I find humour a useful tool in the classroom. I use it to engage students, teach certain topics, and for classroom management. It just seems natural to me, but it turns out I was on to something: Powers (2005) and Barkley (2002) agree, and use examples of uses similar to what i have below. My brand of humour is contextual and rarely planned (in that they aren’t jokes I write or collect ahead of time); its sarcastic, self-deprecating, or exaggerating.
Atmosphere: I prefer an informal atmosphere, with the instructor more on the same level as the students, a sort of a community of learning. I find that humour helps create that atmosphere, especially self-deprecating humour that kind of knocks me off that pedestal that students might put their instructor on.
Classroom management: Humour can defuse situations (though thankfully I rarely have to use it as such) and mild embarassment can draw attention to disruptive behaviours like coming late and using cell phones. Sometimes, I will treat students like children
Emphasize points: Memory is often connected to emotions, so by using humour to emphasize important content, I hope to enhance retention.
Engagement: I also use humour to ‘break the ice’ and engage students. I may also use subtle humour to check if students are paying attention.
Barkley, E. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Powers, T. (2005.). Engagin Students with Humor. Observer. 18(12). Available from: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2005/december-05/engaging-students-with-humor.html