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Book review
Laughing Matters cover
Laughing Matters -
Humour in the classroom
by Peter Medgyes


(CUP, 2002)

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Review written by Thomas Simon

This is a difficult book to review - it's similar to when you get a new coursebook & you start off by reading all of the cartoons. Here, the problem is that so much of the materials are compulsive reading that it took me a while to get round to the activities. Imagine what it must have been like to write it!

Another very sensible book to hit the ELT market. Last month we had a book about using the mother tongue & this month using humour in the classroom. Laughing Matters is a resource book for teachers that contains 120 activites that are designed to at least get a smile from your students.

The introduction starts off by attempting to define the term humour' but due to its slippery nature doesn't get very far, concluding that 'Laughing Matters builds on the students' genuine sense of humour'. Later on Medgyes, the author, says that the 'fundamental aims of the book are to spark off ideas, develop creativity and provide fun.' It does just that.

The book is divided into ten sections: Funny starts, Jokes & wisecracks, Puns & puzzles, Proverbs & quotations, Poems & songs, Pictures & images, Stories & anecdotes, Sketches & dialogues, Errors & failures and lastly Children & schools. These cover anything & everything related to humour, such a huge area that there is clearly room for further variations of the book.

Each activity is laid out with a summary, level, time, preparation & procedure - all very clear, uncluttered & easy to follow. The activities are very sensible & would clearly work in class. Quite a few of the activities also have variations, extras & follow up ideas. I must admit that I preferred the humour that contained the real life materials in the book. For example, I hadn't heard the Spike Milligan story of when he was a big fan of Evelyn Waugh, he asked for an autograph to find later on that Waugh had written, instead of his signature, 'Go away'. Some activities are ideas for what to do with that particular type of material & do 'spark off ideas' for future use.

When talking of his materials selection criteria, Medgyes gives the following; ' humourous, short, meaningful, authentic, useful and varied'. Fair enough. Quite a bit of humour tends to be at the expense of others & the book does take this into account by omitting materials that might cause offence.

The back cover of the book suggests that 'Laughing Matters will be of particular interest to teachers who are non-native speakers and may appreciate some confidence building before using humour in the language classroom.'. Not only a way of amplifying the market for the book, but a very sensible suggestion. Humour in another language can be tricky & most non-native teachers shy away from it. Humour, as the introduction points out, is culturally specific & highly idiosyncratic so that it is no wonder that the non-native teacher avoids it. By presenting this humourous material and logical activities, the book is encouraging the non-native teacher to become involved.

I would suggest that this is not a book to answer your problems with difficult classes but a book to complement what you already do. Group dynamics & atmosphere are developed over time & when a group of people like being together, then there will be laughter & humour. If a class doesn't gel, sometimes the humourous material can have the opposite effect.

All involved in the language learning process would agree that if our learners are enjoying themselves then learning is taking place. This book will certainly stimulate teachers to provide more humour in their classes. And as for me, I will now have more than my one joke to entertain my students - What do you call a camel with three humps? You can see how desperate I was when I saw the book!

Laughing Matters is an essential book for the staffroom resource material shelf.


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