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Abstract

In spite of employing various reading techniques by teachers to motivate their students, some techniques may be less effective as they tend to repress rather than to motivate reading in children. Educators to some extent could unintentionally deter as opposed to allay the fears of reluctant young readers, consequently hampering the development of their intrinsic motivation for reading. This article sheds light into children’s appreciation of humour and its effect on their reading abilities; children’s reading preferences, and how to motivate them. The benefits and significance of humour socially, and cognitively through the facilitation of playful learning environment , reduction of learning anxiety, and the stimulation of students’ learning motivation, are liable of creating in children the desire for the tickling sensation that accompanies humourous reading materials. An appraisal of global trend of children’s strong preference for funny, riddles and joke books, in conjunction with an overview of the sense of humour, its appreciation and the use of humour as an adaptive mechanism in young readers, are among the noteworthy insights presented for educators to ruminate upon.
International Journal of Education
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Humor and Reading Motivation in Children:
Does the Tickling Work?
Olufolake Sophia Orekoya1,*, Edmund SS Chan1 & Maria PY Chik1
1Department of Education Studies, Hong Kong Baptist University, Kowloon Tong, Hong
Kong
*Corresponding author: Tel: 852-5535-9520 E-mail: rockhaven50@gmail.com
Received: December 10, 2013 Accepted: December 30, 2013 Published: February 22, 2014
doi:10.5296/ije.v6i1.4724 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.5296/ije.v6i1.4724
Abstract
In spite of employing various reading techniques by teachers to motivate their students, some
techniques may be less effective as they tend to repress rather than to motivate reading in
children. Educators to some extent could unintentionally deter as opposed to allay the fears of
reluctant young readers, consequently hampering the development of their intrinsic
motivation for reading. This article sheds light into children’s appreciation of humour and its
effect on their reading abilities; children’s reading preferences, and how to motivate them.
The benefits and significance of humour socially, and cognitively through the facilitation of
playful learning environment , reduction of learning anxiety, and the stimulation of students’
learning motivation, are liable of creating in children the desire for the tickling sensation that
accompanies humourous reading materials. An appraisal of global trend of children’s strong
preference for funny, riddles and joke books, in conjunction with an overview of the sense of
humour, its appreciation and the use of humour as an adaptive mechanism in young readers,
are among the noteworthy insights presented for educators to ruminate upon.
Keywords: humor; intrinsic; reading; motivation; children
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Introduction
Humor as simple as it seems has greatly puzzled early philosophers and later psychologist, as
it assumes the complexity of the human phenomenon for the intricacy of analysis (Ziv, 1976).
Apart from its therapeutic function, humor is identified to play an important role in human
cognitive, social, emotional and moral development (Martin, 2007). A few research projects
on the influence of humor in the educational experience of humor and learning are based on
convergent thinking. Humor studied in relation to creativity revealed that highly creative
children have better sense of humor than their peers and a similar correlation was found in
another study with undergraduate students (Ziv, Shulman, & Schleifer, 1979).
Freud in his attempt to relate play, daydreaming and humor to act on creativity, according to
Ziv (1989), paved the way for contemporary research on humor. Although Freud’s writing
was based on adults’ experience whereby he divided creativity into: process and product, the
aspect of children creativity involves the cognitive process solely in the creative act. Based
on Gilford, (1959) the theory on the structure of intellect proposed the two types of thinking;
convergent and divergent. The divergent thinking is noted to be related to creativity,
producing a variety of results or responses. This is opposed to convergent which is related to
intelligence. However, creativity testing is confined to the cognitive aspect; not having
bearing on the behavioral product (Ziv, 1989). Children are noted to be easily adaptable to the
bond in humor and creativity which is addressed as cognitive playfulness.
Issues affecting reading motivation
Teachers are great in their quest in using various reading techniques to motivate their students.
