of the elements most requested by the editors of middle grade fiction
is humor, because humor helps to hold the attention of young readers.
Think back for a moment. Can you
remember a teacher who regularly incorporated humor in the classroom?
If you do, you’re one of the fortunate ones. I can’t remember that ever
Our son went to a private
Christian school until the ninth grade where he tested for an
accelerated, college prep academic program in the public school system.
From there he attended and graduated from a prestigious university and
then their law school. I posed the question to him.
“One teacher I can remember in
all those years used humor, and that was my economics professor,” he
Since economics was his major,
this professor’s use of humor was a welcome relief in an otherwise
Next I asked our daughter. I was
especially interested in her response for a couple reasons. She
attended Christian schools all the way through high school. If ever
there was a place where the best techniques of teaching should be used,
it is in our private Christian schools. She enrolled in the College of
Education, Early Childhood Program at a top university, known for
preparing teachers. Yet she couldn’t recall one teacher in all those
years of attending school who incorporated humor on a regular basis.
We have a lot to learn when it
comes to the positive, powerful benefits when humor is included in the
Research shows that laughter and
play encourage learning. Humor leads to an increased attention span,
and it can help the students as well as the teacher. Today the study of
humor in the classroom is finding its way onto more and more college
and university campuses with such courses as Using Humor in the College
Classroom to Enhance Teaching Effectiveness in “Dread Courses,” and Ten
Specific Techniques for Developing Humor in the Classroom. Researchers
continue to study humor and its value in the learning process. The
conclusions are consistent in their findings that a strong, positive
link is formed between a teacher who uses humor, the students’
evaluations of the teacher’s performance, and the statistics measuring
Other studies reveal that humor
appears to encourage students to learn because it increases their
motivation. These students insist that humor makes learning much more
fun. Boredom is reduced in an environment that, almost by its very
structure, tends to be tedious. Humor can reduce stress and tension in
class, thereby helping students cope with difficult learning
This doesn’t mean a teacher
stands before the class, telling jokes all day. Even though an
occasional joke might be fine, a teacher can relate a funny story or
experience that will help students get the point or remember an obscure
fact. A teacher with a natural sense of humor can brighten their
students’ day by adding laughter from time to time.
Are you a teacher or homeschool
parent? Do you regularly use humor in your class?
Humor alters the chemical makeup
of the brain so a child’s ability to focus and retain information
increases. Humor enhances creativity and imaginative thinking so that
children can test new things in a fun way. Students appreciate a
teacher who understands the use of humor as a lighter side of learning.
Laughing stimulates both sides of the brain. People get the message
quicker and remember it longer.
As one expert puts it, “Humor
helps people to relax and makes them more receptive to new thoughts.
The barriers go down, and people experience real learning.”
“I often teach seminars,” said
another, “and my motto is, if you can’t have fun, why bother?”
“I use humor to assure my
students that they are safe, and that I have a positive regard for
them,” reports another teacher.
Still another teacher said, “I
find the use of humor vital to the classroom and learning environments.
I will often flash a cartoon on the overhead. I usually put a cartoon
on my exams and I know humor enhances learning for my students.”
to a group of
prospective teachers, an instructor said, “I would like all teacher
candidates to be aware of using humor as a direct instructional
technique. What we do in life is important, but I think we take
ourselves far too seriously. I love watching young children having a
good time. When you watch them in a class where the teacher is aloof
and distant, you see some very defensive students. If the teacher is
having a good time, however, the children are having a good time.”
Our culture often teaches that
humor and laughter are a waste of time. “Don’t be silly,” a child may
be told in class, or, “Why don’t you grow up?” “Can’t you be serious?”
Some teachers exclude humor from
their curriculum because they consider their work too serious for
humor. They are concerned that their students might see them as
unprofessional or inappropriate. A medical professional responded to my
question on humor: “Of all my patients, the ones I see who consistently
exhibit no sense of humor at all are teachers.”
I know that funny teachers are
out there, and your work is to be applauded. Let this be an
encouragement to begin exerting a positive attitude within your circle
of influence so that in a few years, teachers using humor in the
classroom will be the majority, not the exception. Your students will
The more our society has been
directed toward left-brained activities―things logical and linear―the
more we have lost sight of the fun and excitement in learning. To
combat this, one teacher carried with him a “teaching toolbox” filled
with different items he used to represent elements that were essential
to learning. The wilder the image, the more likely his students were to
remember the concept or fact he wanted them to learn.
It has been primarily experts
outside the field of education who have championed the use of humor and
its effects within their professions, noting the direct correlation
between the physiological and psychological benefits associated with
humor and laughter. And yet, all of these professions have their roots
in the educational process.
Relating humor in the classroom
is not so much an issue of what to teach but how to teach. Humor should
be one of many tools used by the teacher. Students are more likely to
listen to a teacher they find fun and interesting. They are more likely
to feel comfortable in asking questions. Your students will want to be
in your classes because of your style.
One teaching expert put it this
way. “There is a direct connection between ‘Ha ha,’ and ‘Ah ha.’ And
besides, students can’t laugh and snore at the same time.”
As we said in the beginning,
publishers of middle grade fiction continue to ask for manuscripts that
include a lot of humor. The reason is simple. Kids want to read them.