Using Humour in the Classroom

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Is there enough laughter in your classroom? Are your students suffering in a dull and tense environment or are they enjoying themselves learning in a fun and engaging classroom?

Take the “Laughing Classroom Quiz”. Find out if there is enough warmth and laughter in your classroom.

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The first time I made a whole class of students collapse in a fit of abandoned laughter, I felt such a sense of pleasure and achievement that I wanted to do it more often in my classroom. Far from being a comedian or an entertainer, I realised I could actually make my students laugh and have fun while learning.

Once, I had a difficult time helping my students in my English class digest a fairly complex reading passage about the author’s daunting climb up a mountain. The students were getting frustrated and what I said was not making any sense to them. So using my limited artistic talent, I proceeded to draw on the whiteboard two huge mountains to show them how the valley could be dangerous. Very soon, I began to hear giggles and then laughter from the students. I stepped back and realised that I had a suggestive illustration of a part of a woman’s anatomy on the board! Laughing at myself, I saw that the tense class atmosphere had suddenly become light-hearted.

Another time, a student realised he had forgotten to paragraph his writing assignment and exclaimed with a sudden “Shit!” I immediately looked down at the floor and responded with “Where? Where?” The whole class burst into laughter. These were occasions when humour helped me make learning enjoyable and kept my students engaged in the classroom.

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Why use humour?

I suppose many of us have intentionally or unintentionally created laughter in the classroom and immediately felt good about it. So why use humour in the classroom? Mary Jane Belfie, a well known psychologist, tells us that “Something special happens when people laugh together over something genuinely funny, and not hurtful to anyone. It’s like magic rain that showers down feelings of comfort, safety and belonging to a group.

Here are some reasons, according to Michael Lewin why we should have more laughter in the classroom.

  •  It’s a common language.   Although it can take time for some students to come around, all students like to laugh. Laughter is the one thing guaranteed to build camaraderie and knock down social and emotional walls, binding students from different backgrounds together into one happy classroom.
  • Your students will love you for it.   When you make an effort to add humour to your lessons, routines, and activities, you instantly become more likeable to your students – which causes them to want to be around you, to please you, and to get to know you better. This, in turn, gives you powerful leverage to influence their behavior.
  • It’s easy.   It takes little or no planning to bring more laughter to your classroom. All you need is a willingness to try. Your students will appreciate any effort to be funny. They’re primed to laugh. So be your silly self, tell a joke or two, and show your best–or worst–dance moves.

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  • It builds togetherness.   I’m dubious of community circles—at least in the way they’re commonly used. Hashing out grievances can lead to resentment and more things to complain about. Sharing a laugh and having a good time together, however, soothes old wounds and alleviates hurt feelings better than anything else.
  • It eases tension.   Many classrooms buzz with tension. You can feel it as soon as you walk through the door. And before long, you’ll see it too: excitable, irritable, and misbehaving students. Laughter, however, can relax an uptight classroom—releasing tension, calming vibrating knees, and bringing joy to the room.
  • It motivates students to behave.   Humour can help you create a classroom your students love being part of. This, along with strict accountability, provides a strong motivator for students to behave. No student wants to wallow in time-out while their classmates are sharing a laugh with the teacher.
  •  It encourages hard work.   When students are happy to be in your class, you can ask so much more of them. They appreciate a classroom they enjoy coming to every day, and they’ll want to repay you for it. It’s human nature. We reciprocate those we feel indebted to.
  •  It reaches the hard to reach.   Humour has the power to help you make personal connections with students, particularly with those who are hardest to reach. When I look back on the most challenging students I’ve had over the years, I can often point to the use of humour as a major factor in helping me turn them around and guide them in the right direction.

There is a common belief that if you use humour in your classroom, you’ll lose control of your students. But here’s the thing. If you already have poor classroom management, then yes, it’s true. Trying to be funny will backfire on you. Behavior will likely get worse. But if you have solid classroom management skills, then bringing more laughter into your classroom will make you even more effective.

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Theories of Humour

If you need some theoretical backing for the use of humour, check out the book “License to Laugh” by Richard A. Shade who discusses the role of humour in the educational setting.

  

Humour Strategies to Use

Even if you think you are a “humourless” person or “humour challenged,” there are things you can do to lighten the load and dissipate the clouds in your classroom. Just remember, above all, that sarcasm has no place in the school. Only “no hurt” humour is acceptable. According to Maurice Elias, Professor Rutgers at the University Psychology Department, these are some things you could do:

  •  Laugh at yourself — when you do something silly or wrong, mention it and laugh at it
  • Add humorous items to tests, homework or class assignments – an option when you give multiple choice exams requiring students to identify pairs of historical leaders is “Calamari and Anchovy”. It always gets smiles, and helps to break exam tension
  • Keep a quotable quotes bulletin board or corner in your room — look for humour quotes and post them and encourage your students to do the same
  • Keep a cartoon file, and have an area where you can display one or two a day on a rotating basis, with students making the choice
  • Have Joke Friday — ask students to bring in jokes to share, either to start the day on Friday, to make a transition between lunch and the following class, or at the end of the day (be sure to screen the jokes in advance, of course)

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  • Ask students to try to build humour into occasional writing assignments — that will start a conversation about what is funny, how they know something is funny, why different people find some things funny but some things are funny to almost everyone
  • Have a funny hat day, or mismatched socks day, or some other funny dress-up time
  • Build creative and humorous thinking by showing cartoons and picture without captions and asking students to create them — individually, in pair-shares, or small groups
  • Ask students to bring in books they think are funny. Ask them to talk about why, and to use examples from the book

Looking for more ideas to inject some humour in your classroom? Go to this link: “Comedy in the Classroom: 50 Ways to bring Laughter into any Lesson”

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Areas of humour to avoid

 A word of caution about using humour in the classroom. Avoid these areas of humour which could heighten rather than reduce tension or even get you into trouble with the authorities!

  • Sexual
  • Ethnic/Racial
  • Religious
  • Hostile/Sick
  • Demeaning to Men/Women

So let’s add some more enjoyment to school. We don’t need guffaws — a smile and a little levity can go a long way. It’s time for us educators to take humour more seriously.