Humour in the pre-sessional classroom
: the perceptions of teachers of English and their international students

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Many studies have documented the roles of humour in different aspects of our lives, from making friends, maintaining relationships to impressing dates. So far, however, relatively little research has been carried out on the effects of humour in education, and even less on the use of humour in English language teaching. Having used the existing literature to help define ‘humour’ and its functions both generally and in education, this thesis sought to examine UK pre-sessional teachers’ use of humour in their teaching. It also set out to understand the perceptions of the teachers and students about the impacts of teacher-initiated humour on the pre-sessional classroom in UK higher education. This study was exploratory and interpretative in nature, mostly adopting a qualitative research design. The research data are drawn from three main sources: classroom observations, which have rarely been used to investigate humour in the classroom, semi-structured interviews with teachers and student focus groups. The study was conducted in a UK university pre-sessional course, with ten teacher participants and twenty-five student participants. The investigation identified that a large majority of the teachers used humour at some point on their teaching of the course and most of them were aware of the positive effects that humour might bring into the academic English classroom, such as building teacher-student rapport, boosting students’ confidence and improving students’ ability to retain information. Although many of them welcomed the use of humour, some teachers still expressed doubts about whether humour was essential, or even useful, in teaching academic English. Their doubts were usually due to time constraints and the goal-oriented nature of the course, as well as a consideration of the students’ previous educational backgrounds. The findings from the students indicated that they greatly valued a friendly learning environment and that they supported and appreciated their teachers’ attempts to use humour to maximise their learning. The teacher and student participants also discussed the boundaries of humour and their experience with the appropriateness of humour. The findings of this study have a number of important implications for teacher education and training, English for academic purposes materials writing, and the induction programmes provided for pre-sessional English teachers
Date of AwardJan 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorPeter Watkins (Supervisor), Marie McCullagh (Supervisor) & Sue Wright (Supervisor)

Cite this