At the end of my lessons, I often have a joke like this to share with the class. When I forget, the students remind me to tell the joke of the day. After all, a day without laughter is a day not lived, and though they complain, they enjoy the joke. The puns are often corny, and the students show their appreciation with a collective groan as they pack their bags and leave the room.
Why are jokes such a rich addition to language learning? One thing that jokes do, is help students deal with stress. Some students experience anxiety when they have to perform in a foreign language, and allowing them a space to laugh helps them relax, which in turn helps them perform better. Besides that, it is a way to level the playing field between the students and the teacher, by making the teacher a bit more human and therefore a bit more accessible to shy students.
Jokes can also be used to teach new meanings behind words, for instance:
Question: Why did the reporter go to the ice-cream shop?
Answer: To get the scoop!
In this case, the word “scoop” is the clue to the joke. The “scoop” is not only that round ball of ice-cream that one eats, but it’s also the breaking news that reporters are always looking for.
Jokes can be used to practice grammar. The site “ESLjokes.net“ does just that. It organizes short, humorous stories by grammatical concept and level of English. Each story is accompanied by a short explanation of the grammar in question and a few practice exercises. In a classroom where the teacher needs to differentiate, this provides easy material that can be easily printed for use.
Humor is also a way of keeping the stronger learners interested. For instance, the classes I teach include widely varying levels of ability. Some students already speak at a C1* level of the CEFR, while other struggle to keep up in their A2 or B1 level. Sometimes the material I teach is too easy for the stronger students, but slipping in a joke every once in a while keeps their interest piqued, while the others follow the main lesson. Everyone gets to learn something, that way.
There are different ways to include humor in the langauge lessons. Often, I leave the last slide of my power point for jokes, as a way to end my lessons. I’ve invested a small amount of time learning a few jokes, just so I have a few up my sleeve. (yes, I practice this stuff) For inspiration, I look for jokes on the internet, using search terms like “esl jokes easy”, or “esl jokes advanced”.
Here are a couple of sites that have relatively easy, child-friendly jokes:
I’m careful about the jokes I tell. Even though my students are young adults, I avoid any jokes that could have a sexual undertone, jokes with racism, sexism, body-shaming, or other forms of put-downs. All of my jokes are clean! Reason being, I see myself as a role model for my students. I want to give them input that they can use in their own classrooms. It’s important for teachers to keep this in mind.
But otherwise, I keep to rule #1: have fun when you teach, and the learners will learn more than you’d hoped. In closing… How did the ocean say “goodbye”? It didn’t, it just waved!