However, some techniques are just as less effective as they tend to repress rather than
motivate reading. The idea of intrinsic reading motivation is embedded in young reader’s
choice of reading materials. Mohr, (2006) urged educators to understand children’s reading
preferences, and how to motivate them. The need for children’s choice in reading motivation
is emphasized by Jones, Hartman, and Taylor (2006), “the most important aspect of teaching
the reluctant reader is to remove his fear” (p. 35). In order to effectively facilitate children’s
reading development, one should understand their book preference and reading habit.
A two –year investigation into learning and teaching of children’s literature in Europe by the
university of West England, university of Akureyri in Iceland, Gazi university in Turkey and
the university of Marcis in Spain under the sponsorship of the European commission for
lifelong learning program, among the elementary students revealed that most children do like
to read books that make them laugh with : 69%, 65%, 57% and 53% in agreement amongst
children from Spain, UK, Iceland and Turkey respectively (Adalsteinsdottir, 2011). Results of
information gathered on what makes students active readers showed that children like ecstasy
and funny (humorous) story books. “Children often say that they like books that make them
laugh or books they find are exciting to read and the least popular reason for liking a book
seems to be that it makes children sad” (Adalsteinsdottir p. 43). The study reported children’s
reading preferences ranging from funny stories, adventurous stories, fantasy and others. Most
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children opined that they would reread the books that they like the story. 59 % of the Pupils
agreed they would read longer when they choose their own books and subjects that interest
them. In the UK, 31% of the children reported they have never borrowed books in the library.
Children generally like to read at their own time and disclosure, as the results showed that
82% of the children respondents preferred to read in their bedroom.
A recent report of the Progress in International Reading Literary Study by Mullis, Martin, Foy,
and Drucker (2011) indicated that Hong Kong is lagging behind on students motivated to
read (Hong Kong: 52% of students; International average: 74% of students) and confident in
reading (Hong Kong: 20% of students; International average: 36% of students). From 2005 to
2013, 20 reading enhancement programs for primary school children were funded by the
government (http://qcrc.qef.org.hk) with emphasis on the development of reading strategies
and language proficiency. From the foregoing, two major limitations are noteworthy: first,
educators need to address the reasons for unmotivated readers. Second, a large number of
books selected do not match students’ literary level consequently; students may waste time
awaiting the availability of their desired books in the library.
Based on the data of “The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS, 2001)”,
a comparative study was conducted by Tse et.al., (2006) comparing the reading attainment
among children in Hong Kong, Singapore and England. Findings revealed that Singaporean
students scored highest in reading attitude and reading confidence. The poor performance of
Hong Kong students was aligned to examination-oriented learning atmosphere and other
socio-political reasons. A further explanation of the differences between the two groups might
be related to students ‘reading habit’; depicting that Hong Kong students read less frequently
than and somewhat differently from their Singaporean counterparts. According to Majid and
Tan (2007), Singaporean primary students’ most important reason of leisure reading was
academic achievement. Other reasons included acquiring knowledge, relaxation, and habitual
activity. 47.3% of the participants reported leisure reading daily, 13.9 % every other day, and
19.6% during weekends. The study showed comedy series was the third most popular reading
material. Storybooks ranked the highest preference of reading materials, followed by comics,
magazines, internet/websites, information non-fiction books, and newspaper.
Firth (2011), proposed five ways of motivating boys to read which to include non-fiction,
humour, graphic novels, comic books, wordless books, fantasy and science fiction. Shannon
Firth (2011) the author of ‘five ways to get boys to read’ asserted that in the United States
among elementary students, 72 percent of boys are considered “proficient” readers, compared
to 79 percent of girls. Addressing the need for more effort in motivating boys to read, the author
agreed with a body of literature that centers on the concept of a “good book” which tends to
include books that are emotional rather than physical, adding that books with gross humor or
scary stories are amongst the most appealing to boys. On a different note, Mohr (2006) in a
three-part investigation into first graders’ preferences, selection rationales, and processes
when choosing a picture book to own, discovered that most of the children selected
informational books, especially animal books , a reaction which is viewed as a contradiction
to the popular notion that children especially girls would prefer narratives.
