Humor writing activities for the English classroom

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GOEBEL Humor Writing Humor WritingSpread:Layout 1 7/12/11 2:11 PM Page 1 Humor Writing In an educational environment of high-stakes tests and school Humor Writing accountability, humor has been virtually banned from the classroom. That’s a shame, and perhaps a mistake, since student success depends ;–) on engagement, and young adults seem to be naturally drawn to comic A C T I V I T I E S F O R T H E E N G L I S H C L A S S R O O M media. How can you take advantage of your students’ interest in humorous material? According to Bruce A. Goebel, incorporating humor writing into the classroom not only reduces student anxiety but also provides them with an opportunity to study and practice the careful and effective use of language. Divided into four chapters—(1) Humorous Words, Phrases, and Sentences, (2) Funny Stories and Essays, (3) Light Verse, and (4) Parody— the book offers more than 150 activities you can use to help students develop writing skills in voice, word choice, style, and organization while exploring a variety of genres. Depending on your purpose and needs, you can either sprinkle brief lessons throughout your instructional units or create an extended humor writing unit. Perhaps most important, these activities offer students the rare opportunity to express their creative, divergent-thinking sides in an increasingly serious classroom space. Bruce A. Goebel, previously a secondary English teacher, now teaches in the Department of English at Western Washington University, where he offers courses on humor, American literature, young adult literature, and English teaching methods. National Council of Teachers of English BRUCE A. GOEBEL 1111 W. Kenyon Road, Urbana, Illinois 61801-1096 800-369-6283 or 217-328-3870 www.ncte.orgStaff Editor: Bonny Graham Manuscript Editor: JAS Group Interior Design: Jenny Jensen Greenleaf Cover Design: Pat Mayer Cover Image: iStockphoto.com/Ricardo Infante Alvarez NCTE Stock Number: 22136 ©2011 by the National Council of Teachers of English. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from the copyright holder. Printed in the United States of America. It is the policy of NCTE in its journals and other publications to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorse- ment by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specie fi d. Every effort has been made to provide current URLs and email addresses, but because of the rapidly changing nature of the Web, some sites and addresses may no longer be accessible. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Goebel, Bruce A., 1958– Humor writing : activities for the English classroom / Bruce A. Goebel. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-8141-2213-6 (pbk.) 1. Wit and humor—Authorship. 2. Comedy—Authorship. I. Title. PN6149.A88G64 2011 808.7071'2—dc23 2011019311 iv D Introduction a22136-fm.indd 4 7/12/11 3:41 PMContents PerMission aCknoWledGMents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xi aCknoWledGMents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xiii introdUCtion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xv chapter 1 Humorous Words, Phrases, and Sentences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Humor De n fi ed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Language Humor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Slang . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Jargon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Portmanteaus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 Puns . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 Oronyms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 Mondegreens . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 Daffynitions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 Grammar and Conventions Humor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Metaphorical Verbs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Metaphorical Adjectives . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Metaphorical Adverbs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 Incongruous Word Pairs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 Ambiguous Pronouns . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Mixing Direct and Indirect Objects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Misplaced Modifiers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Malaprops . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 Typos . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 Introduction D vii a22136-fm.indd 7 7/12/11 3:41 PM Jokes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 The Rule of Three . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21 Reversals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 Misdirection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 Non Sequitur . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 Exaggeration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 26 Top Ten Lists . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 Comic Definitions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29 Captions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 chapter 2 Funny Stories and Essays . