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A cracking welcome

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By James Campbellwriter, storyteller and stand-up comedian

Use the power of laughter to welcome children back to school, promote inclusiveness and inspire storytelling

Group of children laughing

A couple of months ago, I was in a primary school staffroom, somewhere in the wilderness of the East Midlands, when I overheard a conversation between two teachers, about a five-year-old girl. The whole class had been colouring in pictures of badgers and, whereas everyone else had used black and white, this little girl had made her badger black and pink. They were trying to work out why – maybe she was going through a pink phase? I thought there was probably more to this, so during my next session I had a chat with the little girl. It turned out that the reason for her black and pink badger was that the only badgers she had ever seen had been run over!

Tapping into children’s experiences

The more I work with children, the more I realise that there is an awful lot going on in the background of their lives. They’re the kind of random, mundane things that we don’t always think of tapping into. Pets, for example, can be a mine of inspiration. Most children have had a pet at some point, or have a relative that has one, and you can bet that there is a funny story about it. I once got some children doing stand-up comedy about dogs. We had everything from dogs running into patio doors, falling into ponds and eating shoes; to a very sad story about one that had died the previous day. The storytelling that came out of this was very powerful; it was true and personal, and all children were able to relate to it in one way or another. I think this is comedy’s strength.

Laughter as an ice breaker

Comedy is an ideal ice breaker at the start of an academic year. Most children are naturally excited to be starting back at school and for any new children, comedy can offer an informal introduction to new peers and teachers. Drawing on this enthusiasm, comedy sessions can also lead on to some wonderfully creative work, such as storytelling and poetry. And, if that isn’t enough, laughter causes the brain to release endorphins and serotonin – which will help children to relax and, in turn, make them much more receptive to learning.

Comedy sessions can lead on to some wonderfully creative work

Classroom comedy sessions

When I take a class for a comedy session, the first thing I do is to get them to relax talking to the group. I often get them to stand up and tell the group what their name is, how old they are, where they live and what they would do if they were stuck in a lift with David Beckham – or something equally silly. I then start with the stories.

I think it’s really important that you, the teacher, give something of yourself by telling your own stories. Tell your class about something that happened to you. Then, try and get them to tell similar stories, or indeed any story, that they can come up with inspired by yours. If you let the children into your life a little, they will be much more confident about sharing theirs.

I’ll tell you a funny story…

If you emphasise that stories should be funny, it often happens that by forgetting about having to be structured or ticking various curricular boxes, stories end up being far more interesting. And before you know it, your new class will be experts in making one another smile.

Top tips for introducing comedy

Use the following prompts to help kick- start comedy in your classroom:

  • What’s the funniest thing you have ever seen?
  • What’s the most embarrassing thing you have ever done?
  • What ‘bugs’ you and why?
  • What’s the most embarrassing thing your mum/dad/brother/sister has done in front of you?
  • Tell us about a time when you were really happy.
  • Tell us about a time when you were really sad.