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!