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Saturday, December 4, 2010

humor in the classroom

This is the Duke of Wellington on his horse", the teacher said, pointing to the picture on the board. A student asked "Which is the duke and which is the horse?

Humor has evolved from an exclusive comedy genre to its out-of-the-box, all-inclusive, globalized state. Humor is an all-embracing attitude. That's why you probably cannot depress a truly humorous person. Not because he is already depressed, but because he sees things on a larger canvas. Outgrowing its compartmentalization like laughter against tears, humor means now human. The fact of the matter is that humor depends on one's 'laughitude' level. This article focuses on humor as a wholehearted attitude and as an educational tool.

Most teachers say humor creates chaos more than laughter in the classroom. You can teach in two ways: the carrot approach and the stick approach. Using stick is considered a Victorian throwback nowadays, and using the carrot is in. Humor is the ketchup applied on the carrot. Humor is not separated from the lecture, but integrated into it, not as an end in itself, but as a means to edutainment.

Humor, someone, probably anonymous, said, is seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary. Well, that is a standard size fit for defining any word that could be used for anything. Try this traditional definition: Humor is any communication that leads to laughter, smiling or a feeling of amusement. We laugh when the expected meets with the unexpected.

Classicists described or rather argued that humor satisfies our unconscious desires. Since, our internal censorship does not allow the free expression of our dreams, we have found a device to do the job: jokes. Humor, one might say, is 'a form of economizing too - saving the expenditure of physical effort.' In hostile jokes we save our efforts to vanquish our enemies. Obscene jokes, meanwhile, are another form of wish fulfillment. Humor is a way to overcome what is prohibited.

We laugh, the traditionalists said, in self-glorifying delight. When we do something stupid it is our superiority that makes us laugh. What is stupid for one, however, may be intelligent for others. Likewise what is humorous for some may be disgusting for others.

Myths about the humorous teacher
You have to be a Jim Carrey: Although a little bit of acting does help, you don't have to be an innate actor to create humor, nor have you to be funny-looking. If you have a humorous attitude, it shines through and the whole atmosphere is lightened.

You have to tell rib tickling, hysterically funny jokes: Humor works well because of its timing. Consider narrating this anecdote: once upon a time, a man with a black belt in karate joined the army, but died on his first day with his first salute! Humor is an attitude to take things wholeheartedly. You can't exclude humor from the heart. Sometimes a comment well-suited to the situation is more effective than a story.

You will lose the respect of your students: That depends what kind of laughitude you wear. If you go on laughing at your own jokes that might be the reason for others to laugh. Don't put the steering before the wheels.

Why humor in class?
Humor is the only thing that works across class, regardless of blood, class or background. Food is abhorred by those prone to anorexia. Games are hard work for some. Humor, however - not necessarily jokes, but laughitude - opens any heart.

What is learnt through humor is learnt well, said somebody whose name I can't remember. Internalization happens easily if accompanied by humor. For example, I remember the Copenhagen Climate Conference because it was called hopenhagen in its promotional campaign and later rephrased as brokenhagen.

Humor relieves anxiety, tension and lightens the heaviness that usually fills a classroom. It replaces pressure with pleasure. Humor creates motivation and opens doors to creativity. As the teacher laughs, so too do the students! Learners, if not instructors, want humor. They want ketchup with that.

How to be humorous
Be spontaneous and foster an informal climate. Things can be funny only when we are in a mood to see the fun in them. Your lips may smile, but your eyes can still betray your true feelings. Students appreciate your involvement.

Your facial, vocal and bodily expressions are constantly watched, if not scrutinized. Any droning, mechanical tones, repetitive phrases (Right? OK?) or fixed posture (i.e. ramrod-straight) will have you drawn on the students' notebook.

Relate to everyday things: Use personal experiences while teaching. Your embarrassing moments can be educational. They are good mistakes! Encourage a give-and-take atmosphere. Ask students to supply stories. Humor is an energizing thing; through humor you give out energy and in turn you are energized.

Apart from funny stories, jokes, one-liners, quips and anecdotes, there are a number of ways to incorporate humor, including singing and role-playing, to generate creative moments in the classroom. Consider these literary games.

Spoonerism: Fighting a liar and lighting a fire is a nice spoonerism or a deliberate mix-up of letters. Other examples: A blushing crow (a crushing blow); Tease my ears (ease my tears).

Acrostic poem: A poem in which the first letter of each line spells out a word. See how Lewis Carroll makes Alice from the following lines.
A boat, beneath a sunny sky;
Lingering onward dreamily;
In an evening of July;
Children three that nestle near;
Eager eye and willing ear.

Clerihew (poems): Clerihew is an unusual, four-line biographical poem invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley. An example might be:
Ms Amar;
With her immaculate grammar;
Had once tongue-slipped;
From then she was tight-lipped.

Limericks: A teacher in a bilingual school,
Performed her job pretty cool.
One day she was ill,
Which was rather mushkil,
For nobody else had her tool.

Puns, a form of wordplay which suggests two or more meanings, by exploiting words' multiple meanings. Examples: A bicycle can't stand alone because it is two-tyred (too tired).

Her idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance.
When asked to start a garden, the first thing he digs up is an excuse.

Conundrums: Why is a calendar sad? Because its days are numbered. Why do we press the 'Start' button to turn off a computer?(That's one for you to ponder over).

Puzzles: What starts with E, ends with E and only has one letter? (Read on, you'll find the answer somewhere down)

Neologism (newly coined words): Giraffiti, meaning vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

Brain bender: FB's B in KSA (Facebook is banned in Saudi).
E No's 112 (Emergency number is 112).
P's O (The principal is off).

A few don'ts
Don't ridicule a child. Being cynical and sarcastic is a fast way to break a tender young heart.
Don't talk at students, talk with them.
Don't take yourself seriously! Better to be a wise fool than a solemn donkey.

Final call
Teachers feeling exhausted, who feel they can't change the kids or the system, and fear that life is a meaningless monotonous cycle, take note: humor is the medicine. Blessed are those who can spread that drug.(Answer to the puzzle: An envelope).

And they lived happily ever laughter!


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