When I am planning a lesson, I always put time into finding a good “hook” so that I can engage students from the first words spoken. I have never found a foolproof formula and often think of how I could have made the opening better, or bolder, or funnier. I might have been missing the point. According to Jason Rutter, humor as a form of discourse, is quite predictable. He claims that many academic papers describe jokes as “canonical structures” and that audiences respond to them in a “systematic manner” (Rutter, 1997, p. 463).
Rutter uses discourse analysis to describe the dialogue of compères in their introductions for stand-up comedy shows and illustrates how they craft their speech to create a specific response from the crowd. He presents a line by line conversation analysis of the speech act: a scripted series of six turns. Using transcripts from show openings, he describes the sequence. Each line has a function in the introduction as Rutter explains:
- Contextualisation, gives small particulars of the comedian’s background
- Framing of response, directs audience towards greeting and attitude
- Evaluation of comedian, comments on performers skill or how he knows the comedian
- Request for action, applause
- Introduction of the comedian
- Audience applause
The compère aims to size up the audience, set expectations and give the audience cues for responding. The pattern is fixed, and the author even shows that variations can occur but there are a set of contingencies that must be respected for the audience to understand what to do next. It is the job of the compère to guide the audience through the show for the evening.
ESL lesson introductions are similar to introductions to comedy routines. I am the addresser, and the students are the addressees, and it is my job to set the tone for the lesson, to deliver lesson topic information, confirm understanding, and provide for expected outcomes. Like the compère, the opening hook of the lesson plan serves to ease the students into the learning context by arousing the right attitudes and responses.
Rutter, J. (1997). Stand-up as interaction: Performance and audience in comedy venues (Doctoral dissertation, University of Salford).