Laughter isn’t just the best medicine for the soul; it’s a valuable teaching tool as well. It can encourage an atmosphere of openness, develop students’ divergent thinking, improve their retention of the presented materials, and garner respect for the teacher.
This is not to suggest that teachers should be stand-up comedians, but you’ll bear me witness that your best teachers are those who were humorous and approachable; those who made their classes worth looking forward to. The ones who integrated healthy humor in learning.
By using humor within my lessons, I can gage quickly how many of my students are actually with me. If they do not laugh yet the joke is really funny, I know they are confused by the concepts of the material. Some may argue that humor is very personal and that what is considered humorous varies from person to person. Indeed, a comment that one person finds funny can completely fall flat with another, or even worse, be insulting. However, we should also acknowledge that when the students are not with you, they will not even understand the joke in the first place.
Besides, those who laugh together, never fight with each other and those who can laugh at themselves do not get angry easily. We spend too many years teaching our students to be more sensitive, when in fact, we should be teaching them not to be so sensitive. Words can only hurt us if we allow them to. Words are better met with counter words, not violence or censorship. In a free society, no one should fear speaking their minds. In place of learning, ideas should be judged not individuals or people.
Furthermore, laughter is such a genuine and authentic human reaction to feeling 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.
That having been said, how can teachers effectively use humor in the classroom? Many of us fail in this area because we approach it with sarcasm. This type of humor shouldn’t be used in the classroom as it can hurt people’s feelings if it goes too far. Instead of finding yourself stepping into the world of sarcasm, try to remember what really makes your students laugh. If you’re teaching primary school children, they probably won’t understand a great deal of sarcastic comments anyway.
Plan for the healthy joke as you plan for the lesson. Humor doesn’t have to mean quick wit; teachers can bake laughs into their lesson plans by incorporating funny materials like silly word problems, political cartoons or satirical statements. Try and make traditionally dry subjects more interesting with funny games, cartoons and props. Also, learn to laugh with the students whenever something funny happens. However, keep all humor relevant to what you’re teaching to ensure the pupils stay on the same page. While at it, treat all students with the maximum amount of respect and don’t let humor get in the way. Finally, don’t try too hard.
For all of these reasons, humor can be an amazing tool in the classroom. However, like most things in life, it needs to be used in moderation. Too much humor can be detrimental as it can undermine the credibility of the instructor and result in a loss of focus of the instructional objectives It is important to keep this in mind when teaching. If the joke is not specific to what you are teaching, targeted to enhance learning, or appropriate for the audience, learning will not take place.
The writer is a language consultant.