Reflecting on my best sessions over the past 18 years as a learning specialist, the one common factor was a silly and playful connection. Humor can be a magical tool that can cut through overwhelm, frustration and even feelings of helplessness, thus infusing lessons in light hearted relief and gaiety. Tears from failure can turn into belly aching laughter, if you can bring wit and whimsy to the table.
How Can Humor Help?
Research shows that humor reduces stress and correlates with improved health, resilience, increased life expectancy, and overall well being. In fact, a number of studies suggest that laughter stimulates the immune system and alleviates the negative effects of stress hormones.
Your Choice of Words Can Impacts Your Students Attitude
- Pick Playful Lesson Titles: When designing your lessons it is important to bring fun and giggles into the lesson title. For example, instead of telling your students that they will be working on script or cursive lettering, increase the fun factor exponentially by choosing a playful lesson title such as "Roller Coaster Letters." Beyond that, keep your students imaginations turning and twirling by offering directives to the letter formations. For example, when teaching script, I call the letter z, the hump ditty bump letter. When forming the letter, you first make a hump and then a bump before looping below the line. Now that’s one fun rollercoaster letter!
- Shed Negative Names: Replace discouraging or judgemental words with cute or funny terms. For example, instead of telling a student that they are wrong or incorrect, simply call it an oops. Better yet, guide them to the correct answer so that they can experience success.
Cracking Jokes and Acting Silly Can Be a Recipe for Success
If the mood is somber at the beginning of a session, I love to start with a joke, a tongue twister, some goofy dance move, or a ridiculous YouTube clip. Sometimes will we talk about what is bothering them, so I can help them move through that energy and choose a better mindset.
Telling Humorous Stories Can Inspire and Motivate Frustrated Learners
Simply telling a student that they have to “jump through the hoops” that their teacher lays before them, usually does not work. Like a cat that fears water, pushing a student towards their discomfort may cause them to lash out and growl as you continue to apply pressure. However, a humorous story can create connection, illustrate a point, and motivate a response.
As a student I, too, was known to buck the system and resist complying with teachers’ demands or ideas that seemed ridiculous. As a result, when trying to educate my students on the power of acquiescing, I often tell the story of Mr. Kersnowski.
Mr. Kersnowski was an English professor at my undergraduate university, and I was warned by many prior students of his, that there was a risk to taking his courses. If he liked you, you got an A and if he didn’t, you were doomed to fail. The next semester, I not only took one course, but two with this notorious teacher. I sailed through the first half of the semester with high marks, but Mr. Kersnowski had a strange and quite absurd notion that he repeated incessantly in his lectures. Mr. Kersnowski ranted that in life there was a line that was never to be crossed. If one were to cross that line, they would “fall into the chicken fat.” This metaphor tormented Mr. Kersnowski, and he thrust this image upon us with a frenzied force. One day, my patience hit that very edge, and I raised my hand and stepped across that line, declaring, “Mr. Kersnowski, perhaps you should just jump into the chicken fat.” From that point forward, Mr. Kersnowski shunned me and showered me with failing marks. I did all I could to pull myself out of the chicken fat, but it was too late. Mr. Kersnowski would not budge and my GPA paid the price. I often joke with my students that Mr. Kersnowski, himself, was the chicken fat, but what the story illustrates is the possible consequences a student may be dealt when resisting a teacher’s directives or “crossing their defined lin.”
So when I come across a student that struggles to follow rules or teacher expectations, I can use this silly anecdote to draw parallels and inject some chuckles into intense situations.
Clearly, embracing humor and making an effort to share a chuckle with your students has multiple benefits. It will not only improve your connection, but it will also promote the overall well being for you and your students.
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY. To learn more about her products and services, you can go to https://godyslexia.com/, www.goodsensorylearning.com, www.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz