Teaching Humor In ESL Lessons

Teaching Humor in ESL Lessons

Everyone loves a good laugh! Humor is sprinkled throughout our daily lives, whether it’s used to make others laugh or to make it through a tough day. But defining and understanding what’s funny varies between languages, which is why learning and practicing comedy is a great way to learn English! When your ESL students understand how to make and comprehend jokes in English, they will be able to pick up on tonal subtleties, grow their knowledge of vocabulary and slang, and have quicker analytical skills. It is challenging to translate and carry out humor in a second language. But once achieved, it’s a good marker of language mastery when your students hatch a clever joke all on their own! Here are three steps you can take to introduce comedy to your class curriculum.

Learning Joke Types

First things first: you should go over the different kinds of jokes that are practiced in the English language. Stick to the very basic joke formulas in your initial lessons. You want your students to familiarize themselves with language-dependent humor. These types of jokes include: questions and punchline answers, knock-knock jokes, and puns. Compile a list of examples for each type then tell and lightly explain each joke to your ESL students.

There are a few things to keep in mind about these particular joke formulas. Question and punchline answer jokes involve asking a seemingly unremarkable question but giving a witty, unexpected answer. The ever classic knock-knock jokes are basically question and punchline answer jokes, but are dependent on the scenario of a visitor knocking on a door and the recipient figuring out who is knocking at the door. Knock-knock jokes in particular rely heavily on how the joke teller pronounces the punchline. And finally, puns. Similar to knock-knock jokes, puns also rely on pronunciation, but they typically utilize words with numerous different meanings.

Making Jokes

Now that your students have heard all your corny and cringy English jokes, it’s time that they take a crack at writing their own! This will involve getting into the specifics of joke writing. Using the same joke types listed in the previous section, break down with your ESL students the structure of the jokes and how they work. Take the time to explain the slang implemented, the phonetics being exploited, and/or the core meaning of the jokes. Let your students to absorb the intricacies of joke-telling.

Before your students write their own jokes, have them do simple fill-in-the-blank exercises. You may use the jokes that you’ve already told or use new jokes. For this exercise, type out the jokes (punchline and all), omit a word from each joke, and place the omitted words in a word bank. Your students must then fill in the blank with the correct word from the word bank. Make sure to go over the completed jokes with your students!

Only after they excel at these exercises should they try to make their own jokes. For now, instruct them to write a joke for each type (question and punchline answer, knock-knock, puns). You may also establish a topic for the jokes to narrow the possibilities. Let your students’ creativity soar, but finetune their jokes and make any necessary edits so that the jokes flow better.

Practice Telling Jokes

Jokes take on a whole new life when told aloud! Once your ESL students are comfortable and confident in the jokes they’ve written, they must learn how to elevate their jokes beyond simply reciting them. When people verbally tell jokes, they change their voice and tone as well as inflect at certain points in the sentence. These vocal changes can do many things. On a very base level, adjusting one’s voice indicates to listeners that they are about to hear a joke that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. But on an advanced level, vocal changes can add to the humor of the joke. For example, many Chinese people enjoy deadpan deliveries of jokes as well as quick-witted ones.

Let your students practice saying their jokes out loud with you. You may instruct them to try different ways of saying their jokes, such as with inflections on specific words or in a completely deadpan tone. It may be easier to demonstrate these voice modulations to them first so that they can mimic you. The more they practice saying jokes, the better they can identify vocal nuances of speaking.


These are introductory steps to teaching your students humor in English. But it is an important lesson to learn because humor and making others laugh is a powerful way to communicate. And for ESL students, being able to tell jokes and laugh along with jokes is a form of connecting with others and sharing themselves. So joke away!