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Research methodology on humor
Psychologists developed various measurement tools to unveil the nature of humor; one of
which was to associate personality trait of interest with types of humor (Ruch, 1998). Ruch
used the approach of measuring sense of humor as a multi-dimensional construct.
Researchers employed self-report instruments to investigate correlations among humor styles
and other variables (e.g. Humor Styles Questionnaire (HSQ), Martin, Puhlik-Doris, Larsen,
Gray, & Weir, 2003; Erickson & Feldstein, 2007). A body of literature confirms that
researchers constructed different scales for measuring numbers of dimensions of sense of
humor in both adult and children (Ho, Chik, & Chan, 2011). Among the dimensions of humor
is the Thorson and Powell (1993)’s 24-item Multidimensional Sense of Humor Scale, (MSHS)
a measurement tool which was widely used cross-culturally. Others include the Australian
(Boyle & Joss-Reid, 2004), Croatia (Thorson, Brdar, & Powell, 1997), Portugal (Jose,
Parreira, Thorson, & Allwardt, 2007) and Hong Kong (Ho, Chik, & Thorson, 2008). Using
factor analysis, Thorson and Powell (1993) proposed that personal sense of humor is made up
of six elements that include: humor production; a sense of playfulness or whimsy; the ability
to use humor to achieve social goals; personal recognition of humor; appreciation of humor;
and the use of humor as an adaptive mechanism. Dowling, Hockenberry, and Gregory (2003)
modified MSHS to measure children’s sense of humor (Multidimensional Sense of Humor
Scale for Children, MSHSC) and identified three factors: humor creation, coping with humor,
and humor appreciation. Ho, Chik and Chan (2011) validated the Chinese version of the
MSHSC (C-MSHSC) through exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses and validity tests,
and the authors’ study supported these three theoretical humor dimensions for children.
Humor appreciation in children
Personal sense of humor as proposed by Thorson and Powell (1993) using factor analysis is
made up of six elements such as: humour production, a sense of playfulness or whimsy, the
ability to use humour to achieve social goals, personal recognition of humour, appreciation of
humour, and the use of humor as an adaptive mechanism. Dowling, Hockenberry, and
Gregory (2003) modified MSHS to measure children’s sense of humour (Multidimensional
Sense of Humor Scale for Children, MSHSC) identifying three factors: humour creation,
coping with humour, and humor appreciation. Ho, Chik and Chan (2012) validated the
Chinese version of the MSHSC (C-MSHSC) through exploratory and confirmatory factor
analyses and validity tests. Among the dimensions of sense of humour, humour appreciation
being an early research topic in the field of humor studies happens to be relatively important
to child development. In fact, the first assessment tools of sense of humour focused on the
appreciation of verbal and pictorial humour (Carretero-Dios, Pérez, & Buela-Casal, 2009;
2010). Humour appreciation could be understood as “the experience of finding something
amusing” (Kaufman, Kozelt, Bromley, & Miller, 2008, p. 241). Drawing from the works of
McGhee, Shultz, Selman and other relevant literature, Lamert (1989) outlined the
developmental changes on incongruity perception in early childhood. An infant as young as
three months old could recognize something unfamiliar and unfit to its schema. With growth
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of memory capacity and learned “Object Permanence”, an eight-month infant laughed at
strange visual stimuli and such early laughter implied that humor comprehension might
possibly occur.
About 18 months of age, a toddler shows the sign of humour production as she generates
incongruous action towards an object during playful exploration. As a child’s language ability
develops, he or she learns to mislabel or even incongruously categorizes objects and events
(i.e., they might equate cats with dogs (Lamert, 1989). A child at three to seven years of age
can display imagination of conceptually incongruous objects (i.e., a bicycle with squared
wheels) and start to appreciate jokes and riddles thereby, reflecting conceptual and linguistic
incongruities; double meanings of a word. At seven years of age, logical incongruity emerges
as a child gradually acquires the concept of conservation and class inclusion. From seven
years of age to adolescence, a child learns to understand other person’s perspectives (i.e.
expectations, feelings and social judgment) and such understanding being prerequisite of
appreciation of ironic incongruity (Lamert, 1989). As a child becomes more mature
cognitively, one could imply that he or she is liable to appreciate different forms of humour.
