl records sprayed gold with the title of the work/award on the label), huge medals, Academy Award Ceremonies and trophies etc. etc.
There are many, many more ways to inject a little fun into the classroom but one of the most important sources of mirth and merriment in your lessons is, of course, you.
Learning to laugh at yourself and developing a relaxed style of humor that naturally suits your personality is crucial if you want pupils to feel happy in your lessons and in a moment I’m going to share an excellent resource which can help you develop your funny bones. Before I do that though I need to make an important point…
In the midst of all the fun and games, although serious learning may be going on, how does a teacher ensure that he or she does not lose control of the classroom?
You have to remember that ‘fun’ does not necessarily equate to ‘out of control’ despite the fact that most young pupils seemingly don’t know when to stop once they start having a good time. As long as you set ground rules and have a structure in place which the pupils clearly understand, you will find that the classroom can have a fun atmosphere whilst still maintaining an air of respect and order.
It is a good idea to go through your rules for a fun classroom and stipulate exactly what is allowed in terms of ‘humor’. Get the pupils to help with this and you’ll find that rules such as ‘no put downs’, ‘no racism’, ‘no swearing’ and ‘no rude comments’ are almost always suggested with little prompting needed from the teacher.
Now, as I said, I have found a fantastic resource for you...
It’s an excellent read, comes complete with a money-back guarantee and I’m sure you’ll find it very useful if you want to put more humor in your classroom, or indeed your life!
Volume I - 1993
Using Humor in the Classroom by M. Jerry Weiss
Dr. M. Jerry Weiss is a Distinguished Professor of Communications at Jersey City State College, has written widely in a number of fields, including education, humor, children's literature, and reading. He has been a visiting professor at universities scattered around the USA, and is a consultant to school systems in six states.
When students are queried about the characteristics of a teacher they most appreciate, they often reply "a sense of humor" and "the ability to communicate knowledge in an interesting way." Using humor in class can be helpful in preparing students for the formal study of humor as an important genre of literature. Professionals in the fields of medicine, psychiatry and psychology often state that laughter is a safety valve for sanity. It relieves stress and tension and helps people to be mentally healthy. When one laughs, a person uses parts of the human anatomy that are not used in any other physical or mental activity. Laughter has curative qualities that have amazed medical science. (Read Anatomy of an Illness by Norman Cousins.)
To analyze humor or comedy is futile. This important and special literary genre is "word play." Having fun with language develops critical thinking skills and helps readers and writers to expand their means of communication. So it is helpful to begin with a series of activities that involve students in language usage.
One activity a teacher can use is "Riddle, Riddle." The teacher copies two or three riddles, each on a separate piece of oaktag. For example, (1) What is smooth, yellow and deadly? (2) How did the computer die? (3) What cat wars a mask, a cape, and weighs 500 pounds?
Under each riddle place a paper bag. As students enter the room each day, they are encouraged to read each riddle and to write their answers on pieces of papers and to drop them into the appropriate paper bag. Students can answer each riddle as often as they want. They need not put their names on their answers.
On Friday the teacher empties each bag and types up copies of all of the answers for each riddle. There may be several correct responses. It is important that each answer is a complete response to the riddle; e.g., "smooth," "yellow," "deadly." (A "banana" or a "banana peel" is not a complete answer; the response does not include the element of "deadly.") This activity involves students in noting details. For good sources of riddles, check the numerous volumes of wonderful riddles by Mike Thaler, "The Riddle King." Ann Bishop and Alvin Schwartz have also compiled several books containing riddles.
Students can be encouraged to bring in riddles, and a teacher can take the best from each student, type these on a ditto stencil, and produce a "Riddle Newsletter." (Make sure the person's name is placed by each entry submitted by him or her.)
