“What’s today’s joke?” Jess asks—or demands—with a smile on her face. These are the first words I hear walking into my second day of school this year.
Even on day two, my students know that class doesn’t start without the #JokeoftheDay. Before the Do Now (a quick activity to start class, hook students, and prepare them for learning), even before attendance, comes a moment of humor, silliness, and wonder.
“How do you make a hot dog stand?” I ask as students smirk and consider possible answers. After the punch line is delivered, it’s always a mix of some groans, a few laughs, and some smiles. The answer, of course: You take away its chair!
In the Beginning . . .
The #JokeoftheDay started on a whim, when my fellow teacher friends decided to tell a joke each morning before work. Finding and sharing the jokes quickly became my responsibility, and it evolved from a daily joke on the social app Voxer to how I started each class period. I would walk into class, greet my students, and tell the joke in the corniest, most over-the-top way I could imagine. Each word was exaggerated, and the dramatic pause before the punch line was usually accompanied by students rolling their eyes and smirking.
At first, there was no plan and no real academic intent—it was a simple and authentic way to bring humor to the classroom, build relationships, and see students smile. But it was soon clear that something else was happening: It didn’t take long before students started to bring in their own jokes. They researched, wrote, and collaborated on them, and they were also eager to tell the jokes to their peers. We established a simple system to gather jokes, using a Google Form to collect them from the class and crowdsource new ones. Eventually I began to tweet the daily joke out at the end of each school day, adding the hashtag #SchoenTell, to reach our greater school community via social media.
Impacts on Culture and Engagement
#JokeoftheDay not only helped bring my students together and build stronger, more positive relationships, it also encouraged the class to be more prepared for learning, collaboration, and critical thinking.
Students experience real validation and excitement when they hear their jokes told in front of their peers, and then see them tweeted as the “official” class #JokeoftheDay. Their excitement was bolstered even further when, over the course of the school year, they received 89 jokes from students and educators around the world who had discovered the #JokeoftheDay hashtag.
Preparing Students for Learning
So much of the school day is packed with feelings of stress and pressure. Jokes make us laugh, which intrinsically helps reduce stress. A joke has no inherent stakes or pressure. It becomes a game as we all wait for the delivery of the punch line together, running through possibilities as we try to anticipate what’s coming next. We must accept that we may not be able to figure out the punch line in time, and react with a smile (or a groan) when it finally comes.
After that small, playful group exercise, our minds are now more active and ready for learning. Creating jokes isn’t easy. Neither is guessing punch lines. Both take critical thinking, creativity, and effort. With the typical Do Now, students expect grades, stakes, and sometimes stress. With a joke, that pressure is alleviated and their minds open; they are more prepared for the real learning and engagement to begin.
At the end of last school year, I took a break from the #JokeoftheDay. Not everyone did, however, and jokes continued to come in through the Google Form—one student even tweeted her own jokes throughout the summer with our hashtags. Our jokes extended our classroom community throughout the summer months and created a scaffold to build on for next year’s class to start the new year.
The Research on Humor
Education needs more fun, humor, and humility. Humor brings people together, builds community, and increases joy. A meta-analysis in 2011 of 40 years of research on humor in education found that humor positively impacts attention and interest. In addition, the report finds that there is a positive relationship between humor and student evaluations, perceptions about instructor’s credibility, and positive learning environments. The authors recommend that educators use humor when it’s comfortable with their teaching styles, but warn against too much humor, sarcasm, and negative humor.
The research reinforces what I know from my own experience to be true: Jokes and humor help engage students, reduce the stress of school, and help build positive climates and community. They help open students’ minds so that they are more prepared to learn and grow.
Every teacher has heard the clichéd advice not to smile until Thanksgiving, but that’s never been true in my classroom. The #JokeoftheDay is one small way to build classroom culture and climate. Students and teachers need to find more opportunities to smile all year round and to build meaningful relationships with one another.