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Communicating with Humor

An online educator offers a way to get your e-mails noticed — and get a few laughs.

illustration of e-mail inbox

We could all use a little more humor in our lives. So when Joe Barnhart, author of "Working the Online Crowd: Humor and Teaching With Tech" in our May/June issue and a faculty member at Western Governors University, first inquired about contributing an article to Campus Technology, it really brightened my day. Not only did he have some great advice to share, but this was also going to be fun

One of Barnhart's first tips: To engage online students, change up your e-mail subject lines — the goofier, the better. As he described the approach, "Off the wall, yes. Totally random, yes. Highly successful, yes. I constantly have students respond, 'Ha ha, thanks again, Joe! I chuckle with your e-mail subjects. I can't wait till your next one.' That's right, they can't wait to continue to interact with me. Cool!"

In fact, he used the same technique in his communications with me: Every e-mail sported a new wacky subject line, just to get my attention. And it worked!

Barnhart was nice enough to share a bunch of his subject line ideas, which he keeps in a file, ready to deploy in the next student e-mail. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Never eat a hotdog in an alligator swamp.
  • Don't sneeze when carrying a box of black widow spiders.
  • If you join a rock band, don't tell the IRS.
  • Never clip your toenails on a crowded bus.
  • Eat chocolate pudding. Lots of chocolate pudding.
  • Never pet a weasel with rubber gloves.
  • Some socks can be worn on either foot.
  • Always wash between your toes.
  • If you drop a banana peel on a red ant hill, leave it.
  • Baby seals make great pets if you can stand the stench.
  • Never run with a bucket of snakes in a crowded hallway.
  • Never dance with a muddy penguin.
  • Never swallow a 9-volt battery.
  • Never hug a bear after eating a steak.
  • Celery was placed on Earth by aliens.
  • If your car catches on fire, don't drive faster.
  • Never rub your eyes in a sandstorm.
  • What is real? How do you define real?
  • Neo, follow the white rabbit.
  • Dang, I fell asleep and drooled on my keyboard.
  • Celery, even when boiled in maple syrup, is inedible.
  • If you find a Girl Scout cookie on a toilet seat, don't eat it.
  • Always avoid burping milk out your nose.
  • When brushing a rat's fur, avoid pinching the tail.
  • When licking a banana slug, always lick toward the head.
  • Never open a box of crayons during a forest fire.
  • Even if it looks good, don't eat paste from a jar.
  • When eating pancakes, never use a toothbrush.
  • If your uvula gets inflamed, gargle with salt water.
  • If your foot falls asleep, pour lukewarm coffee on it.
  • Never board an airplane that has only one wheel.
  • Always sit up straight, even when eating a rutabaga.
  • If you spin till you're dizzy, try not to throw up.
  • All great jobs of the world don't involve ingrown hairs.
  • Never let dirty teeth stop you from getting that perfect job.
  • I tried to save the world once, but my oatmeal kept getting cold.
  • If you get stranded on Mars, keep your coat zipped up.
  • Never keep a horny toad in a glovebox all day.
  • Never fumble the ball in the end zone of life.
  • Always drink upstream from the herd.
  • If a dolphin asks you for directions, quickly get back in the boat.

So send a silly subject line today, and see if you can make someone smile.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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