Using Humour in Class? No Laughing Matter!

The opinions on the use of humour in class are divided. Although lecturers may use humour to stimulate students' motivation and learning process, it does not automatically generate a positive effect. For a positive impact, it is important to always apply humour thoughtfully. Make sure to think about the role of humour - about how and when you will use it - in your class well in advance. Also, be aware that there are always pitfalls and avoid sensitive topics. 

Choose Positive Humour and Avoid Negative Humour 

Humour is context-related. Therefore it is important to carefully consider the class context in which you want to apply humour. Always opt for positive humour, such as funny stories, comments or professional humour appropriate to the class content. Avoid negative humour, such as sarcasm and sexual, ethnical or aggressive humour.  That will only result in negative consequences. 

Be Humourous with Moderation 

During class, students are looking for answers and connections. An overload of hulour might cause them to loose the bigger picture. Humour should therefore always be topical. Avoid far-fetched jokes that may cause confusion. 

Remember: a Successful Lesson Need Not Be Funny 

Humour does not suit everyone's teaching style. For some lecturers it comes naturally; for others, it takes more effort to be funny.  Do not forcefully try to be humourous; choose a type of humour that suits your personality. Also, there are plenty of other ways to attract attention during class

Avoid Humour during Assessment 

Assessments are stressful situations. Students are therefore often not open to humour and could easily misunderstand a joke. A worst-case scenario would be that a minsunderstood instance of humour might negatively effect the exam results. So avoid humour during assessments altogether because each student reacts to it differently. 


  • choose humour that suits your personal style;
  • avoid negative humour that isolates or discourages students;
  • always relate humour to the content that is being offered; 
  • make sure your humour can be understood by everyone; 
  • create an informal and secure learning environment; 
  • use 'safe' humorous material (such as cartoons). 

Want to Know More? 

  • Banas, J. A., Dunbar, N., Rodriguez, D., & Liu, S. J. (2011). A review of humor in educational settings: Four decades of research. Communication Education, 60(1), 115–144.
  • Torok, S. E., McMorris, R. F., & Lin, W. C. (2004). Is Humor an Appreciated Teaching Tool? Perceptions of Professors’ Teaching Styles and Use of Humor. College Teaching, 52(1), 14–20.
  • Lucy, C.A., (2002). Using humor to teach. The right type of humor can help student relate to instructors and material. University of Alberat (Canada), Analytical chemistry, p. 342-343
  • Ziv, A., (1998). Teaching and Learning with Humor: Experiment and Replication. Tel aviv University; Journal of Experimental Education, 57:1, p.5-15
  • Summerfelt, H., Lippman, L., Hyman, I, E, Jr., (2010). The Effect of Humor on Memory: Contrained by the Pun. Wester Washington University, The Journal of General Psychology, 137(4), p. 376-394.

Last modified Jan. 13, 2021, 10:55 a.m.