Online Learning Tool

Content Area: High School Language Arts (Composition)

Relevant ISTE Standards for Students (2016)

1(b): Students build networks and customize their learning environments in ways that support the learning process.

1(c): Students use technology to seek feedback that informs and improves their practice and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of ways.

3(a-d): Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.

4(a): Students know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems.

6(b): Students create original works or responsibly re-purpose or remix digital resources into new creations.


We have been studying how authors use language to affect their audiences throughout the course.  One example of a non-traditional author is a comedian.  We intuitively know that comedians are funny, but when analyzing either written, visual, or spoken comedy, it is oftentimes difficult to explain why something is funny, which is essential to effective written rhetorical analysis.  This lesson’s aim is to familiarize you with humor theories, allow you to apply these principles to a comedy selection of your choice, and to help create group resources, which will eventually culminate in writing your own comedy piece.

Let’s get started

Build Background Knowledge:

  1. Watch Peter McGraw’s TED Talk, What Makes Things Funny? As you watch and listen to McGraw’s theory, make a list of his basic principles for determining if something is funny or not. You will apply these principles to a text later in this lesson, and also use his ideas along with those in #2 below.
  2. To supplement McGraw’s theory and to expand on your analysis tools, visit The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on HUMOR. Here you will find a linked table of contents to a wide array of theories.  Focus particularly on #2: Theories of Humor. While reading the overviews, sketch a visual framework which places these theories in relationship to one another and includes a one-sentence definition of each theory. Again, this is a chance to enhance your ability to analyze humor and eventually create your own humor piece.

Connect Humor Theory to Your Own Background Knowledge

  1. Visit this shared Humor Theory Examples Google Document, which is available to all class sections as an ongoing resource with peer models.  You may return to it as an evolving resource as you practice humor analysis. Next, choose a theory from the resources above or from additional research.  In the left hand column of the shared document, record your theory. In the middle column briefly summarize a humorous experience you have had (2-4 sentences) and in the right hand column explain why it fits the theory you chose (2-4 sentences). This exercise is meant to prepare you for analyzing humor under time pressure by applying the theories in relationship to your own background knowledge.

Application of Humor Theories to a Lengthier Analysis Task

  1. Page 3 of this sample released prompt from The Onion illustrates where humor theory will be helpful for analysis of satire.  We will use this prompt as a group paragraph writing assignment before you move on to write your own independent analysis of humor and then create your own humor piece. For now, record one piece of text evidence from any portion of the prompt and then write a 3-5 sentence analysis of how the humor relates to The Onion’s intended message. This will provide a contribution to the group writing assignment when we begin the formal paragraph.

Create Your Own Humor

  1. The final step in this lesson is to create a humorous product.  As you are aware, social media is permeated by visual humor in the form of memes.  After visiting the links above in order to familiarize yourself with humor theory, visit Meme Generator to create a visual, which uses one of the theories you have explored. When you are done either save your creation or take screenshot to upload to a shared Google Document. We will import all students’ visuals into a shared Slide show in Google Docs to use along with the short humor analysis resource you created above.  Both the short analysis and visual meme resources will be used  as a whole group and small group discussion tool to brainstorm and pre-write for your humorous written composition, which can be an extension of the ideas you developed in these resources throughout this lesson.
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