A site to share and exchange ideas about English – teaching or enjoying it.

Is there room for jokes in the classroom?

I answer this question with yet another one: “Why not?”

There’s always room for a good laugh, and if you can use humour to foster learning, well, what are you waiting for? I’ve used jokes in the classroom in a number of ways, with different objectives. Students responded positively all the times, because telling them or exposing them to jokes in the language they’re learning gives them a good dose of sense of achievement (besides a good laugh), thus encouraging them to move on with their studies. Students will feel motivated because they were able to understand a joke, and more often than not will pass it on either in English or try to translate it to their mother tongue.

Here are a few ideas to use jokes in the classroom:

1 – Select a few short jokes and print them in a large font. Cut them in sections (separate the lines), being careful to clip the parts of each joke together, but out of order. Give each group of students (ABC, ABC, ABC) one joke, which they have to put in order. After they’ve done it, have them read it , memorise it and practise telling it (check intonation, rhythm, pronunciation, etc). Now, arrange students in new groups (AAA, BBB, CCC), and each student will share his joke with the new group.

2 – Show students a short joke. In pairs or groups, have students modify the joke, changing main character, setting, etc. After everyone has finished (set a time limit!), students tell their new joke to the class and all students vote for the best one!

3 – Have students translate a famous/common joke from their mother tongue into English. Parrot jokes always do well here, but select one which will make sense in English and uses tricky verb tenses or adjective order, for example. This will make them think about grammar and rules and translating itself.

4 – This one is good for kids. If you’re teaching animals, select a few jokes about that. Tell them to students and divide them in groups. As a project, they pick one joke and film themselves telling it. This will involve rehearsing, hence, pronunciation practice, rhythm, intonation, acting out. On a chosen date, show all films (previously checked/edited) to class – they’ll have a ball watching themselves!

5 – Show students someone else telling a joke (on video or a recording). Carefully select one they will understand, and if necessary, teach vocabulary/expressions they’ll need before watching, to make sure the laugh comes. Afterwards, have a discussion on what makes it funny and why (or IF), how the comedian tells it in order to make it sound funny. This could be the lead in to a new unit in a book, or the topic of a conversation class: “What makes you laugh?”

Hope you have a good time!

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Comments on: "Is there room for jokes in the classroom?" (15)

  1. Great post, Bete… takes me back to my MA dissertation, which was on different forms of humour and the difficulties they present to simulataneous interpreters.

    I used 3 years running of recordings of the Oscar ceremony, with Billy Crystal, Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg as hosts.

    All I can say is that I had loads of fun doing my MA, while most of my colleagues complained that they were fed up with their research topics near the end!

    See you at IATEFL!

    G.

    • BTW, just in cas you thought “simulataneous” was a new Brazilian ethnic group (get it?)… I actually meant “simultaneous”. Oops!

      • Hi, Graeme. You seem to be always ready for a good laugh, as you outlined in your comment…word puns and all..:))) Great choice for the thesis! You seem to have chosen well – since you’ll have to work hard, at least, make it light in some way!
        See u there – can’t wait!
        B

  2. Hi Bete,

    Thanks for sharing these suggestions with us. Loads of learning takes place when we manage to create a lighthearted atmosphere in the classroom and learners enjoy themselves in class. It´s something we should always strive to create, especially when dealing with teenagers.

    Valéria

    • Hi, Valéria, This is exactly what I think. You have to ENJOY your classes, and if you can resort to jokes or funny situations, I guess everybody involved will benefit. 🙂
      Thanks!
      B

  3. I do like using humor while teaching ! However, I find that teaching the humor of why some jokes are funny to be difficult (I teach world languages) to students, when they don’t have a firm grip on the nuances and idioms of the target language. Perhaps it’s having to explain it at all means that it loses its spontaneous laughter…however, using a joke as you’ve outlined it to teach specific grammar points might work. I do use tongue twisters in the TL and the students do enjoy that !

    • Hi, Ann.
      Yes, you’re right – that’s why we must carefully select the material to be used so that the element of fun doesn’t get spoilt even before it happens! I too have used Tongue Twisters with upper intermediate onwards students, to present them with a challenge. I used to hand them out in slips and students liked it so much they ‘collected’ them and later challenged their school friends to read them properly.
      Take care,
      B

  4. Chris Dupont said:

    My dearest guru forever,
    Isn’t it pure bliss when a student cracks a genuinely spontaneous joke in class, completely out of the blue? Soon other students and yourself are caught up in the hilarious atmosphere and the wittiest repartee takes place. That’s the moment when we know for certain that all is fine and dandy in the remarkable arena which is the English language classroom.
    You too believed in having a good laugh in class when you were a teacher, didn’t you?

    • Dear Chris,
      You bet! A good laugh was/is always part of my lesson plans. When a student comes up with a joke, this tells you he feels at home in your class, and this is priceless. 🙂
      Thank you!
      B

  5. Dear Bete,

    Why not break the ice with a funny story?
    I, like you, have always had positive responses when using jokes in class. Thanks for reminding us of such a great tool.

    Adriana

    • Hey, Adriana,
      Yes, there’s no denying it, you are a lighthearted person, and this reflects in your teaching. Keep laughing!
      Cheers,
      B

  6. Hi Bete,
    Thanks for your thoughts!
    TTT is a killer – but, as Chris said there’s no bonding without a good chat.
    Jokes, yes! Can’t tell one properly to save my life, but do appreciate the gender. Master 1 group and I have been enjoying some extras in class: Ellen DeGeneris and Hugh Laurie clip with American x British slangs; and hopefuly some Monty Python next week as they asked me ab British humour on our class about Stereotypes (as in “the Brit have none”)

    • Lu,
      Yes, that’s it. You mentioned excellent examples, and there are plenty more on offer that we can use in our classrooms. Well, Lu, you may not be able to tell a joke, but you master the art of storytelling, I’ve been told…:)
      Best,
      B

  7. My dear Bete,

    I’m not so fond of jokes myself. I feel they steal my thunder a tad. The only exception I’d make would be for the classical [T= What do you call a fish with no eyes? S= Fsh.] I couldn’t resist. lol! All jokes aside, don’t Brazilian pupils have a problems with E, I and the like? It all comes down to make it memorable, whatever the focus is, eh!? If timing is right, they will surely remember their vowels. And … I was just kidding. I love jokes. 😀 And I love the blog! Congrats!

  8. I had never thought of jokes this way. I’m gonna give it a try…

    XXXX

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