Monday, November 22, 2010

Exceptionally Effective-A Sense of Humor

It is essential to have a sense of humor if you are going to be a teacher. The job simply demands that you be able to sit back and laugh, especially at the variety of predicaments in which you will find yourself. Laughter is a survival skill. But exceptional teachers don’t just make themselves laugh; they can find ways to make their students laugh. They use humor in a way that is useful to learning and helps them teach.

Not all great teachers are funny but everyone can use humor to improve their instruction in a variety of ways. There is the simple use of the youtube clip, cleverly woven into the lesson and used to start discussion or illustrate a point. If nothing else it usually gets kids attention. But there is a fine line between funny and silly. A skillful instructor knows the latter does little to improve the learning environment.

In my class I have stumbled across several "tricks" that seem to keep the class engaged. One of my favorite is when someone enters my room they are politely applauded. I instruct my students to begin a soft golf clap when an outsider enters the room. Be it a student delivering a pass, a principal doing an observation, a teacher getting something off my printer, they are all met with a round of gentle applause. It is funny and welcoming. It alerts me to their presence, which is necessary when I do not notice their arrival. Rarely does a visitor merge seamlessly into the room so acknowledging them in a humorous fashion helps me remain in control of the disruption. Most visitors now have come to expect this.

Fun games can also be humorous. The internet is crowded with activities from teachers who have shared such resources ranging from simple jeopardy more complex creations. I have a template similar to the game Taboo, where students have their partner try to guess the vocab word. My colleague, Mr. Turner, has been known to play "Name of Drug or Metal Band" in his Psychology class. These less formal strategies can still produce learning and it doesn't hurt to laugh when things don't go as planned.

Another trick is to relate stories from your personal experience. Since you are "older" you have been where they are in life and can offer insights in a funny way. I usually clean these up as needed and occasionally embellish them to amplify the humorous effect. Experience has taught me to use self-deprecation in these and whenever possible. Maybe people relate easier to those they feel sorry for, I am not sure. I guess Charlie Brown would be a great teacher.

To some these may seem a waste of valuable instructional time. But being willing to take 5 minutes to make kids laugh in exchange for engaging them rest of the period is a trade-off well worth the effort. Students might even enjoy attending the class and on occasion even pay attention. Learning is generally more enjoyable when you are having fun.


  1. I'm sure there is a ton of research somewhere on all the benefits of humor. It's documented to be good for your health and must create some kind of positive chemical reaction in the brain that improves learning. I teach online and try to post a funny cartoon or riddle at the beginning of each class as well as including humorous illustrations in my powerpoints.

  2. Maybe education could use a "Patch Adams."