Beyond the fun factor, humor can be an effective way to engage students and activate learning. We asked members about how they use humor in the classroom. Here’s what they had to say.
In my seventh- and eighth-grade beginning and advanced art classroom, we recognized the incredible humor of the Pop Art movement, which frequently included overscaled images of cartoons (Lichtenstein), giant spoons, clothespins (Oldenburg), and garish portraits of celebrities (Warhol). And then, of course, there were the surrealists!
President, Santa Barbara Teachers Association
I use puns in my seventh-grade honors life science classroom. It helps to keep things lighthearted, and it helps with listening skills and critical thinking. For example, I recently asked students to draw a leaf to help illustrate the photosynthetic reaction, and I told them that high-quality drawings of this sort are “never in vain” — a pun on the veins that appear in many different species of plants. I usually first get a smirk, and then, after a brief pause, laughter is the reward. I believe laughter is an important part of creating a positive learning environment for my students.
Fremont Unified District Teachers Association
I ask that students who want extra credit tell the class a joke. One joke a week. Can’t be racist, sexist, or “dead baby” jokes. Should not be pilfered from a third-grader. Must be handed in, but in handwriting, not a computer printout. This gives kids the opportunity to speak before class in a relatively nonthreatening mode, and usually starts class on a positive note.
President, United Educators of San Francisco
I try to find funny sayings, pictures or funnies to make students laugh as they enter the room. It sets the mood, makes them laugh, and we may or may not have an impromptu conversation about it. Sometimes they actually have to THINK about them! The kids love it. Some actually send me new ones to use — even the school secretaries!
Visalia Teachers Association
We are studying genetics in my science class. To help seventh-graders deal with gametes (egg and sperm) and fertilization, I use props. I have a toy egg and sperm. They love them (especially when I ask “Who has my sperm?”). GIANTmicrobes (giantmicrobes.com/us) makes stuffed animals that look like common microbes.
Karolee J. Smiley
Twin Rivers United Educators
Dry humor: IQ check!
Puns: Kids love them, and they engage abstract thinking.
Spoonerisms: Are they peally raying attention?
Idioms: English learners benefit, as do primary English speakers.
Similes: Wacky comparisons help teach that figure of speech and reinforce learning.
Hink Pinks: Rhyming riddles teach synonyms and can be very funny.
Ocean View Teachers Association
Elementary school, grades 4-5. There has to be laughter every day in a classroom. I have a riddle a day that students can write the answer to for a sticker at the end of the day. Solving riddles definitely takes higher order thinking skills and thinking outside the box. Sometimes there are groans mixed with the laughter.
Oakland Education Association
Comic strips. Not just funny ones, but many times those with a touch of social conscience. Kids love it.
Palmdale Elementary Teachers Association
I try and model that it’s OK to laugh at yourself, especially when trying something new. I teach ceramics. Pottery can be funny business!
Rialto Education Association
My middle school students love hearing about ’80s songs and laugh when we sing them together.
Desert Sands Teachers Association
I use humor to defuse tension.
Janel Y. Christiansen
To do gentle discipline.
Kern High School Teachers Association
I have all sorts of crazy dances to help kids remember concepts. Funny thing is, I am pretty bad at dancing.
Fontana Teachers Association
I have a joke of the day posted on a large portable whiteboard as students enter our room. Although my humor is silly, students from all over campus stop by to read the jokes. The janitor says my jokes are the highlight of her day!
Orland Teachers Association
I use humor to help students remember difficult grammar concepts in French. For example: Pronunciation in languages is very important for clear communication. A slight change in vowel pronunciation or dropping a consonant sound can result in hilarity or trouble. It can be the difference between calling someone a pig or inviting them to bed you. True story.
El Monte Union Education Association
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