Hey, want to hear a joke?
Novice pirates make terrible singers because they can’t hit the high seas.
(Cue collective groan)
Sometimes humour can be in-your-face and silly (like the joke above), and other times it can be more subtle. Whether it’s a pun, a child’s knock-knock joke, a funny movie, or situation comedy on television, we all enjoy a good laugh. Given this natural human tendency to appreciate humour, how might we, as educators, leverage humour in our teaching? This idea deserves further attention.
Consider how social humour is. Think about the last time you watched a funny movie or television show with someone. When something funny happens on screen we turn to the person beside us as if to say ‘did you get it?’ It’s almost as if sharing the joke or funny situation enhances its humour. The same is true with children, especially with their reading. Think about when you were a child, and saw a group of other children huddled together around a book, laughing. How did you respond to that situation? You probably wanted to know what was so funny! We all want to know what’s so funny. We all want to be part of the joke. Humour is a social phenomenon.
I observed this firsthand when I researched how humorous children’s literature engages young readers. My research revealed that humorous literature is a huge motivator for children to read. When they read humorous books, they want to read more in general, and more specifically they want to read books by that author or other funny authors. Also, when they do read something funny, they want to share it with someone immediately, whether they are a friend, family member, or teacher. This has classroom implications for teachers around the globe, because humorous literature can reach both struggling and reluctant readers.
In a related research project, I found that humorous children’s literature also motivates young readers to become writers of humour. This was more than just wanting to copy their favourite author’s style of writing, but a need to be creative and write funny stories as well. That is why in my latest book there is an entire chapter discussing humorous texts and their value in the classroom, and what teachers can do to harness these texts in developing young writers.
Some tips to help promote writing using humorous texts:
- Expand your definition of ‘genre’ to include humorous texts (comics, joke books, etc.).
- Value and include comics in your classroom activities.
- Read and learn about blended narratives (Zbaracki & Geringer 2014) such as the 13-Storey Treehouse.
- Allow students to write their own comics, perhaps using technology, websites or apps, and read each other’s creations.
- Use technology (such as the ‘Pun of the Day’ app) to encourage students to explore the multiple meanings of words.
- Explore parodies of well-known fairy tales and nursery rhymes to inspire students to create their own parodies.
So, it’s important to remember that humour, in addition to being fun, has great benefits helping students in both reading and writing. ‘Sigmund’, a grade five student in my research study summed it up best:
… all books kind of have some humour, and if you don’t, I’m not saying that you should put like all humour in the book, it’s just if you don’t it’ll be kind of dull, and it won’t … well, it’ll be like the cake without the icing.
He’s so right! Keep eating that cake with icing, and reading and writing those funny texts!
Matthew Zbaracki is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at Australia Catholic University (Melbourne) and the author of Writing Right with Text Types (2015).
Featured image credits:  OUP 9780195519068; Shutterstock ID 144699151