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32 Elements of Humorous Stories . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33 Characters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34 Conflict . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38 Plot . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40 Point of View . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43 Applying Humor Strategies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45 Exaggeration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47 Slapstick . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49 Irony and Sarcasm . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51 The Humorous Essay . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55 Choosing a Topic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55 Introductions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57 Body Paragraphs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 59 Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60 Other Nonc fi tion Forms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60 The Q & A . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61 The Letter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62 The Diary or Journal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63 chapter 3 Light Verse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65 Poetic Elements: A Comic Review . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65 Light Verse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66 The Elements of Light Verse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68 Alliteration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 68 Onomatopoeia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70 Metaphor and Simile . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71 Rhyme . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 78 Feet and Meter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81 A Note about Topics for Poems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84 v vi ii ii i D D C In o tn rt oe d n u tc stion a22136-fm.indd 8 7/12/11 3:41 PM Forms for Light Verse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85 Couplets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85 Quatrains . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87 Clerihews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89 Haiku . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90 Tanka . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91 Psalms and Sermons . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91 Portmanteau Poems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 95 Summary Poems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96 chapter 4 Parody . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 98 Parody Den fi ed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99 Parody of Poetry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 102 Parodic Quotations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106 Parodic Condensation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107 Parodic Adaptation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 109 Parody of Fiction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113 Author’s Style . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 114 Character Voices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 119 Characters . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121 Genre . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123 Parody of Nonc fi tion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126 Daily Items . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126 Famous Documents . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127 News . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 128 Academic Texts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129 How-to Articles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131 “Authentic” Adolescent Nonfiction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133 Works Cited and Usef Ul teaCher resoUrCes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135 index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 143 aUthor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151 Intr C o o d n u tce tn io tn s D D i ix x a22136-fm.indd 9 7/12/11 3:41 PMIntroduction A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It’s jolted by every pebble on the road. —Henry Ward Beecher You can turn painful situations around through laughter. If you can fi nd humor in any- thing, even poverty, you can survive it. —Bill Cosby n this time of high-stakes tests and school accountability, English classrooms have been pushed to become increasingly serious places. When combining INo Child Left Behind (NCLB) pressures to improve basic reading and writ- ing skills with our own desires to use literature and writing to do important cultural work—such as g fi hting ethnic, gender, and social class discrimina- tion—humor is virtually banned from the classroom. In fact, when I talk with experienced and preservice teachers, there seems to be a palpable fear of using