How humour benefits you and your students
Who remembers Singin’ in the Rain? If you do, you wouldn’t have been able to forget Donald O’Connor’s comical musical number, Make ‘em Laugh.
Make 'em laugh, make 'em laugh, don't you know ev'ry one wants to laugh?
My dad said, "Be an actor my son,
But be a comical one!"
They'll be standing in line
For those old honky-tonk monkey shines
Oh, you could study Shakespeare and be quite elite,
And you could charm the critics and have nothing to eat,
Just slip on a banana peel, the world's at your feet
Make 'em laugh, make 'em laugh, make 'em laugh!
Donald may have been singing about making a living out of being a comedian, but the premise is true for the students in your classroom as well. If you can make ‘em laugh, they’ll keep coming back for more.
One of my daughter’s favourite teachers uses puns all the time. While the kids all like to groan and tell him it’s “cringy”, secretly, they love it. This teacher has found a way to endear himself to the kids and build rapport by making them laugh. Not only that, but some of them (my daughter included) have risen to the challenge of matching his puns with some of their own. He has managed to stretch their brains in a way that isn’t addressed by the curriculum. Very clever.
Here are some ways that using humour in the classroom can be beneficial.
Did you know that the use of humour by a classroom teacher is associated with a 40 percentile point increase in instructional effectiveness (The Highly Engaged Classroom, Marzano & Pickering)? Meaning that, if you incorporate humour throughout your lessons, your students will take in and retain much more of the information than if you do not use humour. With student engagement being a major challenge in Australian classrooms - approximately 40% of students are disengaged (Grattan Framework) – it’s good to know that a little humour could help in solving this issue.
Laughing increases creativity. It reduces your inhibitions, which allows you to think more freely and be accepting of new ideas. Rumour has it that even Albert Einstein was a bit of a joker. He is credited with saying, “Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves”.
Before you dive into a teaching session with your students, particularly if there are complex concepts being taught, it wouldn’t hurt to have a good laugh before you start. Or if you are conducting a problem-solving session – have a laugh together first. Your students will be much more likely to achieve “out-of-the-box” thinking to come up with some creative solutions.
Humour strengthens the team spirit. When we laugh together, it forms positive memories and bonds. It fosters a sense of belonging. This is true for any group of people – families, colleagues, friends, or students/teachers. It even works for salespeople – if they can make you laugh, you will be much more likely to buy from them because they have built that comradery with you. That kind of rapport is particularly important in the classroom, because students need to feel like they belong before they will take risks and exit their comfort zone to learn.
Physical Health Benefits
Laughter has many health benefits. It lowers blood pressure and stress levels. It triggers the release of endorphins (happy hormones), strengthens your immune system and can even temporarily relieve pain. It strengthens muscles and increases the amount of oxygen in your blood. They say that 15 mins of laughing is equal to doing 100 sit ups. Physical activity is hugely beneficial to learning (more oxygen helps your brain stay engaged), and when your students have been in their seats for half a lesson, they can definitely use a boost in that area!
Mental Health Benefits
An old Yiddish proverb says “What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul”. It’s true, right? A few minutes of good solid belly laughs while watching YouTube Fail videos is enough to reset my mood after a long, frustrating day. If I get to laugh and watch those videos with my family, it’s even better. Laughing combats depression and anxiety. With so many of us battling these issues, young people included, this is an excellent, natural contribution to staying healthy.
But I’m not funny…
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. There are very few of us who are naturally funny. But it’s ok, there are some ways that you can plan to incorporate humour into your day that don’t rely on you cracking out the one-liners.
5 ways you can use humour in your classroom:
- Use self-directed humour and funny stories about yourself. Don’t put yourself down, as you don’t want to model that kind of self-talk to your students, but if something embarrassing has happened lately that you don’t mind sharing, it can be a great way to show your humanity and build rapport while having some fun. I know a teacher who wore an odd pair of shoes to school one day. She always gets a laugh out of that story when she’s in a new classroom.
- Share funny headlines, quotes, memes, and YouTube videos. These may have relevance to your lesson content, or may be completely random and off topic. Why not keep them guessing?! As I said before, I love Fail videos. There’s nothing like watching someone fall down…
- Offer fun and interesting facts. For example, there are more plastic flamingos in America than real ones. Or, more people are killed each year by falling coconuts than shark attacks. Here are some more great fun facts from Livin3
- Let your students have a go - ask them to find jokes to bring to class and, each day, ask someone for a new joke. Here’s a website that’s full of jokes to get you started short-funny.com
- Use word-play to liven up the day and keep students on their toes. Here’s one for the maths teachers: “He said I was average. That’s just mean.”
Always make sure that humour is age and school appropriate. What works for a 5th grader isn’t likely to be funny to a 10th grader. What works for one group of students may not work for another. Make sure you know your audience before you start cracking funnies.
A word of warning - be careful to never use your students as the brunt of a joke, no matter how “ok” with it they seem. It may seem fine to banter and play, and your student may laugh and seem to be having fun, but you just never know if it’s an act or not. Don’t run the risk of damaging a relationship for the sake of a bit of fun. In all honesty, we shouldn’t be running the risk of damaging any of our relationships with this kind of humour, student or not.
Don’t forget, it’s not just your students that need to laugh. All the benefits listed above apply to you too. Make time to laugh and have fun in your professional and personal life. You won’t regret it.
Before you go, check out We Are Teachers and give yourself a laugh right now :)