It’s widely known that humor has a great impact on learning. It breaks down the barriers between teacher and student, reduces classroom anxiety by making the students feel more comfortable, and stimulates the brain to think critically and creatively. But what impact can it have in an ESL classroom?
It is certainly possible to tell your ESL students that you know 25 letters of the alphabet, but you don’t know why (Y); however, the chances are you will only get blank stares. Even the advanced learners may get stuck on the wordplay. The weather in Mexico? Chili (chily) today and hot tamale (tomorrow)—forget about it. Even the old standby: this lesson will be fast and not half-fast, falls flat. Clearly, puns, riddles and other types of clever wordplay are out, but what is in?
Competent use of humor can have a tremendous positive impact on student learning in the ESL classroom. Whether the learning environment is virtual or face-to-face, the teacher can make the student laugh—and learn. It is still possible.
Here are five ways:
1. Funny Props- A visit to the local Dollar Store, Party Supermarket, or pet shop can find a plethora of silly, irreverent and inexpensive props to use in the ESL classroom. Anything from funny masks and wigs to fake plastic food can be useful. The odder the better. You just need your imagination.
2. Physical Comedy- Whether teaching online or in a face-to-face classroom, it is easy make yourself physically look funny. Silly hats, lavish clothing, and dopey mannerisms can add life to the dry ESL classroom. The burst of levity can ease the stresses of language learning by students of all ages.
3. Funny Sounding Music- Go ahead and Google funny sounding music (copyright free), and you will get a host of options. Find a few that work for you and start your class with them. Or if the class is starting to drag, play them anytime. Music in the classroom is always refreshing. Fun music makes things even more special.
4. Humorous/Oddball Conversation Topics- In most cases, ESL teachers have a dedicated curriculum and teaching plan. That does not mean you cannot veer off into areas that provide more levity. Certain subjects are naturally funny (funny stories, crazy family members, a bad cooking experience, and your first date come to mind). If funny tales are not part of the curriculum, it is usually o.k. to veer off the dull subject of the day and dabble in the world of silly.
5. The Bad Joke- Even though your students probably won’t understand it, tell it anyway. Always have a “Knock-Knock” joke at the ready. It might not be funny to the students, but if you laugh at it they will laugh at you. Besides, what makes the joke funny is a teachable moment to a foreign language student…..and it sure beats grammar.
So, ESL teachers, take a chance. Work outside your “comfort zone.” Put on that silly looking wig. Sing off-key to your young students. Good teaching is all about taking risks. Your students might not always laugh along, but they will appreciate your attempt to make their learning fun.