According to author Michael Linsin, “ Laughter has the rare ability to soften hardened hearts, open shuttered minds, and endear students to one another.”
Humor used in the correct way can set a tone that helps students to feel comfortable in the classroom and more enthusiastic about learning. A teacher who uses humor will also find that his or her job has more joy.
There are more reasons than that. Becky Kasper from The Center for Teaching Excellence says, “A little bit of laughter in a classroom can go a long way in decreasing anxiety, lowering defenses, fostering a positive student-instructor relationship, defusing tensions, provoking imagination, triggering interest and motivation to learn, and opening the mind.”
For educators who would like to lighten the mood while benefiting themselves and their students, here is a list of twenty one ways to make your classroom more entertaining and even side-splittingly fun!
01. Decorate with familiar memes to create a fun classroom climate as soon as your students walk in.
Let your students know with posters like this one that you have a sense of humor and you’re not afraid to use it. If your students are older, give them some time to create their own memes for class rules. It will help them to remember the rules as they laugh!
02. Speaking of rules, math and language rules make a bigger impact when you use a bit of “punny” humor.
Cannibalism is generally poor taste, but it can certainly help students to remember proper comma placement.
Imagery and a proper pun can also have a lasting effect when it comes to mathematics.
03. Celebrate farewells creatively
While there are many highlights in every teaching career, saying goodbye to students or teachers at the end of a school year can be tough. Make the occasion memorable and lighthearted by encouraging your students to express their memories creatively. Check out this example from St Mary’s College (Hobart, TAS, Australia) where a teacher asked students to illustrate a portrait for their Principal’s farewell.
The illustrations and quotes were used to make a beautiful cover for their yearbook, and a nice spread with very kind quotes from the kids (and it was also a good way to get their attention, promote their creativity and for them to practice writing).
04. The more gross you make the work, the more fun your students will have.
Despite their professed disgust for chocolate-covered ants, my students couldn’t wait to figure out how much they weigh. My students complain heartily about the slimy and repugnant word problems in the It’s Alive books – but they always finish and ask for more. For some reason, talking about flakes of skin and pounds of sweat makes a lasting impression…
05. Scavenger hunts and puzzles can bring laughter and complete engagement.
Students of all ages enjoy breaking codes and figuring out riddles. To integrate both of these activities into your curriculum, try Breakout EDU. Currently in beta testing, this site provides fun activities to practice or learn new skills as student try to find the combinations to locks and boxes that can be planted around your classroom.
06. T.V. shows, such as Minute to Win It provide inspiration for many classroom games.
Reagan Tunstall offers a free pack of 7 Minute to Win It games for students on Teachers Pay Teachers. You can get even more ideas from Lindsey Petlak in this blog post for Scholastic. While the games might not always reinforce curriculum, they can be great for taking a brief respite from academics or as team and character-building activities.
07. Get some inspiration from one of the kings of Late Night Comedy, Jimmy Fallon.
Fallon often has celebrity guests play games with him, and the video clips have spawned lots of educational spin-offs such as this “Slow Jam the Poem” lesson plan shared by John Hardison. Caitlin Tuckers shares this awesome plan for using Fallon’s “Word Sneak” game to review vocabulary. Always looking for fun games to play with his English Language Learners, Larry Ferlazzo points out here how “5-Second Summaries” can be used in the classroom.
08. Classroom Humor: Play the part.
Let’s face it. Worksheets are generally boring. Some of the required curriculum needs a little imagination to become even mildly engaging. Making contractions, for example, isn’t the most exciting activity. But when the students become “contraction surgeons” to take out the parts no longer needed when words are combined, they suddenly find it fun. Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate, says, “Don’t just teach a lesson. Create an experience!” In Dave’s classroom, costumes and props are the norm – for students and the teacher.
09. Speech bubbles make it funnier.
Formal writing has its place. It’s nice to give students other options to show what they’ve learned, however. This great post from Laura Chaffey shows how comic strips can be used in multiple ways as an assessment tool. Using apps like “Strip Designer” or “Comic Strip” will enhance the lesson – but good, old-fashioned pencil and paper work just as well. Check out this great blog for some comic-al grammar lessons.
10. Deliver the message with stop-motion animation.
Giving a school report can be stressful for the presenter and somewhat mind-numbing for the audience. Stop-motion videos like this one that teaches personification can make everyone smile, though. To easily create stop-motion videos, students can use the free Lego Movie Maker app or something similar. Ms. Mitchell outlines the process she used to introduce Lego Movie Maker to her students here.
11. Make the pictures speak for you.
Users can bring any still picture to life with the ChatterPix Kids app from Duck Duck Moose. Students will have a blast giving voice to drawings and book pictures by drawing a line on the mouth and making a 30 second recording. This is a fun way to share research, summarize a book, or show the point of view of a fictional character.
12. Call attention to yourself by saying something silly.
“Hey, Rock Stars!” I say to my class. “Hey, what?” they all chime in response. This is one way I get the students’ attention so I can give directions in my classroom. They all know to stop what they are doing and look at me whenever I call them rock stars. (Besides being complimented, the students enjoy the somewhat irreverent response of, “Hey, what?”)
It’s nice to keep your calls/responses fresh, however. I’d recommend switching them out every few weeks, or even having a regular series the students know so you can surprise them each time. The image below has some suggestions. Angela Watson offers 50 more in this article. You can see contributions of the calls/responses other teachers use here.
13. Calling attention won’t be an impossible mission if you use music as your cue.
As soon as I play the theme song from Mission Impossible, my students know it’s time to clean up. They also know they only have until the end of the song to get it finished. We smile and hum along to the song as the room is quickly tidied.
A fabulous article from Mr. Vaudrey introduced me to TelevisionTunes.com and other ways to use music to communicate instructions to the class. (FYI – other student favorites are Batman and Spongebob.)
14. Mix up the line-up.
Elementary teachers know that the worst thing to say to a bunch of young students is, “Line up!” without any further instructions. Chaos will most certainly ensue. By making the routine less predictable, students will listen more carefully, and you can sometimes learn more about them. “Terri’s Teaching Treasure lists some standard line-up instructions here.
However, if you have the time for a bit of laughter, you can add some more zing by using some of these ideas: number of times you’ve laughed until milk came out of your nose, silly things that scared you when you were little (monsters under the bed or in the closet, washing machines, dark rooms, etc..), words you used to pronounce the wrong way, and number of bathrooms in your house. (It’s easy to get a laugh with the word, “bathrooms.” If you’re really feeling adventurous, try the word, “toilets” instead.)
15. Corn Dogs.
Kid President has a series of uplifting videos that my elementary students beg to watch over and over. In “20 Things We Should Say More Often,” KP gives nice advice such as saying, “Thank you.” That may be a bit obvious, but I bet you didn’t know you can make the world better by giving out corn dogs, too. And make farting sounds. Any time your class needs a pep talk or some inspiration, Kid President has a video to fit the situation.
16. “Satire is a lesson, parody is a game.” ~ Vladimir Nabokov
Unlike Nabokov, the creators of the “historyteachers” videos have mastered the art of using parody to teach lessons. They have quite a collection of famous songs for which they have changed the lyrics to describe different historical characters and periods. For example, students can learn more about King Tut to the tune of Smashmouth’s “Walking on the Sun.” The French Revolution makes much more sense when it’s explained using the music from Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.”
17. If you don’t want to start humming old songs from the 80’s and 90’s, Sci Show Videos are a fun alternative
Hank Green hosts many of the Sci Show videos, which are short clips that explain things like, “What Does your Uvula Do?” With a mixture of gross facts, silly noises and pictures, and down-to-earth terms, the Sci Show videos are amusing and an entertaining way to learn about those burning questions such as, “What Happens When You Hold Your Pee?”
18. Let Vi Hart do the Math.
I first discovered Vi Hart when I was looking for a way to teach my students about Fibonacci. Her “Doodling in Math” series seemed to be just the thing. Speaking with the speed of an auctioneer, Vi Hart completely captured the hearts of my students with her “snuggled up slug cats,” one of her three types of spirals. Her passion for math and sly sense of humor are evident in all of her videos, making her short lessons both comical and fascinating at the same time.
19. Step away from the boring essay.
Kids are done with writing about their favorite place to visit and how to tie a shoe. Give them some unusual visual writing prompts like the one above to spark their imagination. You can find more funny photos on this Pinterest Board. In a Google image search for “hilarious writing prompts,” I got quite a few more ideas. For extra challenge, invite the student photographers in your classroom to make up their own funny writing prompt after you’ve show them some examples.
20. It’s not cool to make fun of others, but no one’s opposed to you making fun of yourself.
My high school algebra teacher had a great response whenever anyone pointed out a mistake she had on the board. “I was just checking to make sure you were paying attention,” she would say with a smile and a wink. We would all laugh, but that simple statement helped us all to relax about making mistakes, and to see that our teacher knew she wasn’t perfect.
21. Drop something funny somewhere that it’s least expected.
I love to read about teachers like the one below who add ridiculous questions to their tests just to liven things up. During those times of year when everyone is stressed, there are lots of ways to relax everyone. Try “Eyebombing” right before a standardized test administration or a teacher flash mob after a fire drill.
=> Make your classroom a happier place.
In the words of Joel Goodman, “Seven days without laughter makes one weak.” To recap, here are a couple of actionable activities you can you can start doing to spark a bit of classroom humor:
> Add hilarious messages and affirmations around your classroom
> Use art, music and video in everyday lessons
> Don’t be afraid to be “silly”
> Variety, variety, variety. Mix it up, don’t get stuck in a boring routine.
> Make time for standups and theatre based activities
If you are an educator who is feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, maybe it’s time to bring a few giggles into the room to make you and the students feel happier and stronger.
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