class time for “fun.” Mary Kay Morrison refers to this as humorphobia and lists its symptoms: • Fear of not having time for humor because of accountability expectations. • Fear of being perceived as silly, unproductive, an airhead, and unprofes- sional. • Fear of losing “control” of the class or loss of discipline. • Fear of inadequacy or inability to tell a joke coupled with inexperience in the use of humor. Introduction D xv a22136-fm.indd 15 7/12/11 3:41 PM• Fear of punishment or retaliation in an environment that is hostile or unaccustomed to humor. • Fear of being made fun of or being the brunt of jokes. (72) This phobia is unfortunate because humor can benet fi teachers and students in many ways, from the personal to the educational. For decades, medical studies have shown that humor and laughing lead to a host of positive health benet fi s, including improving respiration, circulation, the body’s immune system, and pain tolerance, as well as reducing stress. Beyond the physiological benet fi s, humor can also contribute to mental health. Studies indicate that positive (as opposed to demeaning) humor can lead to a greater sense of well-being, perceptions of mastery and control, and a reduction in anxi- ety, depression, and anger (R. Martin 305). If we think about classroom manage- ment for a moment and consider the causes of many student disruptions—ones rooted in anger, anxiety, and low self-esteem—positive humor is in many ways a direct response to these problems. If we think about the general goal of help- ing students lead healthy lives, then we might consider psychologist Rod Mar- tin’s claim that a “sense of humor is an important component of overall mental health. People who are psychologically well-adjusted, with satisfying personal relationships, tend to use humor in ways that enhance their own well-being and closeness to others” (306). Though on the surface these benet fi s seem beyond the purview of the English classroom, they are important nevertheless. We are used to the idea of cau- tioning students about the health problems related to such things as substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behaviors, and the like, because they have such obvious consequences. But in many ways, this approach is a bit like an insurance company that will pay for major medical crises but refuses to fund the kinds of wellness programs that might circumvent many of these problems in the r fi st place. As the epigraphs of this introduction suggest, humor can be a healthy outlet that helps one cope with life struggles. In Sherman Alexie’s young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, the narrator says that he takes his drawing of humorous cartoons seriously because “I use them to understand the world. I use them to make fun of the world” (95). In a life l fi led with poverty, substance abuse, and the death of loved ones, he turns, at least in part, to humor for salvation. But what does any of this have to do with teaching? Signic fi antly, humor has many benet fi s specic fi to the classroom. When students are asked to list the most important characteristics of an effective teacher, having a sense of humor consistently ranks toward the top. This likely stems from a couple of side effects of humor. First, as Rod Martin explains, xvi D Introduction a22136-fm.indd 16 7/12/11 3:41 PMThe value of humor in the classroom may be particularly related to its role in pro- moting a sense of immediacy. Immediacy is an educational concept referring to the degree to which a teacher makes a close personal connection with students, as opposed to remaining distant and aloof. (353) In other words, shared positive humor tends to create personal bonds between students and teacher, and between students of differing backgrounds. Or, as Claudia Cornett notes, “Laughter decreases social distance among people and causes a feeling of connectedness. Rapport is built by laughing together” (37). This sense of immediacy leads directly to the second classroom benet fi : a reduction in student anxiety. As researchers Neelam Kher, Susan Molstad, and Roberta Donahue point out, “By reducing anxiety, humor improves student receptiveness to alarming or difc fi ult material, and ultimately has a positive affect sic on test performance” (401). When students feel personally connected to the teacher and to other students, they are more willing to take risks and engage with challenging material without being overly concerned with failure. In fact, some research shows that student performance increases by nearly 10 percent when teachers judiciously use humor (a few times per class) in a way specic fi ally related to key points in the lesson (Ziv). However, while these effects may be true for any content area, humor can play an even more central role in an English classroom. Young adults admire people with a humorous wit, just as they are attracted to comic media such as Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show, and to the performances of innumerable stand-up comedians. The popularity of many novels rests often in their use of humor—from slapstick in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series to the angry, ironic humor in Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak