After many years living in Korea, I still speak very little Korean. And I do not use much of my Korean in class. Still, in one of the first classes of the semester, I typically discuss “Oot-da” and “Bi-oot-da”: “laugh with” and “laugh at”.
The Guardian has an article about laughter in the classroom that covers similar ground.
Language learners quickly absorb the message that their teacher welcomes spontaneous laughter within the classroom (provided it is of the supportive ‘laughing with’ and not of the destructive ‘laughing at’ kind).
There is further useful discussion of humour and laughter in the classroom but this point seemed overly simple:
In the early days of each course, when they meet their class for the first time, language teachers convey many hidden messages through their body language, their overall demeanour and the manner in which they address their students. One clear message (usually implicit) relates to the kind of atmosphere they wish to foster in their classroom.
In order to develop a spirit of informality within their classes such teachers attempt to reduce the social distance between themselves and their students by behaving in friendly and approachable ways. They smilingly encourage students to speak and applaud their efforts, being supportive when errors are made.
I feel this is true particularly for the university students I teach, but not so much for the younger students, who already see us as a break from real classes and real learning. At Elementary schools, I feel it is important to do the opposite in the first few classes- one needs to make very clear that this class is a serious one, a real one.
I try, without much success on my part, to be strict and serious at the beginning and loosen up through the class. – By this I mean the beginning of each class and the beginning of each semester. The end of class should always be more active and fun than the beginning; this is true for the end and beginning of the semester as well.
I described myself as not having a lot of success in this regard. I loosen the discipline too quickly and sometimes have trouble at the end of semester because of it.
Have fun and laugh in class, but don’t lose control of it.