What's so funny? Here's my blog on teaching humor and joke telling to literal learners.

"Knock knock."
"Who's there?"
"Horse who?"
"A horse who is looking for someone to feed him."

Sound familiar? I have a student with a lot of language skills who seeks out attention through basically everything he does. He recently discovered joke telling (which I was attempting to teach a different student) and LOVES that he can make the communication partner laugh. He also laughs hysterically with them even if he can't explain/doesn't understand why/how the joke is funny (which as a teacher I want to fix, but as a person I think is absolutely adorable). Anyway, after a few days of reading scripted jokes which he had some trouble memorizing, my student started making up his own jokes (amazing)! The joke above is a regular one in his rotation. So we have some work to do but the good news is he is HIGHLY motivated!

There are many challenges in teaching learners with cognitive, communication, and social delays about humor and how to deliver a joke. Let's break it down:

Joke Delivery:
1. Taking conversational turns - this is a BIG one. It is also especially hard when your student is using any type of textual cue for a joke script.  Your student asks and answers the questions in the joke (no participation opportunity for the communicative partner) example: Student says "Why do bicycles fall over? I don't know. Because they are two-tired" while communication partner stands and waits for an opportunity to talk (or more likely while a teacher or instructional aide desperately try to stop him from speaking and to give the other person a turn!)

       Initial thoughts: Check for prerequisite skills. Does your student know how to have any type of   
       reciprocal conversation? Or is it the general back and forth that is challenging? If this is the case,
       you should start to target taking conversational turns in general (which could take on a similar
       approach to what is described below). Note - This doesn't mean that your student should not still
       work on joke telling at this point, but recognize what the challenge is and make sure that your
       initial focus is on conversational turn taking and that joke telling may be just one of many ways
       you target the skill.
       One idea for tackling this challenge:

    •  If using text cues for teaching the joke phrases while also teaching joke delivery skills, use index cards (or some other small cards) so each part of the joke conversation can be placed on one card. *It may also help to add in turn taking cards or turn taking labels onto the joke cards as well as to teach the student to pass the cards back and forth when it says a certain person's name. This can be very effective since the student is learning not just to pause, but is getting repeated practice of waiting until the communication partner makes a guess or says he doesn't know before delivering the answer. Otherwise your student may have trouble determining how long to wait before saying something. (A more complex delivery skill would be to teach your student to ask again or say something like "Do you know?", "Do you have a guess?", "Do you give up?" etc. if the other person is taking too long. We are NOT there yet, give your student some time to get the basics down first!)
      • Example: Card #1: John's turn, Card #2: "Why do bicycles fall over?", Card #3: Mr. Smith's turn (John should hand the set of cards to Mr. Smith), Card #4: Make a guess or say "I don't know.", Card #5: John's turn (Mr. Smith passes the cards back to John, pairing a vocal response from the communication partner with the opportunity to give the answer), Card #6: "Because they are two tired."
        • Just an aside: Adding in the turn taking cards may really benefit your student. It may also bring up some fun new challenges, like teaching your student NOT to read them. You really want to curb this immediately if he/she begins to do so. As you know with repeated practice these types of errors can quickly become an embedded part of their response forever and what was cute/funny in your classroom will not be as socially acceptable in other settings. You may even want to use pictures or put the John's/whoever's turn cards in a different font, color, or put them in parenthesis while the other cards are all in quotation marks just to show the student that they are NOT read aloud.
2. Responding to unscripted responses from the communication partner. In the example above I noted that on Card #6 there is no varied response based on the response from his partner on Card #4. Here's the thing.. If the person guesses incorrectly or says "I don't know," your student should deliver the answer either way. The tricky part? What if they are correct?! If you are teaching joke telling in a systematic way, then build this into your skill acquisition program:
  • Step #1 could be to teach the student how to deliver the joke when the communication partner says "I don't know."
  • Step #2 could be to teach the student how to deliver the joke when the communication partner makes an incorrect guess.
  • Step #3 could be a combination of steps 1 & 2, teaching the student to respond to varied responses in the same manner.
  • Step #4 could be to teach the student how to deliver the joke when the communication partner makes a correct guess.
  • Step #5 could be a combination of steps 1, 2 & 4: Teaching the student to discriminate between and respond appropriately to varied responses.
  • Step #6 could be to teach the student how to deliver the joke when the communication partner makes a guess which is close but not exactly correct.
  • Step #7 could be a combination of steps 1, 2, 4 & 6: Teaching the student to discriminate between and respond appropriately to varied responses.
  • Note: You may not need to break this skill down so far for some learners, even further for others, etc. You also may decide that only certain steps are necessary or appropriate for your learner. Is it the end of the world for the student to still deliver the punchline even if the communication partner already guessed it correctly? Not at all. Decide what works and is appropriate for your learner and deliver your instruction based upon those needs. 
 3. Vocal pacing and intonation. *This is much more complex and general skill deficit in the area of expressive language. Use of pacing boards, speaking fluency drills, etc. could be helpful for pacing while visual cues (such as making some words physically bigger or smaller) could help with teaching the student which words receive emphasis or enlarged punctuation and specific instruction on how your word should sound in coordination with that punctuation mark may be appropriate. These are just some very basic and general thoughts on a broad area of instruction so I would suggest breaking down these skill deficits (perhaps speak with your speech and language pathologist for ideas) and teaching them explicitly. Note: Again, this activity of joke telling could be an appropriate practice opportunity for your student to work on those skills, but it should be just one of many.

Joke Comprehension:
This can be very tricky. While it isn't totally essential that your student understand the joke for the interaction to take place, if you want the interaction to be more meaningful and for your student to make more connections, it really should be a focus as well. I've struggled here. Throwing more language at my students after their joke delivery (when they're mid-way poised to turn and walk away since the joke is finished for them!) of "Oh get it, 2 tires and too tired haha!" really isn't cutting it. Well I, like many teachers, spend quite a bit of time browsing around on Teachers Pay Teachers and recently found a very cute joke-telling product by Speech2U. (For anyone who is interested, the product is Flip Flap Knock Knock Jokes: Humor and Social skills) It's a visual knock-knock joke set up which can help with the pacing and turn taking component skills I discussed above, but what I LOVE is the visual explanation card she created. You could sit down and go through various jokes with your student reviewing what "The joke said" vs what it "Sounds like" to determine why/how it is funny. I am excited to try this out with my students and see how it goes! I'm planning to do this in a group setting, put it up on the SmartBoard provide visuals for the whole joke (or have my boys display their fantastic artistic skills) and break it down that way.

Has anyone else had success teaching joke telling and comprehension? If so PLEASE share!!

Have a wonderful and relaxing weekend everyone!

P.S. Just a little side note/tangent: When first working on new communication and social skills, at least ONE of the partners needs to be proficient in the skill. I always cringe when two of my students who struggle with the same social skills try to navigate a conversation together. I am NOT suggesting that the students should not be interacting, but that the conversations should be more structured and clear. Have them talk with a third party who can help to translate and lead the conversation. Why is this such a hot topic for me? I have a lot of concerns about embedding errors and the long term impact of poor practice opportunities on the student's communicative and social skills...  With the expansive and lasting impact that poor communication and social skills has on your student's whole life, give them the best chance of making significant gains by providing quality instruction and successful practice opportunities whenever possible.


  1. Knock Knock
    Um. Who is there?
    Your friend dodged
    your boyfriend who dodged?
    your sister.
    Fucked .. Sorry really need a phone.knock knock jokes

  2. What do you call the bees that produce milk? Boo-Bees! corny jokes


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