to the self-deprecating humor of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. This is to say that while many aspects of the English curriculum may lack an appeal for certain students, humor almost always gets an enthusiastic reception. That’s important because, according to Cornett, student interest in particular reading material accounts “for 30 times the variance in reading success, and humor provokes interest. Potentially seri- ous literacy problems can be addressed using a curriculum riddled with fun” (16). And let’s remember that humor is nothing less than the careful and effective use of language. This is one of the reasons we value the work of humor writ- ers from Mark Twain to J. D. Salinger to Alexie. Most humor relies heavily on g fi urative language and wordplay and involves linguistic problem solving, the natural arenas of the English classroom. In addition, in a school climate increas- ingly concerned with convergent thinking and n fi ding the right answer, humor Introduction D xvii a22136-fm.indd 17 7/12/11 3:41 PMchallenges students to think divergently, creatively, and to welcome an array of possibilities (Nason). Humor may also be an important component of differentiation in the Eng- lish classroom. In his article “Humor: A Course Study for Gifted Learners,” Richard Shade argues that because much humor requires careful attention to and a deftness with language, gifted students are often particularly adept in the reading and production of humorous texts. He suggests that the close relation- ship between humor and creativity “allows an individual to ‘jump the track’ or ‘think outside the box’ more successfully” and to be more receptive to the kinds of risk taking that bright students need if they are to feel intellectually chal- lenged (47). Similarly, because positive humor tends to relieve anxiety and build trust in the classroom, English language learning (ELL) educators such as Ste- phen Cary argue that it is helpful in establishing a classroom environment that invites language sharing and experimentation (77). Cary suggests that teachers working with ELL students should be encouraging more student jokes and funny stories; telling more jokes and funny stories themselves; increasing the number of humorous read-aloud books; sharing a daily cartoon or comic strip; sharing a daily humorous video clip. (78) Given that one of the primary goals of the ELL classroom is to increase u fl ency, such sharing directly contributes to student progress. All of which is to say that humor has a justie fi d place in the English class - room. But don’t worry—this is not a book that will implore you to learn how to be funny, delivering appropriate one-liners at the right times (see Ronald Berk’s books for ideas on that approach). In fact, the only things my students usually n fi d funny about me are my feeble attempts to be funny (“All right, class, for this next activity I’d like you to work in pairs, or apples if you’d prefer”). Rather, I’m suggesting making humor a part of the curriculum itself. In general, I try to intersperse activities in humor throughout my units, using them in part as a kind of comic relief for the serious work we do, but also for the specic fi skills that an exploration into humor can impart: skills in grammar and conventions, in voice and style, in g fi urative language, and in what I like to call reading like a writer. These activities provide students with a fun way to improve as read- ers and writers, and offer them the rare opportunity to express their humorous sides in an increasingly serious classroom space. xviii D Introduction a22136-fm.indd 18 7/12/11 3:41 PMThis book explores more than 150 activities that teachers might use to incor- porate humor into the curriculum. It is divided into four chapters: (1) “Humor- ous Words, Phrases and Sentences,” (2) “Funny Stories and Essays,” (3) “Light Verse,” and (4) “Parody.” Within each chapter, I offer den fi itions, examples, and suggested activities. Chapter 1 begins with a focus on what I call language humor, the building blocks of comic writing, and looks r fi st at funny-sounding words, slang, port - manteaus, puns, oronyms, and daffynitions. The activities in this section pro- vide students with an opportunity to explore the role that sound plays in our appreciation of language, as well as a chance to explore the g fi urative language we use to coin new words and describe our world in a new way. In looking at puns, students also are introduced to the fundamental elements of humor, such as incongruity and surprise. The second section of Chapter 1 examines humor connected to playful use of various parts of speech, odd syntax in word combinations, and errors in grammar and conventions. It starts with the ways verbs, adjectives, and adverbs can function metaphorically, and then shifts to a look at the ways such things as ambiguous pronouns, misplaced modie fi rs, and typos can intentionally and unintentionally create humorous sentences. The n fi al section of this chapter examines jokes, with particular attention to a few of the common strategies that joke writers use, such as the rule of three, reversal, misdirection, exaggeration, lists, and den fi itions. Humorous stories