As a parent or teacher, don’t underestimate the value of jokes and riddles. I’ve been using them for years in my Reading Room to:
- Motivate & engage students in reading
- Activate Background Knowledge
- Teach hidden meaning
- Play with words
- Enhance lessons
I cannot tell you how many dozens of joke books I’ve nestled in tissue paper inside gift bags for my students – from grade 1 through 12. And, they were always the hit of our holiday and end-year celebrations. One group of 4th grade boys is memorable for their energy and their lack of interest in reading. They couldn’t get enough of the joke books I gave them. From the minute they unwrapped their books to the end of the period, these boys took on a new persona. They were excited to read and, even the shyest child, engaged in sharing jokes and riddles with classmates. They couldn’t wait to go home to try to stump their parents.
From that time on, I decided to regularly use jokes and riddles in my lessons in all grades and you can use them at home too. In small groups of kids, I told the children to browse through joke books for 5 minutes and to use a post-it to mark their two favorites. Then, using their notebooks, I gave them another 5 minutes to write down why these two jokes or riddles were funny. We used the remainder of the period to take turns sharing jokes and discussing why they were funny.
When given the chance, children can surprise you at every turn with their insight. It is important to rely on background knowledge when reading because it gives a foundation to connect what you already know with the new information being read. This can be seen with the millions of animal jokes we shared. “What do you get from a cow after a milkshake?” “A milkshake.” Kids need to have some background knowledge about cows, milk, and earthquakes to understand this riddle.
Another important reading skill kids need is to find hidden meaning. All jokes are based on some kind of hidden meaning to make them funny. If children can practice making these inferences with jokes, it will be easier for them to do when reading longer stories and books in school.
In addition, Knock-knock jokes are wonderful vehicles for playing with words. For example, “Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “Orange.” “Orange who?” “Orange you glad I came for a visit?” The more kids play with sounds and different meanings of words, the better they can navigate their way around tricky and new words when they read on their own.
The National Geographic joke and riddle series is worth getting for your home or classroom. Besides the jokes, riddles, and tongue twisters, I love these books because of the beautiful pictures and illustrations. Please note that the Lexile levels (reading levels) may seem high for younger children. But the little kids I’ve observed reading them do okay because jokes and riddles are small snippets of text. You know your children best, so take a look first and choose the books you feel are most appropriate for them. Please refer to the Lexile-to-Grade Chart on the right.
My favorite unit in our high school reading anthology was “Killer Diseases.” Every story was introduced by me telling the kids a related riddle (and they loved it, even creating their own). In fact, the riddles became my signature “Starter” of every class. This is how I used riddles when reading about the Black Plague.
Before-Reading to motivate and engage students: “How is a cell phone like a life guard?” There was no right or wrong answer. We talked and laughed and discussed this for a few minutes.
During-Reading to encourage making connections and finding hidden meaning: Students wondered about the riddle as we read a short article. We found out that flea-infested rats carrying the disease brought it ashore and into the port cities.
After-Reading: I ended the lesson with a question relating back to the riddle. “What if … the sailors or dock workers had cell phones? This brought about new discussions about warnings to the people. Of course, we don’t know if that would have made any difference in the spread of this deadly disease, but it got the kids thinking about cause and effect.
A similar riddle could be used in the 4th grade when students learn about the American Revolution. “What if … Paul Revere had a cell phone?” How would that have changed the historic story of events?
Another fun way that I used jokes and riddles was during my lunch room duty in the elementary school. It’s difficult for hungry young children to wait on line to get their lunch. So on Wacky Wednesdays, my lunch duty partners and I used jokes to help the time pass easier.
So, whether you are a parent trying to entice your children to read and think at home, or you are a teacher trying to get kids engaged and thinking about a Social Studies lesson (or any subject), or you are just trying to keep them busy while they wait to eat, try using jokes and riddles. As the saying goes, “A little laughter goes a long way.”