Once in a while (OK, maybe more than once in a while) I find a blog post I really wish I’d written. Recently, while looking for resources suitable for silly family fun for April, I came across this 2011 post from The New York Times Education website, focusing on serious ways to teach comedy across the content areas.
Why comedy? For me, at least two reasons. First, comedy brings with it an inherent playfulness that is at the heart of creative explorations. Creativity isn’t all play, but looking at the world with a sense of wonder and playfulness is. And there is not a lot of playfulness in schools these days. We are so busy worrying about learning that we sometimes miss tools that can help us get there. Because (and here’s reason #2), how better to teach analytical thinking than through something students genuinely want to analyze? If you look carefully at the suggestions, comedy is the vehicle for the kinds of complex thinking and problem solving students need most.
There are so many good ideas there, I’d like to just repost the whole thing. Lacking the technical know-how to do that, here’s a sampling, with a few creative elaborations. Go to the link above for the whole list. It’s worth it.
- Have students study the “fake news” genre of The Daily Show or Saturday Night Live. Have them create a fake news broadcast reflective of either current or historical events. Talk about the strategies used to make serious points through satirical commentary.
- Study sketch comedy. Compare earlier sketches (for example, clips from Carole Burnett) with current examples. How are they similar and different? What makes them funny?
- Gather and analyze political cartoons. Again, examine the strategies used to make the images funny. Consider a student-curated gallery of their favorite cartoons—and, of course, the opportunity to create original cartoons applying similar techniques.
- Have students study humor writing, from satirical publications like The Onion, to columnists or humor essays. They can use what they learn to create an original anthology.
- Study some of the most popular viral videos. What characteristics do they have in common. Can your class devise a video with similar characteristics? If you release it, what are the odds of it going viral?
- I love the idea of studying topical jokes from different eras in history. Think about what we can learn about a culture from the things it considers funny.
And there are lots more ideas. Just click and see.
Of course that post, while outstanding, is not the only source for lesson ideas related to comedy. Here are lesson ideas ranging from analyzing the genre of screwball comedy to producing a situation comedy. Or for younger students (grades 3-5) here is a lesson from NCTE using comics to introduce genre studies. It includes a free online comic generator sure to be a hit with young students.
Think about where comedy might fit in your curriculum, give it a try, and consider sharing your experiences here. After this long winter, I’d love a guest post to give us all a chuckle!