Today there are so many wonderful books to share with students. These might be read aloud by the teacher or by students. By using a variety of books, the reader can focus on word play (Amelia Bedelia books, for example), fractured fairy tales (The True Story of The Three Pigs as Told by A. Wolf by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, or their latest, The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales, both available from Viking), cartoon books (Charlie Brown by Charles Schulz), funny stories ( The Teacher from the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler, available from Scholastic; Eppie M. Says... by Olivier Dunrea, published by Macmillan: Four Dollars and Fifty Cents by Eric A. Kimmel and Glen Rounds, Holiday House); The Feather Merchants & Other Tales of the Fools of Chelm by Steve Sanfield and Mikhail Magaril, Orchard Books; Max in Hollywood, Baby by Maira Kalman, Viking; Robert Quackenbush's Treasury of Humor, Doubleday; Alpha and the Dirty Baby by Brock Cole, Farrar Straus Giroux; The Laugh Book; A New Treasury of Humor for Children, compiled by Joanna Cole and Stephanie Calmenson, with drawings by Marylin Hafner, Doubleday; The Wrong Side of the Bed, by Wallace E. Keller, Children's Universe/Rizzoli; Foolish Rabbits's Big Mistake by Rafe Martin and Ed Young, Putnam; The Cows are Going to Paris by David Kirby and Allen Woodman with illustrations by Chris Demarist, Boyds Mills Press; The Bed Who Ran Away from Home by Dan Greenburg and John Wallner, Harper Collins; Hildegard Sings by Thomas Wharton, Farrar Straus Giroux; Six by Seuss, Random House.)
Music is another wonderful art form for introducing students to merriment. There are wonderful recordings of such fun songs as "Mairzy Doats," "Kids," "Mama Don't Allow," "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain," and "Day-O." The teacher can make song sheets for the class, and reading/singing the lyrics is an integration of music into the language arts class.
The study of song lyrics is a natural introduction to poetry. In recent years publishers have produced wonderful books of poems. Some good examples for use in a humor-centered program are:
Nonstop Nonsense by Margaret Mahy, Dell Yearling;
Barley Barley by Barrie Wade, Oxford;
The Hopeful Trout and Other Limericks by John Ciardi;
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein, Harper;
Strawberry Poems, edited by Adrian Mitchell, Delacorte;
When I Dance by James Berry, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich;
For Laughing Out Loud: Poems to Tickle Your Funnybone, edited by Jack Prelutsky, Knopf;
My Head Is Read and Other Riddle Rhymes, by Myra Cohn Livingston, Holiday House;
Soap Soup and other Verses by Karla Kuskin, Harper Collins;
I Saw Esau, edited by Iona and Peter Opie, with illustrations by Maurice Sendak, Candlewick Press;
The Baby Uggs Are Hatching by Jack Prelutsky, Mulberry Books;
If You're Not Here, Please Raise Your Hand: Poems About School by Kalli Dakos, Four Winds Press;
Fresh Brats, by X. J. Kennedy, McElderry Books;
What's On The Menu? Food Poems, edited by Bobbye S. Goldstein, Viking;
Itsy-Bitsy Beasties: Poems from Around the World, edited by Michael Rosen, Carolrhoda;
The Adventures of Isabel, by Ogden Nash, Joy Street/Little, Brown;
If I Were In Charge of The World, by Judith Viorst, Atheneum.
Now a teacher can have the students write all kinds of funny poems. This is the beginning of the class humor literary magazine. Students who want can illustrate their own and/or classmates' poems. Some students who play musical instruments might set certain original poems to music. Then the teacher can introduce the students to the Broadway hit CATS.
"Putting on a Show" is a natural way to develop cooperative activities and foster positive self-esteem. Students might choose from structured skits involving funny activities, or doing a Readers' Theatre presentation based on an Amelia Bedelia story. A contest game show might focus on "Concentration" or "Match." Another group might sing songs from Broadway shows, such as "Tomorrow" from Annie, "Getting to Know you" from The King and I, "Put on a Happy Face," from My Fair Lady, "Let Me Entertain You" from Gypsy, and "Ease On Down the Road" from The Wiz.
Other students might be clowns, jugglers, perform musical numbers, demonstrate pantomime, present a puppet show, or do a make-up demonstration. Some students might do technical work, such as make a backdrop or a set, provide lighting effects, work on costumes, round up helpful props. Several students might design a program and serve as ushers if other classes are invited to see the show.
