Sunday, January 21, 2018

Claudie Graner on Using Humour in the Adult ESL Classroom

As part of better self-care in 2018, I spent time today sewing and invited my friend and fellow ESL instructor with over 17 years' experience teaching English (who also got her OCELT from CCLCS, we discovered after we met) if she would be my guest blogger this week. She agreed. Hers is a perspective usually missing from this blog: that of the teacher of upper levels. Take it away, Claudie!


I eat, sleep, drink, live and love with humour - never leave home without it. So, of course I teach with humour.

A. In my Adult ESL/LINC classroom I use my own shortcomings (I am short)  to laugh at myself, to set an example for the students, and to minimise the "distance" between teacher and student that they often come with. My goal is to create a very relaxed, friendly atmosphere in the class.  I get feedback like: "She's strict", "She pushes me/us",  but it is tempered with: "I like this class is friendly", "She's fun." I am a notorious ham - and I also like to draw on the board - often with unexpected results. The Olympic torch  "See?" "A carrot?" comes back. Laughter when I show them the real thing.

B. I use movies (including comedies) and sitcoms to introduce the students to popular movies so they will start to understand the references and build up cultural capital.  Sure, it is also for comic relief, but I am very aware that what is considered "funny" in one culture may not be "funny" at all in another.  In the classroom we can discuss why Mr. Bean is sidesplittingly funny to some but not to others, (and that includes to native born Canadians.) By the way, most students love the "Merry Christmas, Mr Bean" episode.

When I show a movie or a video it is always connected somehow to a theme or topic that we are discussing in class:
Family Roles and Responsibilities: Mrs. Doubtfire or "Baggage"  episode from Everyone Loves Raymond;
Culture clash: My Big Fat Greek Wedding or (again) Everyone Loves Raymond "Fish or Fowl";
Gender issues: Bend it like Beckham (shown again during the World Cup!!)

It just occurred to me that most of the movies I show over and over again are comedies.

Sometimes I can show a whole movie at one sitting, maybe on a Friday afternoon. However, I always make sure that the students know that they will be expected to follow the movie/episode and answer the questions that are on the worksheet. Sometimes I will show the movie over a few days: “What do you think happens next?"

I don't usually pre-teach a lot of vocabulary for movies, but I usually give them a list of the main characters.  Then as the story unfolds I stop at predetermined points, and the students "work" on the worksheets, or we discuss the scenes and the relationships together. I often give a synopsis so the students get an idea of what is happening. The worksheets check for understanding. I can teach in the moment if it is necessary.


While I preview the movie, I write down words and expressions and a short summary of the scenes.
Then I create the worksheets…..
Here's the moment when I give a shout out to where I "learned" to do this.

C . I use "funny" clips from Youtube.  Preparing lessons with movies is a lot of work, so I find I am using YouTube clips more frequently now — a lot of them with humour so as to engage the students, e.g. a compilation of award winning ads, and I used the "Canadian Fridge" ad before Canada Day. Again: preview, write down vocab, issues, create a worksheet.

I used Anita Renfroe's "The Mom song" (YouTube) for Mother's Day and had the class in stitches.
For this I used a simple fill in the blanks (cloze exercise) of the lyrics. Then we sang the song together with the clip.  Great satisfaction when some students told me they had shared the video with their

TEDTalks has a filter "funny”; that's how I found "The Magic Washing Machine"! (Which I have used for International Women's day and World Water Day)

D,  I teach "knock knock" jokes as part of a pronunciation lesson, however sometimes it is hard for students to see the humour in the double entendres.  Reading headlines and understanding headline  vocabulary is often difficult because of the punning. Sometimes the students get it, sometimes not. When they do - smiles and giggles. (Vocabulary in Use, Upper Intermediate, has a good unit on Headline English.)

E.  I collect and post comics and cartoons (e,.g. to illustrate Small Talk/"Ice Breaker".  Guy standing on the deck of a real icebreaker: "What's a nice girl like you doing on a boat like this?"
Also political cartoons when an election is taking place!

Soooo....Lots of ways to introduce humour into the classroom without losing control and decorum.
(Oh, okay, okay, so I lose a little control and decorum for a while - laughter is the best medicine.)

I think I have to end with this.  Some of the most hilarious moments in the class have come from the students making jokes and/or laughing at their own mistakes, or REALLY hamming it up in role plays.

It is always about laughing with each other and not at each other.  The laughter brightens my heart and lightens my day, and I hope it does for the students as well.

Claudie and I leave you with this note: January 24 is Global Belly Laughing Day. 


  1. Toni Lynn Cassidy1/22/2018 9:07 AM

    Hi Claudie and Kelly

    It was so fun to read Claudie's ideas for bringing Joy into the ESL classroom. Thank you for the ideas and the reminder to be a joy bringer.

    And Happy Belly Laugh Day to you two, too!

    1. Thanks for stopping by to comment, Toni Lynn! :) --K

  2. Hans Rosling was a great man and sadly is no longer with us. Thanks for the link to this TED Talk.

  3. Kelly,

    I can't find any contact info on the website, so I'm going to leave this here. Check out this link! I'm excited about a paperless way for my literacy students to build their skills and learn some mouse skills in the computer lab!

  4. Hi, Christine,
    WHOA, that is an AMAZING TOOL!!! I got up and running in five minutes with my first worksheet, then tested it as a student. It's super intuitive, and I can link to worksheets from my classroom blog. It gives instant feedback to the student and a big red score in the upper left corner when they are done. Wowza! Thank you so much for sharing this link.
    By the way, to access my email address, go to - the landing page that says WELCOME. There are three social icons in the upper right corner. Click the envelope for email.
    Was your group able to use any of my Maria Gets Sick activity pack? Curious. Thanks for any feedback you can provide. --K


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