Positive Humour in the Classroom – An Article by Dr Elmi Zulkarnain Osman

Positive Humour in the Classroom – An Article by Dr Elmi Zulkarnain Osman


I would like to take a moment to write about an often-ignored subject matter in teaching. Likely, it is unlikely to be covered in professional development or faculty meetings or university coursework, but I believe it is, nonetheless, a vital, living, breathing component of the classroom, which can transform learning and uplift students and teachers.

Humour. It is present in some classrooms, dreadfully absent in others. It comes natural to some teachers, difficult for many others.

Believe it or not, humour in the classroom has been researched considerably. While the results of humour on student learning is mixed, scholars do point out that there are benefits. However, like any tool, humour can be misconstrued, misused, abused. Therefore, I plan to cover the positive usage of humour with students. Here are 3 reasons to consider “levelling up” the humour level in your classroom:

Reason 1: Easing the Tension

Humour can ease the tension associated with engaging in lessons around issues of racism, politics, and other touchy subjects. Humour can provide a needed break from serious, intense material and discussion. Humour can bring positive feelings to the classroom. When I was a teacher from 2004 to 2013, I would do almost anything to get the class rolling with laughter with voice inflections, exaggerated facial expressions and movements, hilarious personal stories, ridiculous examples; and I encourage my students to do the same.

Reason 2: Bring Content to Life

Humour can help students remember material they learn. Research backs up the idea that humour positively affects levels of interest and attention. Thus, increasing engagement through humour might make the lesson more impactful. Teachers bring lessons to life through parody, games, and comical voices. I used puns, anecdotes, or whatever humorous things I can think of to make lessons more fun, more relevant, and more effective. My students and I laughed every day and it makes being in a school a little more fun.

Reason 3: Placing Yourself as the Teacher in a Positive Life

If we’re honest, teaching is a selling game. If students view you favourably and they are “sold on you,” then they are willing to work harder, listen, and be more cooperative in class. Humour portrays you in a favourable light. In fact, for the professors I know at the National Institue of Education, the use of humour has translated to more positive evaluations by students. However, what’s important to note is that these benefits come from the use of “positive” humour.


Teachers should use humour that comfortably fits who they are and what they teach. Never try to force it and be something you are not. It might help to remember that while I highly recommend humour in teaching, it’s not a necessary component for learning although, I personally believe it helps.

The teachers and professors who have had the greatest impact on me have certainly been those that used humour at least to some extent. They laughed at themselves, at the content, with the students. They loved teaching and learning but they didn’t take themselves too seriously. As a result, the students didn’t either.

Dr Elmi Zulkarnain Osman is an award-winning educator from Singapore, an inspiring motivational speaker, a successful corporate trainer and highly sought-after Malay language coach. He graduated from Trident University International with a PhD in Educational Leadership. Dr Elmi Zulkarnain is the founder and CEO of Elemantra Consultancy (Singapore).