Crown off the theatrical presentation with an evening production for parents, other relatives and friends.
Another approach might be through American folk tales. Steven Kellogg has done several books on American folk heroes, including Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyon, published by Morrow. Gross exaggeration is a major ingredient in such stories. A prize-winning video collection, "The American Folklore Series," is available through BFA/Phoenix productions in New York City. This series consists of ten illustrated, voice-over stories about such popular heroes as Paul Bunyon, John Henry, Glooskap, and Johnny Appleseed, each narrated by a voice so in tune with the region of the country, including one from Canada and one from Mexico.
Just a couple of stories from Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories will provide many suggestions for storytelling or creative writing. Students can have fun explaining such phenomena as "Why Fire Engines Are Red," or "Why Chickens Have Feathers." Anything goes. Teachers have lots of laughs as students come in with all kinds of absurd answers. These tales can also be added to the humor magazine.
One week might be devoted to films and television. Students might discuss what their favorite television comedy programs are, including cartoons. Teachers should be prepared for anything, including "Roseanne," "Alf," and even "Saturday Night Live." Movie comedy might focus on Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Whoopi Goldberg, Robin Williams, and Disney animations.
A final activity might focus on a small-group activity. Each group is to come up with a new comedy feature. One group might develop a new comic strip; another group might come up with a good idea for a new comedy on television; another group might write a funny story or a set of stories. One fifth grade student in Nevada came up with the following story: Some teachers have even had students create new folk heroes and heroines. One teacher even had students select characters from stories and had a contest in which the students voted on the characters to be in the classroom Literary Hall of fame. Such characters included Winnie-the-Pooh, Paddington Bear, Kermit, Miss Piggy, Arthur (created by Marc Brown,) The Stupids (created by James Marshall).
Once upon a time, Queen Peach looked into the mirror and asked,
"Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the most beautiful peach of all? The mirror replied, "Snow Peach."
Queen Peach was so angry, she called, "Green Peach! Green Peach!"
She told Green Peach to take Snow Peach into the woods, kill her, and bring back up her pit to prove she is dead.
Green Peach took Snow Peach into the woods, and she was so pretty, Green Peach said, "Run, Snow Peach, you are so beautiful, and I can't kill you."
Snow Peach ran far away.
She had to get a job.
She became a shoemaker.
That's how we got the first peach cobbler
Humour in the Classroom—A Dose of Laughter Won’t Hurt Ma. Socorro C. Bacay
Full-time Faculty Member/ College Registrar
De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde
A chance encounter in a crowded McDonald’s afforded me the opportunity to rethink some old concepts I have about the role of humour in a classroom. While queuing at the restaurant, a group of students in front of me was talking about how they appreciate a good sense of humour in their teachers and it set me thinking. These comments do in fact support surveys that rank humour as one of the top five traits of an effective teacher (James, 2004). Yet, just 20 years ago, humour “had no place in the classroom nor on test materials” (Torok, McMorris & Lin, 2004, p. 14).
I do not remember having attended any teacher’s training on how to use humour either. Indeed, only a few researchers tackled the use of humour at the college/university level (White, 2001). In my classes, humour has been limited to the discussion of Freud’s tendentious jokes (Burger, 2000) and the occasional cartoon strips to help explain an idea or as a starting point for discussion. However, as I review the current literature on this topic, I realise that humour and cartoons can be effective in the undergraduate classroom setting (Tomkovick, 2004).
Is there learning in the laughing?
“If teachers want students to learn, then they should consider making learning more palatable, even enjoyable” (Torok, et al., 2004, p. 14). This not only supports the use of humour in the classroom, but the authors also advise that humour be incorporated across all academic levels. This is particularly true for ‘dread courses’ (White, 2001) that students “avoid because of perceived difficulty, a previous negative experience, or the students’ lack of confidence” (White, 2001, p. 338).
Torok, et al. (2004) further provide the following reasons in support of humour in the classroom:
Facilitates retention of novel information;
Increases learning speed;
Improves problem solving;
Reduces test anxiety;
Increases perceptions of teacher credibility.
