We all know that using humour in the classroom can help strengthen relationships and significantly enhance student engagement. During this pandemic, we need to improvise a little more to help create an extra conducive learning environment, and doing it through laughter would even help us boost our immune systems!
As a comedian, I recognize that teachers are also performers who have to captivate their audience on a daily basis, and are always looking for new ways to connect with their students and help them realize their full academic potential.
Last year I had the privilege of sharing my expertise with over 150 teachers during a series of eight workshops on how to use humour as both a learning tool and as a way to effectively strengthen relationships. A wealth of knowledge was shared both ways and the following are a combination of what I feel are the biggest takeaways.
MAKE IT MEMORABLE
When I asked everyone which teachers they remembered from their days as students, the majority of them pointed out that the ones they remembered and excelled the most with were the ones who were the funniest.
As performers, there are many ways to incorporate humour into our communication. Traditionally, the use of facial expressions has been a popular method to elicit a friendly reaction. If you are teaching with a mask, it will obviously be more difficult to use that technique unless you have a secret ability to create emojis with your forehead. Unfortunately, most of us will have to turn to other cues such as physical gestures and vocal range. This includes changing your voice to establish characters in novels and stories, and using accents to make your students laugh during pressure situations.
Jerry Seinfeld is a great example of a comedian whose voice masterfully goes from low to squeaky high at different volumes to deliver an impactful and memorable performance.
When it comes to using your physicality, moving your whole body can significantly help deliver your message. Not only are the students listening, but now they are also drawn in by your energy and will naturally pay more attention. Watch how comedian Sebastian Maniscalco sells his jokes through a variety of movements. He uses his words to set up his message and then his body to emphasize his point and helps provide a clear visual expression for the viewer. He is a master of nonverbal communication and the tools he uses can be directly applied to teaching.
PLAY SOME COMEDY
I know that class time is valuable and efficiency is more vital than ever, but spending the first two or three minutes playing some stand-up or sketch comedy can really help break the ice and set the mood. Perhaps starting the clip immediately as students are arriving can be a great way to get them to enter quietly and as early as possible so they don’t miss out on the laughs. There are many clean comedians that can be used to show students different perspectives and help inspire critical thinking. Examples include Ryan Hamilton, Carmen Lynch, and Brian Regan. There are also many monologues you can use from the Late Show with Stephen Colbert that cover a variety of Social Studies topics that teachers can use to help break in a new theme and even create discussions. Choosing to play comedy at the end of the class can also be a great reward and keep students engaged until the bell.
There are many ways to incorporate humour into Language Arts curriculum or as a homeroom activity.
• Exercises that I like to use involve the learning of literary terms. You can take idiomatic expressions or proverbs, remove the ending and have the student fill in the blank. Funny examples from my students include: “You can’t judge a burger by its condiments,” “Actions speak louder than parents,” “Don’t put all your eggs in your mouth,” and “What goes around hits me in the head!” Students can share their creations, have a laugh and hopefully remember what an idiom or a proverb is. Have your students get creative by forming their own hyperboles, euphemisms, metaphors or funny imagery to help them grasp those terms. Laughter through sharing will help them retain the meaning of those words.
• As a creative writing assignment, have your students recount the funniest or craziest story of their lives with as much detail as possible. Hopefully, this can also help encourage them to share their stories through an oral presentation and allow them to connect and develop a better understanding of their peers. Another way to generate funny writing is to have each student write a brief speech about a personality award that they won, such as, “most creative answers,” “best imagination,” and “best or worst handwriting.” The categories are endless!
• Another one is a writing exercise called “3 Things” in which you provide the students with a name, an object and a location, and they write a brief story using all three of those elements. This is a great way to get original
and funny versions that can be shared and enjoyed.
• Other devices that can be used are cartoon strips, where you remove the speech bubbles and have the students fill in their own funny interpretations. Creating personal limericks and memes are also mediums that can generate hilarity.
• Finally, I recommend reading jokes, riddles, and funny one-liners. This is a healthy way for young people to think about how a joke is crafted, as well as learning how imagery can be created in an economical way. Teachers can help explain the meaning of jokes, and having students read them aloud also helps them with the tone of their delivery and to pinpoint which words are the important ones to emphasize. This practice will come in handy when they start delivering speeches and oral presentations at a higher level. Demetri Martin, Steven Wright and Mitch Hedberg are three comedians with many short jokes that can be shared.
Humour is always around us and it is more important than ever to identify and share it with each other in a positive and productive manner. It will undoubtedly help create greater comfort, and, if used consistently, you will become that teacher who your students will always remember, mask or no mask!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeff Schouela is a professional comedian of sixteen years based out of Montreal. He is the founder and instructor of Comedy For Kids, a program that demonstrates how comedy and academics can work hand-in-hand. Jeff also conducts workshops for educators as well as providing student wellness seminars. E-mail: Kidscomedy514@gmail.com
This article appears in Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Fall 2020 issue.