and essays are the focus of Chapter 2. I begin with a few building blocks—creating comic characters, coni fl cts, and plots—and then fol - low those with an exploration of how to apply such common narrative humor strategies as exaggeration, slapstick, and irony. The chapter ends with a look at the basic structure and strategies for comic essays and other potentially humor- ous nonc fi tion forms. More than the other chapters, this one takes a sequen - tial approach much like a unit plan, beginning with prewriting strategies, and working through to drafting process, all focusing on helping students develop amusing material and story outlines. Chapter 3 explores humorous poetry, starting with ways of introducing poetic elements such as metaphor, alliteration, and meter from a comic perspec- tive. Along the way, I offer examples from some of the famous writers of light verse, from Ogden Nash and Dorothy Parker to Billy Collins. The chapter ends with an exploration of a variety of poetic forms that can be put to humorous use, including quatrains, haiku, clerihews, and more. Because it examines parody, Chapter 4 incorporates aspects of the r fi st three chapters. Beginning with an extended den fi ition of the various forms and intentions that parody can take, the chapter moves through activities that focus on poetry, c fi tion, and nonc fi tion. In the process, students will explore how to Introduction D xix a22136-fm.indd 19 7/12/11 3:41 PMrecognize a text, author, or genre’s distinctive form and style; summarize a text and identify important or repeating ideas, images, and symbols; imitate in writ- ing the form, style, or content of a text, genre, or author; and apply strategies of incongruity, reversal, misdirection, punning and wordplay, and exaggeration. The chapter ends with a focus on the parodying of forms common to everyday lives of secondary students—teen magazines, textbooks, exams, lunch menus, and the like. There are two primary ways a teacher might want to use the activities in this book: (1) as discrete, v fi e-to-ten-minute activities spread throughout the cur - riculum for comic relief, or (2) as a sequenced curriculum for a unit on humor writing. A teacher interested in the r fi st approach might select from any of the activities in Chapter 1, as well as the n fi al v fi e poetry activities in Chapter 3 and the nonc fi tion activities in Chapter 4. For a teacher who would like to create a three-to-four-week humor writing unit, I recommend the following sequence: Chapter 1 • The Rule of Three • Reversals • Misdirection • Exaggeration Chapter 2 • Extended Exaggeration • Slapstick • Irony and Sarcasm • The Humorous Essay Chapter 3 • Alliteration • Onomatopoeia • Metaphor and Simile • Rhyme • Feet and Meter • Couplets • Quatrains Chapter 4 • Parody of Poetry • Parodic Quotations • Parodic Condensation • Parodic Adaptation xx D Introduction a22136-fm.indd 20 7/12/11 3:41 PMIf one has the luxury of more than a few weeks to dedicate to a unit on humor writing, then returning to writing funny stories in Chapter 2, and c fi tion and nonc fi tion parody in Chapter 4 could extend the unit. Regardless of whether the activities are taken piecemeal or as a sequence, the activities in this book are intended to provide a bit of comic relief in the classroom, to introduce students to the diverse and exciting e fi ld of humor studies, and to give them the rare opportunity to write in their own voices in a divergently creative way. Regardless of which approach a teacher might take, a word of caution is in order. Because much humor intentionally transgresses boundaries and often uses people as the target of jokes, it presents a potential danger for the second- ary English classroom. Students should not be making fun of each other, their teachers, staff, or administrators, no matter how well intentioned. This isn’t to say that they cannot make fun of high school culture in general, or the stereo- types of adolescents and teachers with which they are all familiar. But I suggest the following rule: No humor shared in class may target specicfi individuals in this school dis- trict, with the exception of your being allowed to make fun of yourself. Throughout this book I make suggestions on how teachers might direct stu- dent humor toward more general or public targets. This is a n fi e line, however. For example, in Chapter 2 I discuss the drafting of a humorous essay about the general behavior of some boys at school dances. Although there is no specic fi target for this essay, it is possible that a few boys might be annoyed by it—but probably not as annoyed as when they are told to read Paradise Lost. The same thing is true in the selecting of humorous texts for reading purposes. The appro- priateness of humor is a judgment call, one that you and your students will need to make. Introduction D xxi a22136-fm.indd 21 7/12/11 3:41 PM1 Humorous Words, Phrases, and Sentences A joke is not a thing, but a process, a trick you play on the listener’s mind. You start him off toward a plausible goal, and then by a sudden twist you land him nowhere at all or just where he didn’t expect to go. —Max Eastman Whatever is funny is subversive. —George Orwell Humor Defi ned As the old saw goes, as soon as you try to explain humor, itÕs no longer funny. Or, as E. B. White said, ÒAnalyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.Ó However, I have not come to bury humor, but to praise it, so we’ll keep the defi nition short and the examples long. Although defi nitions of humor differ somewhat, depending on whether one approaches it from a psychological, anthropological, or literary perspective, most scholars agree that it is rooted in expectation and surprise. By nature, human beings are pattern-seeking creatures. Consciously and subconsciously, we order our lives in ways that set up expectations. Each day IÕll get up and make coffee, ride my scooter to work, teach, and then write. When I get home, my living room will be there with the couch under the big window, my teenage son slouching on it, book in hand, potato-chip crumbs sprinkled like snowfl akes around him. I’ll ask him, “How’s it going?” He’ll grunt. These things are a patternÑboring perhapsÑbut a pattern. And this pattern sets up expec- tations. We could express this mathematically in one of those ÒWhich number comes next: 3, 6, 9, __Ó problems, or logically in one of those ÒWhich item doesnÕt  1 b22136-ch1.indd 1 7/10/11 10:54 AMfit: mop, broom, vacuum, orange” questions. We see patterns everywhere, and these patterns set up continual expectations. One of the fundamental aspects of humor is that it disrupts these expecta- tions. It violates our logical perceptions of the normal. It generally does this through incongruity, which might be defined as the placing together of two or more things in a way that does not fit expectations. Such a break in the pattern generates surprise. If my coffee has a fish in it, if my scooter suddenly flies, if my son is vacuuming the living room, my daily pattern is broken, and I respond emotionally from the shock. If the surprise is humorous, I laugh. If it is annoy- ing, I rant. If it is tragic, I cry. Of course, if the surprise is annoying or tragic and it happens to someone else, then it may well be humorous to me. Or, as comedian Mel Brooks said “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sew - er and die.” This leads to another aspect of humor: it can be hostile. Whether playfully self-deprecating or virulently abusive, most humor has a target. Some- one or something is the butt of the joke. If the target of the humor is someone, something, or some value representative of a disempowered group, and the joke is told by a representative of a group in power, then the humor is oppressive. AmericaÕs long tradition of racist and sexist jokes was (and continues to be) largely a means of psychologically justifying unjust treatment. If, on the other hand, the target is someone, something, or some value representative of a group in power, and the joke is told by someone disempowered, then the humor is subversive. Recent humor by female, gay, lesbian, and ÒethnicÓ comedians often takes subversion as a primary tactic. There is, as teachers well know, a danger here. It may be fine when the humor makes fun of cats, or Tom Cruise, or school lunches. But in a classroom, it may be altogether unacceptable (depending on the degree of hostility) when the humor attacks the school’s principal, an ethnic group, or a specific student in the class. Humor is powerful. For that reason alone, perhaps, it deserves study in the English classroom, but with some caution. Regardless of whether humor is subversive or oppressive, positive or neu- tral or negative in relation to its target, it is most simply defined as a surprising incongruity that evokes laughter (or at least bemusement). As simple as this definition is, however, there are myriad ways to create literary humor, ranging from funny-sounding words to the complex plots of a Shakespearean comedy. LetÕs start small, with words, phrases, and sentences. But as we look at ways to help students understand and generate humor, keep in mind that creating humor is challenging. Comedian Drew Carey said that a good stand-up comic 2  Humorous Words, Phrases, and Sentences b22136-ch1.indd 2 7/10/11 10:54 AMmight keep one out of ten jokes that he or she writes. For those of us less profes- sional, our ÒsuccessÓ rate is likely to be even lower. ItÕs important for students to understand two things: 1 Not every attempt they make will be funny, perhaps not even most, and thatÕs okay. 2 They increase the likelihood of humorous success with each extra attempt they make at creating a pun or a joke or a story lead. In other words, it’s the process that counts. The prewriting, drafting, and revis- ing, the starts and stops, and the experiments for the fun of it are all crucial to humor writing. Language Humor Language humor relies on the sounds of words, words with multiple mean- ings, unusual word combinations, and unusual syntax. The most rudimentary examples of such humor can be found in abundance in the nonsense words of children’s literature and songs. Shirley Ellis’s “The Name Game” or, as it is also known, “The Banana Song,” might have as its first verse, “Shirley Shirley bo burley / Banana fana fo firley / Fe fi fo firley / SHIRLEY” We derive pleasure from such a song (or at least we used to) simply because of the musical sound play and the resistance the sounds have to normal meaning. We find a slightly more complicated version of this in the Lewis Carroll poem “Jabberwocky.” The opening lines, “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / did gyre and gimble in the wabe,Ó amuse and puzzle us with the ways such words as bril- lig, toves, and wabe resemble real words, but resist clear interpretation. Though today, such language play might not induce adolescents and adults to laugh out loud as we once might have, it nevertheless suggests that language and syntax can be inherently amusing. To that end, let’s look at a progression of language humor, moving roughly from simple to more complex. Slang We might begin with the single words or short word combinations that generate humor through sound, incongruity, or instability. It only takes a moment in the school hallway to recognize the love young adults have for slang. Though wor- thy of historical study in and of itself, I turn to slang for its comic potential. Slang Language Humor  3 b22136-ch1.indd 3 7/10/11 10:54 AMtends to play off either humorous sounds or an implied metaphorical incongru- ity, or both. Take a look at a few slang terms from the past eighty years as listed in Tom Dalzell’s Flappers 2 Rappers (Figure 1.1). Slang of the 1930s Slang of the 1950s Slang of the 1980s booshwashÑempty talk, false catÑa hip person bogusÑbad, disgusting gasperÑa cigarette hornÑthe telephone dogÑtreat someone badly luluÑsomething very good padÑan apartment or home posseÑa group of friends pillÑdisagreeable person splitÑleave skateÑto avoid obligations FIGURE 1.1: Slang terms of the past eighty years show examples of sound play and incongru- ity. The word booshwash has an appeal largely because of the sound. The word posse amuses us because of the incongruous juxtaposition of that Old West image with a group of contemporary teens. Although such words might not evoke laughter, they amuse us for much the same reason that jokes do. These words also appeal to adolescents because they use irony, one of the common strategies for creat- ing humor. This ironic code, this linguistic misdirection, immediately divides listeners or readers into two groups: insiders and outsidersÑthose who get it, and those who donÕt. In so doing, slang marks group membership, and one of the functions of youth slang is to distinguish generational groups. In this sense, slang may have two targets: an explicit one, as in the person being described as a Òpill,Ó and an implied one, which for youth slang is largely the world of adults. ➢ As a class project, create a slang dictionary for your own school. WhatÕs new? What’s on the way out? What’s the funniest? (UCLA’s linguistics department has students create a college version every few years.) ➢ Create new slang terms. See if you can get the words to catch on through- out the school. Jargon While youth slang is inherently generational, dividing young from old, such creative language use is common among many distinct groups. Athletes, musi- cians, office workers, soldiers, and others all create a more specific kind of slang, something we might call an informal jargon that is connected directly to a spe- cific profession or activity. For example, mountain bikers might use the phrase Òbrain bucketÓ to refer to a helmet, or truckers might refer to a tailgating vehicle 4  Humorous Words, Phrases, and Sentences b22136-ch1.indd 4 7/10/11 10:54 AMas a Òbumper sticker.Ó Here, too, this jargon helps a group solidify a sense of identity and figuratively describe the world around them. Wired Magazine, a publication dedicated to new electronic technology, runs a column titled ÒJar- gon WatchÓ that focuses on the slang generated by people working with new technology. For example, such words and phrases as beepilepsyÑthe brief seizure people sometimes suffer when their beep- ers go off, especially in vibrator mode. Characterized by physical spasms, goofy facial expressions, and stopping speech in mid-sentence. crash test dummiesÑthose of us who pay for unstable, not-ready-for- prime-time software marketed by greedy computer companies. (ÒJargon WatchÓ) could only have been created in the past thirty years and are a direct response to human interaction with machines. We find these terms humorous because of the wordplay (sound-alike puns) and the incongruous combination of two words or two images. Given that most students are immersed in electronic technology, this kind of slang is ripe for exploration. ➢ Make a list of any jargon words you have heard, especially humorous ones. ➢ Brainstorm ways in which current technology influences you, looking for the odd or humorous aspects of it. Then create five new humorous terms to describe that aspect of your experience with technology. Students might also identify any other groups to which they belong and explore the jargon of those groups. ➢ Create a jargon chart for one or more of the following specialized areas: basketball band drama debate Portmanteaus In Through the Looking-Glass, Carroll uses the term portmanteau to describe the mixing of the sound of two words to form a new word that contains the mean- ings of both original words. He makes ample use of such word combinations in his poem ÒJabberwocky,Ó in which the word