Teaching with humor- the way to survive online teaching

Have you seen the “Talk less, Smile more” masks?

Talk less. Smile more for teaching in 2020

This is a sentiment which should be carried into online teaching. My children are in their second week of remote learning high school and I have yet to see a smile or hear them laugh. School is a boring drudgery. Not the way to engage students. I wonder if teachers feel like they must start the school year making sure students know this is “serious.” They may be trying to distance themselves too much from last spring. Do they think only elementary teachers need be personable or lively? I propose teaching with humor is the way to survive online teaching.

The Research

The research fully supports teaching with humor for student engagement. The NEA Member Benefits blog, How to Effectively Use Humor in the Classroom highlights Mary Kay Morrison, author of Using Humor to Maximize Learning who was quoted, “The number one quality that high-school kids want in a teacher is a sense of humor… They remember those teachers, and they will become more engaged with those teachers.”

Morrison was also quoted in the NEA blog, Using Humor in the Classroom by Robert McNeely where she stated, “We’re finding humor actually lights up more of the brain than many other functions in a classroom… “In other words, if you’re listening just auditorily in a classroom, one small part of the brain lights up, but humor maximizes learning and strengthens memories.”

A study in 2005 by professors Mark Shatz and Frank LoSchiavo supported humor in the virtual classroom as a conduit for boosting student engagement. The best part is, Shatz found simply the attempt at humor won professors points with students.

The longer the class- the more you need humor

You don’t need to be a comedian, but for block class sessions, which seem popular, a teacher must use some humor to break up an 80 minute class period. Every virtual meeting blog post in business hails shorter meetings, why for students are we going twice as long as a normal in-person class?

Teachers, I am begging you on behalf of every parent to inject some of your personality and humor into your classroom. If you don’t feel like you are naturally funny, that is fine. Search other teacher’s Pinterest walls or Instagram feeds for silly grammatical sign error images or parodies of books or math concepts. Before you know it, you will be the most popular teacher in your department just because you decided to try teaching with humor.

For more of these, visit https://nextstepenglish.com/funny-spelling-mistakes/

Let your students do it. They can send you memes, Tik Toks, and funny stories before class. This lets you check them out ahead of time to make certain they are appropriate.


Make sure you use all the tips in the book, Closing the Distance in Distance Learning: A Teacher’s Guide to Online and Mask Communication to have levity inducing and mind freeing breaks during class. A quick game of charades, hangman or storytelling brainstorm means you don’t have to try to add humor. It will happen all on its own.

Still Sitting Like Lumps?

Keep at it. Students may be suspicious of teaching with humor at first because they aren’t seeing much of it. Try to make it unexpected so they laugh before they realize it, or let it be student led, so there is more likelihood they will join in. Make sure you enjoy the moment and be silly too. When you come alive, they just may do it too.

Fall 2020 teaching is going to be difficult. We all know this. We also know a “spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down in the most delightful way!”

Still want ideas?

Check out Comedy in the Classroom: 50 Ways to Bring Laughter Into Any Lesson by Lisa Chesser.  And guess what? The tips are from 2013- way before we ever thought we would need them to get us through a pandemic.

To bring teaching with humor to your school, contact Moving Image for the Closing the Distance in Distance Learning workshops. alison@movingimageconsulting.com

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