BBC Home
Explore the BBC


Teachers: Literacy: Word

Last Updated: Thursday August 17 2006 11:01 GMT

What makes jokes funny?


School children find something funny
Experts say that if you have older brothers and sisters then you'll find it easier to make people laugh and you're more likely to be mischievous.

Knowing how badly teachers' jokes generally are, students invent gags playing on the double meaning of words.

Learning aims
  • How language is used for comic effect
  • Double meaning, puns, play on words, homonym
  • Defeated expectation, anti-climax, bathos

Explain to students that there are formulas for creating jokes. Here are some of the reasons why jokes make you laugh:

  • They make use of words which have a double meaning
  • The answer is something you weren't expecting
  • They create a funny picture in your head.

    Three children find something amusing
    Students decide which of the above joke formulas fits each joke and jot it at the side. Some may use more than one type of formula. Students can use these abbreviations:

    • Double
    • Unexpected
    • Picture
    The answers for the worksheet are:

    1. Unexpected
    2. Unexpected, picture
    3. Double
    4. Double, picture
    5. Double, picture
    6. Double, unexpected
    7. Double, picture
    8. Double
    9. Double
    10. Double
    11. Double
    12. Double
    13. Unexpected, picture
    14. Double, picture
    15. Double
    16. Double
    17. Double
    18. Double

    Ask students:

    • How many of the jokes use words with double meanings?
    • Are some formulas funnier than others?
    • Are jokes which use two or more formulas more funny than jokes which use only one?
    Explain to students that these formulas are often known by other names:
    • Double meaning - pun, play on words, homonym
    • Unexpected answer - defeated expectation, anti-climax, bathos
    Main activity

    Students write their own set of jokes.

    Children laughing
    They pick a subject e.g. crocodiles, space, chocolate and brainstorm it for three minutes, writing down as many words they can think of connected to the subject.

    E.g. Space: Aliens, space ship, abduction, planet, star, sun Students look at the words and circle any that have a second meaning, jotting down the other definition.

      E.g. Star in space, star meaning celebrity
    Students then write a set of jokes

      E.g. Q. Why is there no Pop Idol in space? A.Because there are already too many stars to chose from.

    Extension activity

    Students write a set of jokes that rely on creating a funny picture and/or an unexpected answer.


    Students share their jokes with the class and identify which formulas have been used.

    The class vote on the funniest joke or jokes and explain how they reached their decision.

    Teachers' background

    Children with older brothers and sisters find it easier to make people laugh, according to the study of 1,000 people by psychologist Richard Wiseman.

    Just over half of younger siblings questioned said it was easy to be humorous, compared with just a third of those who were first-born. Just 11% of only children had the skill.

    Professor Wiseman, who compiled the Ocean Village Laughter Lines report, said younger children were more likely to feel the need to compete for parental attention.

    "The youngest has to compete for parental attention, so they have to be a bit more unconventional.

    "They are risk-takers, and also more humorous.

  • Most recent lesson plan

    Video clips for teachers
    Student quizzes
    Educational games
    Literacy guides

    Related Lessons

    BBC Homepage >> | CBBC Homepage >>

    Meet the Team | Help | Contact Us | News sources | Privacy & Cookies Policy