Pure nonsense in the classroom

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My ultimate goal in teaching is, as I’ve probably mentioned it already, having fun – you can’t seriously expect me to be prim and proper at all times, now, can you? It’s rather difficult to keep a straight face when your students make you cry from laughter, and that’s something that happens to me only too often (bless my students!). With April Fools’ Day writing about humour is inevitable – especially that I don’t really like pranks and yet bringing humour to the classroom is surely one of my favourite aspects of teaching.

Don’t we enjoy comedies in English, especially famous British humour? I’m lucky to teach EFL as I can introduce students to my ever-favourite Monty Python (The Parrot Sketch kills me everytime), Top Gear specials (US Special is the best for English classes) or Jay and Silent Bob (for mature students though). I remember one of my tutors at university – I mean, I don’t really remember the classes, but I remember fun we had when we were watching Fawlty Towers or Clerks in the classroom. Good days.

Naturally, I can’t show a funny video on every class but I can make my students comedians on their own right by bringing in pure nonsense (in moderate measures, otherwise one can easily get confused). I do realise not everyone feels comfortable when it comes to being a class clown and a teacher at the same time, but from my perspective presenting yourself as a person with a healthy distance to oneself helps students being more relaxed and distanced to their own learning failures. After all, mistakes aren’t always “just wrong”, sometimes they’re also hilarious.

Pure nonsense may be perfectly used during explaining grammar rules, when you can create great sentences to reflect the theory. For instance, instead of using the absolute classic “If it rains, I will stay at home” as an example for the 1st Conditional, you may use something your students were chatting about. In my case, as a result of a lengthy discussion on the role of alcohol during teenage parties, an example created by my students was “If you drink Jack Daniel’s in Scotland, people will look at you with mercy”. It doesn’t look funny unless you’re in the group, but for them it is the sentence that connects grammar to the real life and quite funny moment of the lesson they probably won’t forget for a while (also they’ll hopefully remember that apostrophe).

Another way of using pure nonsense as a means of teaching a language is picking an optionally fictional character and using it as an example for grammar rules or vocabulary. I have to confess that a character chosen by my young adult group is a prominent and slightly paranoid Polish politician who’s undergone rather gruesome adventures in ours classes (“Antoni M. will have organised seven military units before the beginning of the war” – to show Future Perfect… and you don’t want to know the story with “infrared” and “outer space”).

Yet another idea of using nonsensical humour is quite specific and very much dependent on the students you teach – if they’re into fun, you might use their names as examples, naturally exaggerated and somewhat distorted, so you must be sure you won’t hurt your students’ feelings. For example, I have a student who used to eat lots of sweets and once came with sugary powder. It took us a minute to start teasing him about drug dealing etc. He took it as good fun (he was a new student who thus got a status of personality in the group), so for months it’s been a running joke. Once in a while someone says “I’m so knackered today, must’ve been Karol’s new drugs” – we also use the character of Karol the Teenage Drug Dealer while making sentences etc. It’s really great fun but, as I mentioned, you need to be absolutely sure you won’t offend anyone. You can start with yourself: “When Monika’s students read this post, they’ll probably call a lawyer to protect their intellectual property”…

What about you? Do you like using nonsensical humour in the classroom? If not, maybe you’ll get inspired to give it a go?

Enjoy!

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