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Bringing Joy Back into the Classroom

Bringing Joy Back Into The Classroom Title Card

I remember teaching a lesson about the units of measurement to a group of fifth graders who had little interest in the subject. Even I found the lesson boring when prepping for it until I discovered a rap to go with it. My students, all inner-city Milwaukee residents, could rap with the best of them.

And then there was me…the rapping gene skipped me.

So, when I shyly closed the door in hopes no coworkers walking by would witness this, I started rapping the units of measurement with all the energy I had - they erupted with laughter. I laughed with them and kept going. When I finished, they applauded while snickering – I’m pretty sure a few students were a little “extra” and fell on the floor laughing. But then I put the words on the board and challenged them to rap it better. They all did much better than I did; overall, we had a great class. They learned the units of measurement, laughed, had fun, and I will never forget that day.

That day reminded me that teaching and learning should be fun!

We are in the midst of a massive teacher shortage. Teachers and students are struggling to find joy in the classroom. Horace-Mann’s study on teaching in the US states that 30% of teachers surveyed said they would leave the profession in the next three years. Another 33% said maybe they would leave.

33% of teachers said they will leave within the next 3 years graphic

That’s a potential turnaround of 66% of teachers, which could be devastating. Of course, teachers are leaving for many reasons: pay, politics, and pressure, to name a few. But ultimately, there is a sense of joy that I have seen disappear in this incredibly vital profession.

Education is amind some challenging times and that pressure is seen in the classroom.

In my classroom, I noticed that kids are rowdy, apathetic, argue, fight, and refuse to do the work. Many days, I walked out of my classroom feeling ultimately defeated. Kids were shouting in my face, swearing at me, walking out of my class, and slamming doors. There were days when the demands were high and felt unrealistic. I wasn’t getting enough sleep or time with my family. I wasn’t making enough to pay all the bills. I couldn’t keep up with the workload and wasn’t sure I would even stay in education.

I lost the joy I had when I first started. I was at a loss, and incorporating fun was one of the few things that kept me going.

“In the classroom, laughter promotes learning, discovering, and creativity by motivating students to engage with new and puzzling events. Humor also develops a more constructive relationship with students and encourages positive feelings about teaching and learning. Humor can initiate social interchanges and conversations with difficult students and inspire them to respond in a positive way both socially and academically.

Thus, by creating a positive emotional and social connection, humor may lower defenses and establish rapport, and students may be better able to focus and attend to the information being presented.” (Savage et al., 2017).

Laughter is good for the soul, so it is definitely good for the classroom.

Take some data:

Over the next week, track how often you and the class laugh together. A student could do this by tallying every time laughter is shared as a class. At the end of the week, asses if there is enough (could there really ever be enough laughter) or if you need to intentionally add more joy and relevant humor to your class times.

try this graphic

Try this: Add fun competition.

  • Add competitions: boys vs. girls; teacher vs. students; period 1 vs. 2, 3, etc. These competitions shouldn’t be grade-based (see our next blog about normalizing failure) but can be skill-achievement- culture- or compliance-based.

  • In teacher vs. students, you can have the students pick their reward if they win (they get to pie you, you must drink hot sauce, you have to sing a song of their choice during lunch or an assembly), make it fun and memorable. Hence, it shows the kids that you enjoy having fun with them and don’t take yourself too seriously.

Try this: Add funny stories or examples relevant to the lesson.

  • Kids love to hear funny stories. Research shows that students learn better with lessons are presented in relevant and engaging stories. For each lesson, find a funny story or situation related to the skills you emphasize. You also build rapport with kids when the stories shared are personal to you. If students hear your story, it encourages them to share it. Don’t forget to embrace moments where you are relationally engaging with students because those opportunities provide a positive culture that builds a positive learning environment.

Try this: Add Gamification to your lessons.

  • Use games that create laughter while learning happens.

    • Beach Ball Analyzing

      • ELA: put the literary elements on the beach ball to analyze a short story: plot, theme, setting, structure, characters, dialogue, etc.

      • Math: put the geometrical theories or algebraic formulas and have students share them as it lands there.

      • Science: put the periodic table, geological elements, human body parts, and all related muscles and ligaments and have students share it.

      • Social Studies: The theories behind the start of the depression, the results, the geography it impacted, etc.

    • Hit the Buzzer: Create a basic list of questions related to a unit of study, have two teams, one member from each team comes to the front and as you ask the question, the first to hit the buzzer (or banana or stool or whatever you decide) gets to answer and that team gets the point.

    • Min-it-to-win-it: take a 5-minute brain break from the midst of an intense unit or exam review and do a minute-to-win-it game to get students laughing, relaxed, and recharged for more study.

    • Use interactive software like Kahoot, Nearpod, Edapp, etc. There are numerous ways to add engaging games to enhance learning.

Try this: Add Playfulness

When I started working as a youth coordinator, there was a system where all the kids would give a high and a low at the beginning of the day. I quickly noticed that the kids focused too much on the negative, and often, they skipped right over the positives or said they didn’t have any. That needed to change. I played Funniest Home Videos on the screen for 15 minutes while the kids arrived and settled. I saw an immediate change in how each afternoon proceeded – we laughed and smiled more.

We need, they need, and everyone needs playfulness and joy.

  • At the beginning of your class, have a warm-up activity (not a Do Now)

    • Have the warm-up activity be a for-fun, laughter-producing activity.

    • You may think, “I don’t have time for that, and if my admin walks in and sees us playing, I could get a serious talking to,” but remember, kids who play and laugh together (not just kids) learn better together.

    • Keep it at no more than 5 minutes.

    • Try: Toilet paper tug of war (tug of war with a roll of toilet paper, they have to act out as if they are in a serious game of tug of war but cannot tear the toilet paper)

    • Try: A complaining choir (this is a real thing). Stand as the conductor and have the students stand as if they are a choir, and when you begin, they have to sing out their most significant complaint of the day to a famous tune they all know (happy birthday, we wish you a Merry Christmas, etc.)

    • Try: throwing a tissue in the air, and everyone has to laugh (fake laugh or self-induced laugh) until the tissue hits the floor or table, and then everyone has to stop immediately at the same time.

These activities benefit the kids, but they also benefit you. Teachers are overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated and often carry the load and worries of the world. Laughter, joy, and playfulness help teaching, and learning should be fun and full of joy.

Many have said, “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.”

Let’s bring joy back into the classroom.

next steps graphic

Next steps:

Find one element of joy, laughter, or playfulness that you can add to your classroom every single day this next week. Have a student tally each time the class laughs together and do a quick reflection over two things:

1) How did students perform or behave in your classroom when you added in more joy?

2) How did you feel when you incorporated more joy? Did you laugh? Have more fun at work? Walk away feeling more fulfilled?

At Curiosity 2 CREATE, we believe that teachers are our most significant investment and that’s why, as a non-profit, we raise money to provide affordable professional development and coaching. We want to be a part of bringing joy back into the classroom.

We would love to hear your stories and ideas on how you bring joy to your classrooms! Comment below or email us your stories.

We can’t wait to hear from you.

Written by Chelsea Stenvig

Works Cited:

Bernard De Koven. (2013). A Playful Path.

Savage, B. M., Lujan, H. L., Thipparthi, R. R., & DiCarlo, S. E. (2017). Humor, laughter, learning, and health! A brief review. Advances in Physiology Education, 41(3), 341–347.

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