The Opportunity: There is a great treasure trove of lawyer jokes and legal humor out there.
The Challenge: How do you incorporate it into a class in a way that feels appropriate, helpful, and non-trivial?
The “Lawyer Joke of the Day” Activity is a simple activity that can stand alone or serve as a platform for more involved activities. The goal is to help students improve their comprehension in law school by building background knowledge and cultural awareness. Additionally, it is a form of extensive reading (more on extensive reading here and here) which helps build reading speed and vocabulary. And perhaps most importantly, it’s an engaging and entertaining form of learning for international students.
How the “Lawyer Joke of the Day” works:
- Each day, one student is responsible for finding and posting a “Lawyer Joke of the Day” on the designated thread on TWEN (or whatever online course management program you use) for your class. (Literally, all they do is go to one of those websites with tons of lawyer jokes, find a joke they like and understand, copy it, and paste it into a post on TWEN.)
- The other students in the class must read the joke, give it a score of 1 to 10 depending on how funny they think it is, and give at least one reason why they gave it that score.
- In class each morning, as a warm-up activity, the joke and student comments are put up on the screen. The student reads the joke out loud. And the other students then share (orally) their thoughts on the joke. If necessary, the professor helps clarify any confusion or misunderstandings about the joke.
While it seems simple from an execution standpoint, in practice the students generally spend time reading multiple jokes on the site before selecting one. So they’re doing more reading than is technically assigned, and they’re generally enjoying it, i.e., extensive reading.
Additionally, the other student comments give a helpful window into student comprehension of the jokes. And since the jokes are generally short and, from a vocabulary perspective, comprehensible, it makes it easier to zero in on language obstacles students may be facing.
Furthermore, any new vocabulary, grammar, syntax, cultural references, or wordplays that might be encountered are more likely to be retained because they are connected with a short and generally memorable joke. That is, the new vocabulary, etc. has rich context.
With regard to background knowledge and cultural references, I explain to my students that American law school professors and students know all or most of these jokes. And while we may not walk around telling them to teach other, we do occasionally make references to them. And becoming familiar with some of them means that when those references are made, the international students might not feel quite so in the dark.
And finally, it’s just fun activity to look forward to teach day.
Stay tuned for future posts on spinoff and derivative activities in connection with the “Lawyer Joke of the Day” Activity.