The prudent use of “content-related, non-hostile humor” (James, 2004, p. 93) has added benefits:
More supportive learning environment;
Enhanced students’ attention and pleasure in learning;
Improved thinking skills and test scores;
Improved attitudes towards the subject matter.
According to the learner-centred psychological principles of the American Psychological Association, the “motivation to learn… is influenced by the individual’s emotion states, beliefs, interests and goals, and habits of thinking” (APA, 2006). If classroom humour is appropriately used, it has the potential to “humanize, illustrate, defuse, encourage, reduce anxiety, and keep people thinking” (Torok, et al., 2004, p. 19). Furthermore, “humour and positive thinking provide salve for the wounds, add joy to our lives, and help all involved to enjoy the passage of time. It also helps to open up our minds” (Tomkovick, 2004, p. 111).
What about using humour in course tests?
If humour reduces tension and less tension makes students perform better, then the use of humour could very well work for students. For course tests, Berk (2000) recommends incongruous descriptors under the test title, jocular inserts in the instructions, humorous notes on the last page, or humour in the test items. Of course, the teacher needs to decide how much humour to include in the tests, especially for exams under time pressure.
However, Berk (2000) warns that “the few studies on the use of humor in testing yield insufficient and inconsistent results” (p. 155). Besides, it could be quite challenging to construct a test, humour notwithstanding, that would still ensure the test’s validity and reliability. I like Berk’s suggestion to use a distracter “so ridiculous and outrageous” (p. 154) in a multiple choice question that students will not choose it for the answer. Just in case someone does however, Berk recommends letting the students know beforehand about the humourous distracter, perhaps in the test instructions.
What types of humour do students appreciate?
Most students appreciate funny stories, comments, jokes, professional humour, puns, cartoons and riddles while sarcasm, inappropriate jokes (e.g. sexist or ethnic) and aggressive or hostile humour generally do not work very well in classrooms.
Where do I begin?
The willingness to make the atmosphere in the classroom sunny and moderately stress-free is a decision that the teacher makes, but it may take some time and a lot of practice to implement it effectively. Tomkovick (2004) suggests that to set the tone, one might like to play some music before the lecture, or use some self-deprecating humour during class.
The important thing is not to suddenly turn into the stand-up comedian but rather to appreciate a good laugh now and then without sounding phony. An open mind and a good, healthy sense of humour will go a long way.
(2006). ‘American Psychological Association Learner-Centered Psychological Principles’. Accessed: 1 March 2006.
Berk, R.A. (2000). ‘Does Humor in Course Tests Reduce Anxiety and Improve Performance?’ College Teaching, Vol. 48, No. 4, pp. 151–158.
Burger, J.M. (2000). Personality, 5th ed., CA: Wadsworth.
James, D. (2003). ‘A Need for Humor in Online Courses’. College Teaching, Vol. 52, No. 3, pp. 93–94.
Tomkovick, C. (2004). ‘Ten Anchor Points for Teaching Principles of Marketing’. Journal of Marketing Education, Vol. 26, No. 2, pp. 109–115.
Torok, S.E., McMorris, R.F. & Lin, W.C. (2004). ‘Is Humor an Appreciated
Teaching Tool?’ College Teaching, Vol. 52, No. 1, pp. 14–20.
White, G.W. (2001). ‘Teachers’ Report of How They Used Humor with Students Perceived Use of Such Humor’. Education, Vol. 122, No. 2, pp. 337–347.
The Power Of Humor And Improvisation In The Classroom Roz Trieber, MS, CHES
Why are student’s eyes glazed over or rolled back in their heads as the teacher talks? It is no accident. Students are not listening, they are not engaged in the learning process, they are thinking about after school games, or how they can manage to pass without studying. Let’s face it; many classroom experiences are less than motivating!
Educational approaches have often been thought of as overly serious, inflexible, stoic, and even sometimes joyless, especially in the college classroom. Scripted lectures continue to predominate as the teaching method of choice.
