Using Humor in the Classroom

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

This lesson will help you understand how making (and letting) your students laugh keeps the classroom alive and facilitates learning. You will learn how to use humor effectively and safely.

Why Bother With Humor?

Think back to the last time you laughed really hard. What were you doing? What triggered your laughter? What did it feel like to laugh that way?

Laughter is such a genuine and authentic human reaction to finding something funny, and it's also a way to feel enlivened and excited. Feeling excited is an important part of curiosity, and curiosity is one of the most significant aspects of learning. Humor keeps us engaged and interested; it can also help us feel like we are part of a community, and it can help us maintain perspective when something feels hard. For all of these reasons, humor can be an amazing tool in the classroom.

In this lesson, we will think about the why and the how of teaching with humor. You will internalize some good strategies for incorporating humor into your teaching, and we will also talk about some times when humor probably isn't the best way to go.

Humor Improves Teaching and Learning

There are at least four good reasons for incorporating humor into your teaching. These reasons include:

1. Keeping your students engaged

When students are laughing, they are paying attention. Humor keeps students on their toes, and if they know something funny is coming, they are more likely to remain on the same page as you.

2. Showing your students that you're a person, too

Sometimes the teacher seems so much like the wise, distant person. A little laughter shows your students that you have the same feelings they do, and this makes you more trustworthy. The ability to laugh at your own mistakes, in particular, shows that you are humble and real.

3. Helping create community in your classroom

Nothing feels quite so good as laughing alongside other people. Sharing jokes and funny moments will also give your students good memories to look back on.

4. Lightening the mood when things feel too hard

Stressful math problem? Big research paper due next week? Of course it's important to honor your students' feelings of stress, but a good laugh really helps everyone maintain perspective and remember that in the grand scheme of things, minor stressors are not such a big deal.

What's so Funny? Strategies for Using Humor

Now that we know why it can be useful to incorporate humor, what are some effective ways we can do it? How can you get your students laughing?

You do not have to play the fool.
Clown

You don't have to dress up in a clown suit or make a fool out of yourself to incorporate humor. Here are a few good strategies for making humor part of your teaching arsenal.

Jokes

Especially if humor doesn't come naturally to you, it can be useful to research some jokes in advance. If you're about to give a lecture on parts of speech, ask around: maybe your fellow grammarians know some good laughs about verbs! Practice telling a joke right at the beginning of your lecture, and see how it alters student engagement.

Laughing at your own mistakes

All of us teachers make mistakes, whether it's misspelling a word on the board or getting the dates wrong in a discussion about history. Modeling the ability to laugh at yourself teaches many good lessons at once. Give it a try!

Cartoons

Projecting a political cartoon or some other funny image in the middle of a neutral discussion or lecture sure can go a long way. Give your students time to share their impressions of whatever image you show them.

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