Learning Literacy with Laughter

“Did you hear that Vanilla Ice is now a digital literacy tutor? He’s at the library teaching Word to your mother.”

Ba dum tss.

All jokes aside, using humour and teaching about humour in the literacy classroom can have many benefits. Shared laughter can put nervous students more at ease. It lowers what is known as the affective filter, or the anxiety and lack of self confidence that acts as a barrier and affects how much is learned. Tactful use of humour in the classroom can increase engagement and retention, as well as build a sense of belonging for learners.

Teaching with humour

Teaching with a sense of humour has been proven to have positive effects for both child and adult learners.

“Humour has a positive effect on learning settings because it can, for example, help to reduce stress, reduce learning resistance, and allow new patterns of action to be tried out, therefore contributing to the acquisition of new action competences. It can also help to increase learning success.” –

The key is to employ humour judiciously and use subtle attempts to diffuse frustration or to encourage critical thinking. Using humour isn’t without risk. Jokes have the power to offend, so it is very important to work on building rapport with students and learning how to read the room.

Catherine Meilleur offers eight tips for using humour in the classroom:

  1. Favour benevolent humour and avoid mockery, sarcasm, irony or so-called malignant joy.
  2. The act of humour should never be directed at a learner.
  3. Use humour only to highlight key concepts.
  4. Avoid excess: limit yourself to 3 or 4 humorous examples per hour.
  5. Adjust the degree of humour used according to the situation.
  6. Do not use humour before or during an exam, as this may disturb more anxious learners.
  7. Favour “neutral” humour, i.e. avoid humour on taboo or sensitive subjects that could create embarrassing situations or a sense of injustice in the classroom.
  8. If you are not comfortable using humour, it is better to refrain from using it!

Teaching about humour

Learning about humour in the English language is also important for students, especially English Language Learners. Puns are an example of a special type of joke based on double meanings. Understanding puns requires a strong understanding of the language. It involves processing both the sounds and the meanings of the words twice. Puns are everywhere in our daily lives, including in the name of this blog! Other humorous parts of language beneficial to learn are idioms, homophones, homonyms, metaphors and more. There are many language skills to be mastered in order to tell a good joke!

Well-planned and contextual humour can help learners along on their path to literacy. Check out the resources below to learn more.


Teaching with humour

Teaching about humour

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