Humor and The Multiple Intelligences

by Dee Dickinson

A sense of humor is what holds things together when everything is falling apart. Without a sense of humor, the unexpected problems and challenges in life would become unbearable--without a sense of humor, everyday life could become pretty boring. In our opinion, a sense of humor is a basic skill that needs to be nurtured and cultivated, and it can enliven any school subject. Classrooms in which laughter is welcome help bring learning to life.

Linguistic intelligence

Linguistic intelligence can be exercised and enhanced in playful ways in the classroom through jokes, puns, satires, funny stories and anecdotes. (It is, of course, important that students avoid destructive humor that might hurt the feelings of others.)

Musical comedian Victor Borge's "verbal punctuation" (making sounds that stand for periods, question marks, and exclamation points) can be used to enliven the sometimes boring study of mechanics essential to the development of good writing skills. Apparently, the relaxed alertness that is conducive to the most effective learning can be facilitated in an environment where positive humor and laughter are encouraged.

Mathematical intelligence

Subjects that are difficult for some students can be less stressful when humor is used. For students who find math difficult and fear its challenges, teachers can diffuse anxiety by using funny story problems or telling an occasional joke to relax tension. Math teacher and tutor Mark Wahl, author of The Mathematical Mystery Tour and other hands-on math resources, finds that humorous stories engage attention, clarify meaning in non-threatening ways, and motivate previously fearful students to work more confidently towards understanding the subject. It is clear that math facts can be memorized under stress, but the development of mathematical intelligence and its use in mathematical thinking can best be done in a relaxed environment which humor can facilitate.

Visual-Spatial intelligence

Classroom environments can be made more supportive and inviting when visual humor is part of the setting. Cartoons, witty posters, and funny pictures related to the subject to be taught convey a non-threatening message about learning to students. For ma ny, that message may also be more memorable and easily understood than it might in another form. Visual-Spatial intelligence can also be developed as students are encouraged to try their hands at cartooning or making humorous illustrations related to any subject-matter.

Kinesthetic intelligence

As students engage in funny actions--making their bodies into the shapes of periods, commas, and question marks--or creating an "action" sentence with each student being a part of speech--or acting out funny mathematical story problems--their bodies help them to understand and remember. Teachers too can exercise kinesthetic intelligence by humorous actions--standing in the wastebasket to read a funny poem about trees--or walking into the classroom backwards to begin a discussion about the importance of looking ahead or "anticipatory" learning. When our bodies are both relaxed and alert, kinesthetic intelligence has an opportunity to thrive.

Musical intelligence

Musical puns, such as those by the noted composer P.D.Q. Bach, are an interesting way to help students sharpen their listening skills and improve concentration. Students can also make up funny songs that help them remember historical events or geographical locations or math facts. Needless to say, their musical intelligence is also exercised in the process. Funny songs can also add warmth and a welcoming atmosphere to the classroom environment as students enter the room. Like any other teaching strategy, musical humor should be used sparingly and at unexpected times in order to surprise and delight.

Interpersonal intelligence

Interpersonal intelligence can be developed through humor as students work in pairs as a funny person and a straight person. Analyzing videos of some of the old comedy teams such as Laurel and Hardy or the Marx Brothers will help students to recognize, through caricature, different kinds of interpersonal skills and the importance of timing in clever repartee. Students can then try doing their own version of some of the skits. Such exercises are excellent ways to develop self-confidence in front of an audience, as well as the ability to collaborate spontaneously. The planning and performance of humorous skits, pantomimes, and theatre games (such as Viola Spolin's) offer interesting and amusing ways to develop interpersonal intelligence that will serve students in many other contexts.

Intrapersonal intelligence

Intrapersonal intelligence need not be a solemn quality. As a matter of fact, the ability to understand ourselves better by being able to laugh at our foibles or mistakes is a non-threatening way to greater self-understanding. Students will be well-served by learning that making an honest mistake should not automatically lead to self-depreciation or shame or anger. When we are able to laugh at ourselves, we are much better able to pick ourselves up and start over. When teachers demonstrate this ability in front of students, they model a very basic survival skill.


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