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Why teachers need to have funny turns

Trouserless Napoleonic soldiers and gaflumpywubbles are all part of John Hewitt's repertoire in the classroom.

The education consultant and chemistry teacher believes that humour is the most effective way of engaging children in learning. He is working with Sarah Fletcher, a lecturer in education at Bath University, to produce a manual for teachers to help them be funny.

In the same way that Edward Lear engaged his readers, Dr Hewitt, who teaches at Queensbury upper, Dunstable, Bedfordshire, makes up nonsense words and plays with language. A child has the gaflumpywubbles if they are waffling or uncomfortable and a splod is an inadequate reply to a pointless question.

Dr Hewitt also refers to cartoons and tells his students anecdotes to spice up his science lessons. A favourite of his is how the tin buttons used by Napoleon's army turned to dust in the bitter Russian weather and all the soldiers' trousers fell down.

Dr Hewitt said: "The traditional advice for teachers is do not smile until Christmas, meaning the need for authority is taking precedence over the bonding process."

Dr Hewitt's work is based on evolutionary theory which says that humour improves concentration and creates a social bond. It is an ancient learning mechanism used by animals to reinforce authority and identify friend from foe, he said.

When Ms Fletcher taught Spanish at Manshead upper school in Berkshire she sometimes pretended to be Manuel from Fawlty Towers. Responding "Que?" to her students' dialogue made them laugh and reversed the teacher-pupil role which engaged their attention. On April Fools' day she plays tricks and joins them in banter and teasing.

She said: "Teaching is a highly creative craft. Like all teachers I have a wealth of 'funny' stories to tell. Let's look at what we can learn from it now and inject some variety and enjoyment into the classroom. Knowing how to laugh with students is an important part of a teachers' armoury."

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