Using Humour in the Classroom – tips and students' perspectives

At the moment I’m living in Singapore where I’m teaching at an international school. I find that humour works everywhere, with slight variations, but 'slapstick' and visual humour rarely miss – they just need to be culture sensitive.

Here's what some of my 12th grade students say about humour in the classroom:

  • “...we can relax and have fun.” (Uttara and Sneha) 
  • “We retain information as we associate it with something funny in class.” (Sanjanaa and Mangala)
  • “Shows that teachers are also human beings”' (anon)

I have a great poster in my room now that says:
When you dance with the crocodile, you have to be prepared for when the music stops.
I point to it when a student goes off task, doesn't do homework, arrives late – low level behaviour management; and once I even used it for my 'toughen up and manage your time better' lecture. I don't really know what it means, but it seems to work for all occasions, (like the horrible pink medicine my mother used to give me).

Once I point to the poster, the student appears to engage their brain trying to decipher the poster's meaning in relation to their actions. They arrive at some conclusion that makes sense to them. By the time they’ve figured out a meaning the class has moved on and mutual affection is restored.

Let me leave the last word to Malavika: 

“Humour is the one thing that transcends across personalities, across interest, across disciplines. A funny class and a funny teacher is one that you'll talk about for years to come, and that's probably a big reason why we even manage to remember what was taught."

John Hellner, a self-confessed "humorologist", taught or worked as a teacher-educator in New Zealand secondary schools from 1975 to 2009. A former head of history at Auckland Grammar and deputy principal at Orewa College, he delivered the University of Waikato Graduate Diploma of Teaching (Secondary) at Tauranga. He is currently working at Overseas Family School in Singapore. John has published articles on education, and he believes humour is vital in a teacher-student relationship, which enhances learning.

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