Effective communication involves more than the spoken word. Speakers need to know and apply the Mehrabian Model of Communication (1981). Mehrabian established this classic statistic for the effectiveness of spoken communications:
7% of meaning is in the words that are spoken.
38% of meaning is paralinguistic (the way that the words are said).
55% of meaning is in facial expression.
What does this tell us?
Evidence-based research demonstrates collaborative and creative approaches (such as humor and improvisation) result in an engaged, participating student, increased higher order thinking (such as contrasting and evaluating), individual and group accountability. In addition, humor and improvisation strategies enhance class discussion and role play, build teamwork, encourage risk taking, improve critical thinking, and stimulate creativity (Berk, 1996, 2002, 2003; Gardner, 1993; Goleman, 1998; Moshavi, 2001). Improvisation exercises and humor strategies are tools you can add to your arsenal of teaching and speaking techniques increasing student awareness of problems and ideas fundamental to their intellectual development.
Dare to go where few teachers have gone before and try any one of the following innovative ways of having your message heard.
Warnings on handouts or power point presentations such as: “You could be a winner! No purchase necessary; details inside.”
One - liners on transparencies or on handouts such as:
“Why do fat chance and slim chance mean the same thing?”
“Energizer Bunny arrested and charged with battery.”
Create parodies from popular TV Sitcoms, Broadway Musicals, and from music your audience is listening to now. Imagine opening with a parody of Star Trek. The room is darkened, you have a flash light on as you enter reciting your objectives using the theme of the “Final Frontier and taking your students where few have gone before!” You play the music from Star Trek as you speak the last words of your parody. Your class is “putty in your hands!”
Use the “Top Ten” principle for any subject you are teaching. Make them humorous as you emphasize the most important points of your lesson. You could have:
“Top 10 Ways To Alienate Your Class Mates”
“The Top 10 Ways To Prevent Your Best Friend From Using Drugs!”
Rap It Up. Have students write “Rap or Poems” about the most important points you made in your class or presentation. Have volunteers read or perform their creation. Laughter will be pouring out of the doors and windows; not to mention the lesson will never be forgotten!
Introduce Improvisational Theater Techniques to the Classroom. Improvisation has been defined as intuition guiding action in a spontaneous way.
Yes, and…The Golden Rule: Say yes, accept the offer, build on it, contribute, and discover new ideas. A person must make an offer of his own in response to his partner’s. It is this process that harnesses the power of collaboration. Each team member is responsible for contributing to and supporting the group’s activity. With this method, brainstorming leads to innovative solutions.
Goals: Improve listening skills, foster cooperation, learn to accept offers.
Great for content review and substantive discussion
Directions for implementation
Players must agree with the others no matter what is said
Player 1 begins a conversation with a positive declarative statement
Player 2 agrees with player 1 by first saying “yes and…”then making his/her own declarative statement. After responding positively, you carry the conversation and the story forward by adding to the information.
If player one says “Let’s go to the movies.” Player two might answer, “Yes, and let’s sneak some popcorn into the theater.” Player one says “Yes, and I’ll put the butter in my pocket.”
This format allows the conversation to continue and develop in interesting ways
“Yes, but…” or even answering “yes” without the “and” is not enough.
“Yes, and…” plus another declarative sentence opens the scene to unlimited possibilities
Freeze Tag: An Improvisational Approach to Class Discussion
(modified from Moshavi, 2001).
(A Freeze Tag example is described below; adapted from Moshavi, 2001).
Begin by telling the class you’d like to have them explore a specific management theory or concept (of your choosing) through an improvisational exercise called freeze tag. (For instance, if you have been discussing theories of motivation, you might have the exercise focus on goal setting theory (Locke, 1968).) Then, ask the class for a place of business. Accept the first response that reasonably fits the request. Typical responses are banks, stores, restaurants, hospitals, and factories. Next, ask for a type of business relationship between two people that are employed in this setting (rather than for the physical positions requested in the theatre version). Responses are often based on the place of business suggested and include such relationships as: employee/supervisor, bank manager/teller, doctor/nurse, etc.
