Laughing and Learning: A Match Made in Heaven

Apr 26, 2017 | Posted by Jennifer


James Thurber, a famous American humorist, once said, “Humor is a serious thing. I like to think of it as one of our greatest earliest natural resources, which must be preserved at all cost.” I definitely agree. I love to laugh. Funny jokes, cute animal videos, and good old-fashioned comedies like The Andy Griffith Show and Monty Python are some of the ways I seek out some regular laughter therapy. Laughter offers an endorphin release, cutting down on my stress and making me feel better. Laughter is even thought to improve longevity. But did you know that humor benefits extend into the classroom as well? It’s true—humor makes the learning “stick” better! Enjoy reading this blogpost, and then be sure to grab Andrew’s audio talk “Humor in Teaching and Speaking” this Friday—our “Freebie Friday” offering of the week.

Essentially there are two basic theories about what makes people laugh. The first theory is that there is an incongruence between the expectation and the reality. The second theory suggests that humor offers people shared relief of stress. Check this joke out:

An American tourist walks into an Irish restaurant and asks the owner, Excuse me, but can you tell me the fastest way to get to Dublin? The proprietor responds in his thick Irish brogue, Well, laddie, that depends. Would ye be walking, or would ye be driving? To which the American responds, I’m driving. Aye, says the owner. Driving would be the fastest.

This joke is a favorite in our family, and when we gather around the table, my children regularly ask Daddy to deliver it using his thickest Irish brogue. Knowing the punchline already doesn’t seem to dampen our enthusiasm. We all burst out into chuckles whenever it gets told. It never grows old! Tension from the day melts away, and we enjoy our time together at the table even more.

What are some additional benefits to including humor in teaching? Organizational benefits abound in that students who laugh are more likely to participate within their learning group. Laughter also generates greater trust among the group, which further leads to greater creativity. All of this participation and creativity ultimately leads to a group which accomplishes more together. On top of the organizational benefits, there are educational benefits gleaned as well. Laughter increases neural activity in the brain when it is included educationally. Functional MRI scans show that laughing actually stimulates both hemispheres of the brain. The more the brain “lights up,” the better the likelihood that learning is being accomplished.

Andrew Pudewa has figured it out. Kids love to engage with him as he teaches. Watch this brief video to see how he includes some gentle humor to engage some students in their writing assignment.

I hope all this intrigues you! Listen to the talk, and you will learn so much more, including different ways to include humor in your teaching and how you can calibrate your humor to match your class’ emotional development. As you listen, you’ll learn ways to train yourself to be funny as Andrew shares some secrets he uses to keep the funny train rolling on. Laughter may be the best medicine, but as Thurber said, it is also a serious thing. Persevere in preserving this precious resource!


Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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