Humor in the Classroom: The Serious Benefits
Take a moment to think about your favorite teacher growing up. Chances are, the one that made you smile or laugh comes to mind. For many, the teacher who infused your days at school with humor and playfulness had a lifelong impact.
Humor is an essential part of learning according to Barbara Hubert, Ph.D., senior director of learning design at BrainPOP. “When we laugh, our brains release feel-good chemicals that enhance attention, memory, and creativity… making it easier for the brain to soak up knowledge and make meaningful connections that drive learning outcomes.”
Indeed, a study published in the Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning concluded that “… the use of humor is cognitively beneficial in the classroom. The findings indicate that overall performance was enhanced when using humor in the classroom, with a particular advantage for concepts tested at the comprehension level of assessment.”
Reaping academic and interpersonal benefits
Rosemarie Foote, Ph.D, an early intervention school psychologist and a mental health advisor to BrainPOP, shared why “humor puts students in an optimal state for learning.” It sets many benefits in motion, including:
Humor helps students see the “humanness” of teachers, making them more relatable and accessible.
Creating space for new ideas
Once any barriers are broken down with humor, students are more relaxed, engaged, and receptive to learn new things.
Humorous and playful teachers are magnetic. They inspire students to be excited to go to school every morning and apply their best effort throughout the day.
Helping learning stick
Humor can be leveraged to make learning more salient by striking a chord that helps material and concepts go into long-term memory.
Dr. Foote notes that humor is a balancing act, and BrainPOP can help teachers create an appropriate balance because the movies and learning activities support any curriculum in a dynamic and kid-friendly way. “BrainPOP uses language that students can understand. And it really drives the point home with humor.”
Teaching with humor and building trust
Julie Kuzma, instructional facilitator of technology at Loudoun County Public Schools, agrees. She appreciates that humor is a core content principle BrainPOP employs to infuse rigorous learning with joy.
She also emphasizes that humor in the classroom is not about cracking jokes—it’s about how you make students feel. In her experience, humor builds trust and shows a vulnerability that makes students feel connected and seen. “If you can get them to laugh, even just crack a smile, you know that we’re on the right track… and you’ve lightened their day a little bit.”
Mike Watanabe, chief creative officer at BrainPOP (and voice of Tim) says there is a consistent playful thread that runs through every movie, which revolves around Moby, the beloved orange robot. He is just as curious as the kids, and loves a good joke—making every topic they learn together relatable and approachable. “Kids pay attention because they don’t know what to expect.”
Watanabe joined BrainPOP more than 24 years ago after drawing Moby on the back of his resume, and began creating movies with Founder Dr. Avraham Kadar. He says the first 30 or so movies reflect his own sense of humor. Today a team of writers and designers contribute collectively to the distinctive humor teachers and kids have come to expect, which “primes the class for laughter and joy” so learning happens. “So much has to be in place to make a kid laugh. They have to feel safe and feel that they can trust you.”
Humor is one of many ways BrainPOP creates a learning environment that invites students to explore their world. Annie Choi, senior director of learning and content design, who oversees BrainPOP Jr., echoes Watanabe. Beyond the movie, humor is a key element of other learning activities, like Pop a Joke—a brief text and read-aloud joke that uses humor to instill understanding about a topic. “Nearly every movie on BrainPOP Jr. begins and ends with a joke (with additional silliness sprinkled throughout, of course). I’ve never visited a class where they didn’t explore Pop a Joke. It brings so much joy and laughter and builds trust.”
Endorphins are for teachers, too
Jon Feldman, editorial director at BrainPOP, says his team purposefully creates humor that works on multiple levels, which students and teachers can appreciate. Grown-ups enjoy the subtle cultural references that some kids might miss, and everyone is in on the joke with Moby as the foil.
There are many ways to build humor and levity into learning with serious benefits for students and teachers alike, so don’t mistake the classroom filled with giggles as lacking rigor. According to Kuzma, “Students who are talking, laughing or even cheering are students who are happy and engaged, and that’s something every teacher should encourage.”
Julia Bailey is senior copywriter on the BrainPOP Marketing Team and a former educator who taught in the classroom for 16 years.