Many of us have experienced a child telling us a joke that they find hilarious but makes absolutely no sense.  They have started to understand the mechanics of joke telling and adapt a joke they’ve heard to make it their own…but their understanding of language and what makes a joke funny, isn’t quite there yet. 

You see, jokes are actually quite complex - they have a ‘language’ of their own with rules and conventions that make them funny.  They mainly rely on the listener having some background knowledge, a broad vocabulary and an understanding that words might sound the same but can mean very different things.

A jar of Omega 3 fell on my head…I sustained super fish oil injuries.

This joke relies on the listener knowing that Omega 3 is found in fish oil and the word superficial (super fish oil) means minor.  Without this knowledge, the joke isn’t funny.

Encouraging a child to read a joke book or indeed a joke from a Christmas cracker, and supporting them to explore the characteristics of the language can help develop comprehension skills.  The language knowledge and thinking skills needed to ‘get’ jokes and puns are often quite high-level.

I wondered why the Frisbee was getting bigger – then it hit me!

If you’re feeling cold just stand in the corner - they’re usually around 90 degrees.

You need to bring both parts of the joke together to understand what’s funny. Developing readers often read words or sentences in isolation rather than considering the overall meaning of what they are reading.  Jokes with multiple parts help a child to look at the bigger picture.

Jokes can also help increase general knowledge –

What’s the best thing about Switzerland?

Well, the flag is a big plus.

An easy joke for a child to re-tell but now they know that Switzerland is a country with a plus sign on its flag.

They can also help children practice the skills they need to read for meaning -

I thought I might be a history teacher when I grew up but I realised there was no future in it.

I got fired from the candle factory as I refused to work wick ends.

The whole purpose of reading anything is to extract meaning – there’s no point doing it otherwise and jokes like this are short, snappy bits of text that aren’t overwhelming.

Jokes prompt us to create pictures in our mind, challenging our imagination and asking us to visualise, literally 'see the joke' for ourselves.  Good readers think about what they are reading and match it with information that they already know, ask mental questions, and mentally picture objects and events that relate to the text.  To enjoy a good joke we need to do all these things and the reward is a good laugh.

Helping a child to work out why a joke is funny and supporting them to picture it in their mind is a really fun way to build their understanding of language, develop their reading skills and just have a good laugh!

Why was the snowman looking through the carrots?  He was picking his nose!