slithy, for example, is a combination Language Humor  5 b22136-ch1.indd 5 7/10/11 10:54 AM of both “slimy” and “lithe.” Such portmanteaus occasionally make their way into popular usage, as with the words brunch (breakfast/lunch), liger (lion/tiger offspring), and motel (motor/hotel). ➢ Try combining words from column 1 with words from column 2 (in any order) to see what new words you can create. Start with either word, and feel free to remove some letters if that helps to make the new word sound better. Column 1 Column 2 artsy movie romance book good luck lunch fast gym joke evil bad math principal Comedian Rich Hall made a name for himself by creating new words that he called ÒsnigletsÓ (sometimes smashing two words together to make one new one, sometimes just tweaking a word) in order to describe unusual events or things that he felt needed a name. For example, in The Big Book of New American Humor, Hall suggests the following as necessary additions to the English lan- guage: Disconfect (dis Kon fekt) v. To sterilize the piece of candy you dropped on the floor by blowing on it, somehow assuming this will “remove” all the germs. Elbonics (el bon iks) n. The actions of two people maneuvering for one armrest in a movie theater. (qtd. in Novak and Waldoks 51) In the first instance, Hall has combined the words disinfect and confection to cre- ate a word that refers to both simultaneously. In the second instance, he has added the suffix Ðic, which normally would transform a word into an adjective, but in this case is used more like the Ðic in phonics to create a new noun pertain- ing to elbow usage. As you can see, thereÕs no real restriction on how words might be coined, as long as they work. The website Addictionary continues this practice, keeping a growing list of terms such as these: 6  Humorous Words, Phrases, and Sentences b22136-ch1.indd 6 7/10/11 10:54 AMindecisijig—noun, the little dance that happens when you meet a stranger head- on walking the opposite direction and there is indecision about who passes on which side. shopdrifter—noun, a person who takes an item off the shelf in a grocery store, then later decides not to purchase it and places it on some random shelf else- where in the store. The Addictionary site also gives readers the opportunity to contribute their own word suggestions for review and possible inclusion. Students could try working with sniglets in class or online. ➢ Create a class addictionary or sniglet collection. ➢ Contribute directly to the Addictionary word challenge at www.addiction- ary.org. (Note: as with most online dictionaries, the entries range from G- to R-rated, so some discretion is advised.) Puns The pun is a form of humor that plays off the ambiguity created when two poten- tial meanings of the same word compete within a sentence. Although Samuel Johnson may have found the pun to be Òthe lowest form of humour,Ó many great writers have used them, and most students enjoy them (at least I think their groaning at my puns is a form of appreciation). Puns rely on words with similar sounds, or homonyms. Normally, we would define homonym as a word with the same pronunciation as another word, but possessing a different mean- ing, origin, and often spelling. However, distinguishing between the following can lead to a greater appreciation of the variety of ways to construct puns: homographsÑwords that have the same spelling but are different in mean- ing, origin, and sometimes pronunciation. One brother fished for bass while the other plucked his bass. homophonesÑwords that sound alike but have different meanings, origins, and sometimes spellings. You were sweet to rent us the suite. Some words are both homophones and homographs: She went to check on whether her check had cleared the bank. And then there is a third type: Language Humor  7 b22136-ch1.indd 7 7/10/11 10:54 AMhomonoidsÑwords that have a similar sound, different spellings, and dif- ferent meanings. Faced with a challenging baroque recital, the musician decided to go for broke. Students can work with each of these three types of word patterns. ➢ Using the chart below, construct a humorous sentence or combination of sentences based on the ambiguity of one of the homographs. abuse buffet desert mean row address check discard minute separate ally close dove present sow ax concert dress read spring bank conflict fan real tear bass crane lie record use bed court live refuse wind bow cut lose reservations wound Examples: Being in politics is just like playing golfÑyou are trapped in one bad lie after another. After receiving a call from the boss telling him to quit for the night, the employee told the other clerks, “That was a close call.” ➢ Using the chart below, construct a humorous sentence or combination of sentences based on the ambiguity between a pair of homophones. allowed Ñ aloud dear Ñ deer mail Ñ male sole Ñ soul base Ñ bass grease — Greece meat Ñ meet stair Ñ stare blew Ñ blue hair Ñ hare pear Ñ pair steal Ñ steel break Ñ brake loan Ñ lone pie Ñ pi waist Ñ waste cell Ñ sell made Ñ maid right Ñ write weak Ñ week (Note: only one of the paired words is likely to appear in the sentence; the other is implied.) 8  Humorous Words, Phrases, and Sentences b22136-ch1.indd 8 7/10/11 10:54 AM