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Incorporating Humor and Encouraging Laughter  

When we spoke about stress reduction techniques that we had done, students said laughing was one of their favorite activities  One day early in the semester I just brought in a beach ball and we tried to see how many times we could hit it, keeping it in the air and not touching the ground. I think we got to 50. It was unstructured, but completely hit the reset button on the earlier parts of the day and brought the students into the room. Thursday in response to their comments about loving the laughter part, I did an activity I had learned through a Theatre of the Oppressed workshop. The students and I literally were laughing until we were crying, making animal sounds and motions. Afterwards we did a listening activity with cloze for Don't Worry Be Happy, and then sung it a few times through  It was the first time that I had used a song with this group and they really liked it.

-Lisa Gimbel, The Welcome Project, Somerville

Description: lucy episide reenacted 2What makes people laugh varies from one culture to another, and language-based humor is particularly difficult for second language learners. However, humor based on the physical - slapstick, for example - can be more easily shared cross-culturally. Recognizing that laughter lowers stress hormones (cortisol, epinephrine), eases anxiety and fear, and helps create classroom community-building, we tried to be conscious about incorporating laughter regularly into the classroom as a way to reduce stress.

ESOL teacher Jeri Bayer used the candy factory episode of the I Love Lucy television series as a basis for fun language learning. In addition to watching the YouTube clip, Jeri’s students re-recreated their own mini-drama complete with paper towel assembly line. See her I Love Lucy lesson plan for details.


I have been reading the two books that Lenore loaned me about using humor in the classroom. I realize that I already do quite a bit, but it's helpful to be able to recognize and name what I do (e.g., "don't be afraid to look foolish once in a while," "use exaggeration for humor - and effect," "when appropriate, encourage class comedians," to list a few of the suggestions from If They're Laughing, They Just Might Be Listening by Lundberg and Thurston).
        - Jeri Bayer, the Welcome Project, Somerville, MA


To read more about the benefits of laughter for stress reduction and ideas for incorporating humor in the classroom, see:

Borenstein, S. (2010). To scientists, laughter is no joke. Retrieved from

Lundberg, E. & Thurston, C. (2002). If They're Laughing, They Just Might Be Listening. Waco, Texas: Prufrock Press


To get your students laughing, check out the following YouTube videos: