Humour as a technique in effective teaching


“All of us at some point in our lives have been in a class where the lecture being delivered by the teacher casts a spell of boredom and dullness on all students, most of whom find it unbearable, knock off to sleep.

The kind of teachers, who would walk into the class like zombies, and lecture day in day out, as if they were talking to the walls. Classes conducted by such teachers who fail to change their repetitive ways can be really frustrating and academically detrimental for the students” (Verma, 2007:6).

The phenomenon of teaching is not as easy and straightforward as it appears. An all-encompassing definition of teaching might not be so easy to get. Hence, Ogunyemi (2000) submits that three regular responses follow inquiries on what teaching entails, and these are:

Teaching is what the teacher does.

Teaching is an art of imparting knowledge.

Teaching is a way of promoting learning.

Teaching is expected to improve the three domains of learning in those who are being taught. These domains are the cognitive domain, psychomotor domain and affective domain, otherwise known as the head, the hand and the heart respectively.

The essence of developing these domains is for the purpose of producing an educated person who possesses knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that can help him or her be a useful member of society.

Obanya (1982), in his inaugural lecture titled “Teaching and Cheating”, views an educated person as “someone who does not just possess knowledge (i.e., whose faculties for thinking and reasoning – HEAD – have been cultivated).

Rather, the educated person has equally been assisted to cultivate his or her faculties for the development of feeling, emotion, values, attitudes and psycho-social adjustments to life situations (HEART) as well as the faculties for the neuro-physical coordination, physical agility, and physical culture (HANDS).”

In the attainment of the 3H’s which define the educated person, the roles of teaching and teachers are of great significance.

The term “humour” has undergone developmental changes over the centuries. In the Renaissance age, humour was considered a negative habit, “usually denoting an unbalanced mental condition, a mood or unreasonable caprice” (Shiyab 2005:2).

By the mid-18th century, the term was no longer regarded as an aberration. Instead, it was perceived as a whimsical oddity, amusing and innocent. By the 19th century, humour had become a literary concept, and its function was to entertain people on literary, social or cultural occasions. Recent literature has established humour as the highest and richest form of comedy, denoting anything witty or anything that makes us laugh (Weaver & Cotrell 2001: 168).

Humour is crucial and fundamental in creating harmony and cohesion between students and teachers. It is conducive to the learning process and intercultural awareness, as it creates a feeling of togetherness among everyone in the class.

It helps break the monotony and keeps students tuned in to their teachers. Humour essentially removes the boredom which comes with learning. A teacher who creatively deploys humour is, therefore, most likely to sustain the attention of the students throughout the lesson.

Jedar (2014) holds that humour indicates the teacher’s ability to express intelligent and spiritual expression, being an effective way to capture attention first by calling to emotion. Humour helps to maintain attention and arouses the curiosity of students.

A lesson that hangs on stories, jokes, teasing is likely going to keep the students lively throughout the class. When topics are related to stories and built around suspense, it keeps the students going till the end, as they most likely would want to hear the end of such a story or joke.

Read also: Teaching ‘speaking’ as a communicative skill

Humour in classroom interaction also boosts students’ confidence and spontaneity. A teacher who uses humour in his or her interaction with students will most likely have a more participatory class, and students will improve their ability to give extemporaneous responses and reactions in classes, since they are confident that the teacher’s reaction will come with warmth. In a very succinct manner, Herbert (1991:12) presents the uses of humour thus:

Relevant humour has so many cognitive and psychological benefits of which we summarise: maintains attention and arouses curiosity of pupils/students,… develops the skill of nuanced communication, replaces tension and anxiety during classes with a relaxed atmosphere and promotes a positive environment, thus resulting in fun learning process, eliminates boredom, routine, and encourages students to get out of patterns and try new approaches, has a role in socialisation and strengthening the group of students. We must not forget the therapeutic functions of humour – its acting as a valve in the classroom.

There are some methods of achieving humour in the classroom. One of such is role play. In role play, the students are made to act as participants in the activities of the topic being discussed. Storytelling is another method of achieving humour in the classroom.

Stories aid remembrance and make learning seamless. The teacher can also inject jokes intermittently to avoid boredom.

Finally, as effective as humour is in the classroom, it may misfire or achieve a contrary effect if not well applied. Humour relating to tribes, gender and stereotypes are most likely going to serve as discouragement to some students, and this may lead to the direct opposite of the reason for the deployment of humour.

This piece has established the place of humour in classroom discourse. Humour is a veritable tool for achieving class objectives. However, it must be carefully deployed to avoid misfiring.

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