Humor in teaching: a powerful tool


Humor is an everyday element. We witness it in the media, at a gathering of friends, we use it with the family, at work… It is an inherent element of our condition as human beings. So what about teaching? Are we aware of the power it has?

It is likely that we remember in our student stage a teacher who, with dynamism and closeness, told us anecdotes or used humor in some way, always to help us learn better. As teachers, those of us who teach may remember humorous moments in the classroom.

Benefits of humor

Humor has already been rewarded in books as old as the Bible or the Koran. In the latter, we find phrases like “He who makes his companions laugh deserves paradise.” And it is that humor is as old as the human being.

But why do we use it and receive it positively? The answer can be reduced to one sentence: because it makes us feel good, as long as it is not used for negative purposes, as we will see later.

Laughter, which is the basic response to a sense of humor, has been shown to have numerous benefits . Among them, it reduces cortisol levels and produces endorphins. In addition, it improves memory, and sharpens creativity and imagination.

Use of humor in teaching

When we talk about humor in teaching, we must focus on the two key elements of its use: the teacher and the student. Each teacher has a different scale or orientation of humor. This orientation has to do with the closeness of the teacher, and, in general, the greater the use of humor, the greater the closeness.

As for the students, many affirm that humor helps them remember a concept and makes classes more bearable. It also serves as a “reset” when dealing with difficult concepts. In addition, it has been shown that students miss fewer classes in which humor is used by the teacher.

Adapt humor to context

Context is essential to know how to use humor. Teachers should ask themselves, for example, how old are the students. Also what subject they are learning and what culture we are in. In other words, they must analyze the profile of the student body.

In relation to the latter, it is known that, for example, the use of humor in Chinese culture is not as well seen as in other cultures . This is possibly due to the strong hierarchy established between teachers and students.

Not everything

Broadly speaking, there are two types of humor: recommended and not recommended. We know that humor can be a double-edged sword, as it can sometimes have a negative effect. For example, if it is used in excess, it can undermine the credibility of the teacher.

With respect to different typologies, the humor related to the subject can be positive. This can be used, for example, to remind a concept through humorous metaphors.

Another recommended humor is self-criticism, that is, laughing at oneself. This last type of humor can be positive because a bridge to greater credibility is established in the teacher’s relationship with the student.

It goes without saying that all racist, sexist humor or humor that is unidirectional, that is, directed at one person or group only, should be rejected.

Who and for what?

It is important that it is used only by those teachers who feel comfortable with it. Authenticity is a crucial element in handling this parameter.

It can have several purposes: to remind a concept, to smooth difficult moments or to bring positions between the teacher and the student closer.

On what medium and support can it be used?

Support can be very diverse. Video or some other visual support can be used, such as flashcards or memes. Music can also be used with adaptations of a different nature.

Regarding the medium, if we want to use it in a virtual class, we have some more element regarding the staging, since it allows us to use camera filters. In addition, it is an ideal environment to dynamize with audiovisual material.

So how should we organize ourselves?

The first and perhaps most important thing is to analyze the context: what is the profile of the student and the place of the classes, as we mentioned before. Regarding the latter, it is not only important to know what means we have, but what subject we are going to teach. Once these issues have been analysed, we will focus our attention on the most difficult concepts and organize the class thinking about them.

Another important element is the quantity and the way of introducing it. We must not use it excessively, since its use can be tiring for the students and can undermine the image of the teacher. Finally, we must use it little by little and see if its use works in the context in which we are. If we create a dynamic environment, it is possible that the humor is working.

In short, in the busy world we live in, we need to attract attention, energize the class and empathize with the students. Humor can be an interesting tool to achieve these purposes. Furthermore, and as Samuel Taylor, the English poet and critic, said:

“No well-organized mind lacks a sense of humor.”

Author Bio: Manuel Tizon Diaz is a Professor Contracted Doctor at UNIR – International University of La Rioja