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Using Humor in the ESL Classroom
The more students laugh, the more they enjoy. And the more they enjoy, the more they will learn. So, add humor to your lessons whenever you can. Here are five tips from Teacher Joe:
1. Exaggerate - One way to exaggerate when teaching is with numbers. For example, students can learn to distinguish 15 from 50 if you emphasize the different rhythm of 15 by writing it as fifteeeeeeeeeeeen on the blackboard. Students laugh at this, but they also remember to give a little extra emphasis to teens as opposed to tens.
Teacher Joe also gives points to his students when they answer a question correctly. He gives one point for each answer at the beginning of the term but he gives more and more points as the weeks go by. So, by the end of the term, he is giving students 100,000,000,000 points (That's 100 billion points, not dollars!) to students for just one answer. They really love it, and it's a great introduction to using large numbers.
You can also exaggerate with your voice. Emphasize words like "BIG" or "LOUD", and lower your voice for "small", "quiet", or "soft". Students will often copy you when you do this. When a character in the textbook or a story is male, a female teacher can use an exaggerated deep voice. If a character is female, a male teacher can use a very high voice. Students are just thrilled when Teacher Joe tries to speak like a woman!
One last way to exaggerate is with laughter. IF something is just a little bit funny, or maybe not even funny at all, you can laugh very loudly as though it's the funniest thing you have ever heard (or said). They key to making students laugh is to suddenly STOP laughing. I don't know why students laugh at this, but they always do. (Be careful not to do this too often, though. Once or twice a term is enough.)
2. Ask crazy questions - An easy way to get students to laugh is to ask them very strange questions. Add one funny question to every test, every quiz, and every exercise. Here are some questions that Teacher Joe has asked his students:
Are you married? (to a junior high school student)
How many fathers do you have?
Did you visit New York last night?
Do you prefer chocolate ice cream or fish ice cream?
Could you lend me $500 dollars for a date tonight?
3. Make intentional mistakes - Mistakes can be turned into humor and at the same time test students' listening ability. Teacher Joe often tells new students that he has three wives (one in France, one in the U.S., and one in Japan - and now looking for a fourth in China!) or that he is 21 years old. You can easily turn any statement into a mistake by changing one key word, then see how students respond. You can also make mistakes when writing on the blackboard. You can add two or three mistakes during any class period. Don't be shy about giving a few hundred billion points to students who catch a mistake!
4. Use funny quotes or sayings - Introduce a famous saying, or a quote from a famous person then explain it. For example, you might teach students that "Money doesn't grow on trees", which means that we should be careful how we spend our money. We can't easily get more money just by picking it from a tree! After students understand it and have a discussion (See Timed Pair Practice for tips on pair discussions.), introduce a funny variation - "Money DOES grow on trees, but the banks own all of the branches". Don't worry if students don't laugh, just laugh out loud and stop suddenly! (See Teacher Joe's Words of Wisdom for lots of interesting quotes and sayings.)
5. Tell a joke - You can introduce a new topic with a joke or end a lesson with one. You could even have a "Joke Time" in every class or once a week. Teacher Joe has some tips on How to Tell a Joke. For some good jokes, go to Joe's Joke Page, where you can find new jokes from time to time.