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ESL/ELL Students Playing with Words

by Miguel Guhlin

Humor can be tough for ESL/ELL students. It’s a difficult concept to begin with, and adding a new vocabulary to the mix just makes it harder. Playing with words, however, gets positive results (Azizinezhad, 2011). These results include a constructive attitude toward mistakes, along with the stimulation of critical thinking.

The Incongruity of Humor

Word slapstick often provokes a chuckle:

  • Incongruity theory: Stimuli can be unexpected, shocking, or surprising.
  • Incongruity-resolution theory: Juxtaposition of two incongruous items that are actually related.
  • Superiority theory: Others’ or our own shortcomings, failings, or inadequacies  (source).

Share these ideas with students so they will know when a situation requires a smile.

Contagious Learning

ESL/ELLTo help ESL/ELL students with vocabulary development, have them construct memes. A meme is a cute photo or picture with humorous words. The more popular memes quickly become Internet sensations. Memes can be ideas, values, or behaviors that are contagious. Pair quotes with pop culture images and you get a meme that must be shared. Meme quote generators help students engage in language play. Deepen their experiences with interpretation, reasoning, and inferential thinking.

Meme generators that tickle the funny bone include the following. None of these require an account or login to use.

Make sure that, as your students are searching for photos to use with their memes, they follow copyright rules and practice good digital citizenship.

Digging for Treasure in Text

Quotations that students unearth in text they are reading can enrich the meme creation experience. Language learning jokes can sparkle with smiles. Combine outrageous text with bland backgrounds or vice versa:

Learning is often a comedy. Mix text, technology, and incongruity to achieve meaningful language learning. The results may be too humorous to stomach!


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