Best Teaching Practices: Humor in the Classroom

Best Practices

"He is one of the best teachers I have had... He is well-organized, presents good lectures, and creates interest in the subject. I hope my comments don't hurt his chances of getting tenure."
--Student evaluation of a professor at MIT

Laughing Matters

Here's why it pays to laugh in the classroom: Students who have teachers with a strong orientation to humor tend to learn more.

A little bit of laughter in a classroom can go a long way in decreasing anxiety, lowering defenses, fostering a positive student-instructor relationship, defusing tensions, provoking imagination, triggering interest and motivation to learn, and opening the mind.

How to do it

  • We don't have to have a background in comedy in order to lighten the classroom. Some of the funniest and most inoffensive remarks are self-deprecating, and they have the added benefit of showing the students we are human. 
  • Give it and take it. It's okay to tease students; as long as we know our audience and avoid personal insults, there are always some students who enjoy good-natured ribbing if we show we can take it, too.  
  • Use humorous anecdotes as examples. This works particularly well mid-way through a class lecture that has hit a dry spot.
  • Keep the humor relevant. Control of subject and environment is still a priority because we need to teach and they need to learn.
  • Treat the students with respect.

Here are some links for discipline-specific humor:

For more tips on using humor in the classroom, see Stuart Hellman's article, "Humor in the Classroom: Stu's Seven Simple Steps to Success." College Teaching. 55.1 (2006):177.

Berk, Ronald A. Professors are from Mars, Students are from Snickers. Sterling, VA: Stylus Press, 2003. (Available for borrowing from CTE)
 

Contact Information

For more information about the Center for Teaching Excellence, please contact:

Becky Kasper, Ph.D., Director
SUNY Plattsburgh
301 Feinberg Library, Plattsburgh, NY 12901
Phone: (518) 564-3043
Fax: (518) 564-5100
Email: cte@plattsburgh.edu