Ten Ways to Incorporate Humour in the Classroom

I find the best way to get students involved, retain their attention, and ensure that they recall curriculum is to make lessons interesting and meaningful to them. Overall, the easiest way to do this is to utilize humour in the classroom.

Some of the best comedic gems to use in the classroom can be found on the internet, others (like television shows or movies) can be ordered online, and still others (books, comics) again online or your local bookstore. Here’s a list of some of my favourite lesson plans centred around humourous alternative texts:

10. Teaching creative note-taking with Something Awful

This entry on Something Awful posts the hilarious results that ensue when you ask kids to tell you something about a subject (examples are things like bunnies and dogs) and then you draw their answers. These are mostly hilarious because of the kids’ answers, but I find that the concept can be translated within the classroom (in a way that doesn’t make fun of students).

When lecturing on something particularly interesting or funny (Charles II, maybe?) or dense/confusing (causes of WWI), I find it can be beneficial for students to first write their notes out in a different way (that’s where the pictures come in) and then to share their creative endeavours with other students. Through sharing, students take pride in their work and also have a chance to teach their notes to classmates, which is proven to aid in information retention.

9. Teaching plagiarism with pop music

I see plagiarism way more than I should. Obviously, it’s completely unacceptable and I have zero tolerance for it. But, sometimes when I’ve just started a term with a class, and I find that all of a sudden I’ve received over half of student work which samples from another source or from another student. Rather than fail them all, I like to give them all a warning, the chance to re-do the work, and the clear indication that any other form of cheating in the future will result in an unquestionable fail.

To get their attention with plagiarism, I like to put the following on the overhead or SMARTboard:

For you I would have done whatever
And I just can’t believe we ain’t together
And I wanna play it cool, but I’m losin’ you
I’ll buy you anything, I’ll buy you any ring
And I’m in pieces, baby fix me
And just shake me ’til you wake me from this bad dream
I’m going down, down, down, down
And I just can’t believe my first love won’t be around

When I was 13, I had my first love,
There was nobody that compared to my baby
and nobody came between us or could ever come above
She had me going crazy, oh, I was star-struck,
she woke me up daily, don’t need no Starbucks.
She made my heart pound, it skipped a beat when I see her in the street and
at school on the playground but I really wanna see her on the weekend.
She knows she got me dazing cause she was so amazing
and now my heart is breaking but I just keep on saying.

For those of you as up on tween pop music as I am, you’ll recognize the above lyrics from Justin Bieber’s “Baby” featuring Ludacris. Put the lyrics of a popular song up, tell students it was a poem submitted to you by a former student that you wanted to share, then ask one of them to read it out loud to the class. Act shocked when they awkwardly tell you it’s actually the lyrics to a pop song, and then begin your lesson on plagiarism. They’ll never forget it again.

8. Using Tom Lehrer’s “New Math” to review subtraction

I love this song! It’s just plain catchy! While I don’t find it useful in actually teaching subtraction, on account of how quickly he sings, I find it a fun way to review subtraction after learning it and once students have the hang of it. They enjoy singing along when they understand exactly what’s going on in the video.

7. Teaching to proofread with Taylor Mali

Most teachers know Taylor Mali on account of his famous spoken word poem, What Teachers Make. In the classroom, I like to show students another of his poems to remind them all to proofread, not just spellcheck. Here’s the poem in question:

Students love it and have zero excuses if they hand in a paper after featuring silly errors that could have been avoided if they had simply proofread instead of just spell checking.

6. Teaching social consciousness with Cracked.com

Cracked has plenty of articles that are absolutely hilarious as well as very informative. I find a lot of their list-style articles work very well in a social studies classroom. In social, I like to devote about 10 minutes in every class to talking about world events and, often, students’ perspectives about what is going on in the world has been horribly skewed by the media. Particularly when countries or organizations pose a threat to America.

Here is a great article from Cracked that deconstructs some common myths people tend to believe about America’s “enemies”. Not only does it inform students, it also encourages them to think more critically about news and media in the future.

5. Teaching Twelfth Night with She’s The Man

One of my personal favourite films, She’s The Man, which features the ever-charming Amanda Bynes in drag and falling for her sexy, male, soccer-playing roommate Channing Tatum, is based loosely on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. YAY! Any excuse to show this film in the classroom feels like Heaven to me.

Because the film is only a loose adaptation, I don’t like to waste valuable classroom time showing the entire thing if I’m trying to get through curriculum. Rather, I like to bring in a mix of texts and have the students compare them. Kenneth Brannagh’s filmed play version is excellent, as is the 1996 film version with Helena Bonham Carter and Ben Kingsley

I’ll usually play a quick clip of She’s The Man and have students compare the modern version to the traditional versions and also have them pull out any references they can find. Usually I’ll follow this with an assignment in which I have students modernize a scene from the play.

Just for fun, here’s most people’s favourite clip from She’s The Man (I never show this one, it doesn’t have enough relevance to the original text, but it’s hilarious):

4. Using Facebook to teach plot and characterization

I decided to integrate students’ obsession with Facebook after stumbling upon this gem:

Click for content sourceIn doing a dramatic literature or novel study, it’s a fun way to have students analyze characters and plot conflicts. I’ve allowed students to use whatever craft supplies they feel they need (so they can use the computer, draw their design, or cut and paste) to either come up with a character profile page, a news feed, or a group. In the past I’ve seen character pages for Atticus Finch, a group dedicated to hating Malvolio, and a news feed based on Macbeth. Such a fun activity!

3. Teaching verbal irony using the Onion News Network

In teaching the basic, yet often confusing, concept of irony in English Lit., I find students often getting confused between dramatic, verbal, and situational irony. Dramatic irony is easily enough to teach with Shakespeare, for situational I like to have students write their own stories in which the actual outcome differs from the expected outcome (they LOVE doing this; get them to share their stories with a partner and then write one together to really drive the concept home).

In teaching verbal irony, it’s all well and good to explain the idea of sarcasm, but to really drive the idea home, I like to show this clip from the Onion:

Then I split the whiteboard into two and title one side SAD and one side FUNNY. As a class, we first talk about what was funny in the clip and then about what was sad about the clip. I let them know that verbal irony is done through a character, story, video, etc. presenting something in one way but actually meaning another. In my experience, a good story to bring in to the classroom for this type of irony is Harold Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (it really drives the happy vs. sad thing home).

2. Teaching news and current events with Philip DeFranco

I adore Philip DeFranco, he’s super funny, informed, and opinionated. Every once in a while, I find it really beneficial to bring in one of his recent videos to start a discussion on news, current events, and even pop culture. Even in a reluctant class, I find students will be more willing to share opinions or agree with what’s been said.

*Always make sure you watch the video first, DeFranco’s discussions sometimes aren’t appropriate for the classroom.

1. Teaching grammar with Hyperbole and a Half

Thanks to the hilarious Allie over at Hyperbole and a Half, students never need worry about the “alot” faux pas again. I usually find this works best for younger grades (think grades five and six or junior high), but I also whip it out when I start finding the word “alot” popping up in student work no matter what the grade (sadly, it very commonly needs to be used in grade 12).

Depending on a school’s resources (and how severe the problem is) I will either print all of the students a copy of this hilarious blog entry or else pop it up onto the SMARTboard. With the fact that it’s undoubtedly funny and well-written, coupled with the hilarious image of the Alot, students aren’t soon-to-forget that “alot” is grammatically incorrect and that I certainly don’t want to read it on any of their academic papers.

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