After restating the theory, place of business and the type of relationship, tell the class that, based on this information, two student volunteers will create a scene. Ask for two volunteers. Explain that when the scene begins to stagnate or the student volunteers begin to falter, someone in the class should stop the action by yelling “freeze.” Let them know that in your experience, this faltering often occurs within 15 to 30 seconds and almost always within one minute.
The person who yells freeze then makes his/her way to the front of the room, taps one of the two student volunteers on the shoulder, and replaces him/her “on stage.” The two remaining students then pick up from the point where the previous scene stopped and continue to advance the action until the scene is once again frozen and a student volunteer is replaced. (Note: The instructor should be prepared to call out the first “freeze” and join a scene if students are initially hesitant.) After there have been four or five “freezes,” stop the action and ask for a new place of business and a new type of business relationship and repeat the exercise. This allows the class to apply the chosen theory in a different business context.
Following these exercises, the instructor generally asks questions that enhance the learning. Sample questions include the following:
Did we successfully meet the objectives of the game?
What made it successful or unsuccessful?
What were their biggest fears?
What insights did you gain?
What’s important to the group? Rules or flow?
The instructor then reviews the key points of the content material presented in the exercise and leads a brief discussion of its application to class objectives and how students would use principles in their personal or professional lives.
Freeze Tag Example
Topic suggested by instructor: Equity Theory
Suggestion from Class for a Place of Business: Factory floor
Suggestion from Class for a Type of Business Relationship: Co-workers
Student 1: I can’t believe that you got a 10% raise and I only got a 5% raise.
Student 2: I know, it’s amazing that the boss thinks I’m so valuable.
Student 1: I wish the boss thought I was valuable.
Student 2: It’s definitely a bummer.
Student 3: FREEZE! (Student 3 taps Student 1 on the shoulder and replaces her) So what’s your secret to success?
Student 2: Well, I’m constantly kissing up to him.
Student 3: I’d love to hear some of your tips.
Student 2: The first thing I do is, I um....try and .....
Student 4: FREEZE! (student 4 taps student 2 on the shoulder and replaces him) Well, the first thing I do is grunt loudly when I’m fixing the machinery to make him think I’m giving 100%.
Student 3: Wow, that’s a great idea.
Student 4: I also deliberately spill some grease on my pants and rub it on my face each afternoon. Makes it seem like I’m so busy I don’t even have time to clean myself off.
Student 3: So what you’re saying is that even though you don’t work any harder, the boss thinks your level of input and output is higher than the rest of us.
Student 4: I guess that’s what I’m saying.
Student 3: Interesting.
Student 4: Very.
Student 5: FREEZE! (Student 5 taps student 4 on the shoulder and replaces him.)
(AND THE SCENE CONTINUES...)
As teachers, you can use these techniques with your classes to demonstrate how much content information they were able to process as well as demonstrating critical thinking skills, reducing the fear of making mistakes, and gaining confidence. In addition you and your class will have had fun learning with each other. The best part about this technique: neither you or your students need a degree in acting!
Berk, R. A. (1996). Student ratings of 10 strategies for using humor in college teaching. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 7(3), 71–92.
Berk, R. A. (2002). Humor as an instructional defibrillator: Evidence-based techniques in teaching and assessment. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
Berk, R. A. (2003). Professors are from Mars, Students are from Snickers: How to write and deliver humor in the classroom and in professional presentations. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple intelligences: The theory in practice. New York: Basic Books.
Goleman, D. (1998). Working with emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.
Mehrabian, A. (1981). Silent messages: Implicit communication of emotions and attitudes (2 nd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Moshavi, Dan. (2001). "Yes And”: Introducing Improvisational Theatre
Techniques to the Management Classroom," Journal of Management Education, 25(4), 437-449.
Roz Trieber works with organizations to reduce stress and increase productivity using humor and improvisation. For more information on Roz ’s speaking programs, books, cd's and learning programs contact HUMORFUSION at 410.998.9585 or Roz@humorfusion.com. (www.humorfusion.com)