Apparently, humour appreciation is closely related to cognitive development. “Finding
something amusing” indeed is a complicated process involving stimuli, responses and
persons. Thus, Ruch and Franz-Josef (1998) proposed a two-mode model for humour
appreciation which included three factors of humor stimuli and two components of responses:
incongruity-resolution humour, nonsense humour, and sexual humour respectively. The
response mode of humour appreciation refers to funniness (positive response of the stimuli)
and evasiveness (negative response of the stimuli). Derks, Staley, and Haselton (1998) found
that incongruity-resolution humour best predicted amusement (funniness of the cartoon in the
study) with sample of university students. This finding was further supported by experimental
studies of Chik, Leung, and Molloy (2005a, 2005b) with sample of Hong Kong primary
school children who rated incongruous pictures significantly funnier than congruous pictures.
Therefore, the authors confirmed that incongruity was an indispensable component of
humour appreciation universally. When a child is engaged in humour appreciation, he or she
intends to finish a problem-solving exercise to identify and unfold the incongruity hidden
beneath the humour stimuli (Zigler, Levine, & Gould, 1967).
Six types of incongruity enjoyed by children are: physical discrepancy, distortion/
exaggeration, violation of expectations, violation of rational behavior, violation of conceptual
thought, and language rule (Klein, 2003). Although cognitive factors seemed to contribute
significantly to humour appreciation, this finding was not conclusive. Humor production and
appreciation are positively related to social competence and academic achievement because
humor is positively related to intellectual abilities (Masten 1986). However, no functional
relationship between humour and academic achievement was found. Three years later,
Masten (1989) found that children with higher intellectual abilities and socioeconomic status
displayed more mirth. Moreover, children who were more advanced intellectually and had
possessed higher comprehension skill level were able to appreciate more difficult cartoons.
However, Prentice and Fathman (1975) showed that comprehension was not related to
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enjoyment of jokes and riddles although cognitive ability (as indicated by school grades:
Grade 1, 3 and 5) was positively related to comprehension of jokes and riddles. Such
discrepancy might be due to emotional or other factors. Derks et al. (1998) indicated that
comprehension-difficulty did not predict amusement and environmental factor was related to
evasiveness (negative response to humorous stimuli). A body of literature supports the idea
that humor development in children can be related to social, cognitive, and linguistic
development (Semrud-Clikeman & Glass, 2008). The authors examined humour
comprehension in children comparing children with nonverbal (NVLD) learning disabilities
and a comparison group of children with no learning disabilities. The children’ understanding
of humour were measured by the use of humour testing verbal joke section and a cartoon with
a captions section. 55 participants within the age range of 12-15 years were tested. Results
indicated there were no group differences found in humour comprehension. The results of the
ANCOVA with FSIQ as a covariate which showed no significant differences numerical
between group means were opposed to the assumption that the NVLD group would have a
higher error rate than the RD group or the comparison group. Social perception (rather than
intellectual level) according to Semrud-Clikeman and Glass (2008) was discovered to be
associated with humour comprehension of children with non-verbal learning disabilities
(NVLD).
Children with intellectual disabilities had greater appreciation with physical and visual humor;
funny action, changes in size and color than with verbal humor such as funny jokes and
comments (Degabriele & Walsh, 2010). This preference was due to less cognitive challenge
of perceiving the physical/ visual humour and the more familiar presentations of humorous
stimuli (i.e. video cartoon pictures).Comparing Chinese and Greek preschoolers’ humor
recognition, Guo, Zhang, Wang, and Xeromeritou (2011)’s experimental study indicated that
humour response level of Chinese children was negatively correlated to their intellectual level
although their frequency of humour recognition is positively related to their cognitive
development. Particularly, Chinese children with higher intellectual level displayed fewer
laughers because they possessed higher social-cognition as well. It was possible that laughing
openly in front of teachers was regarded by the Chinese participants as inappropriate so that
they controlled their expressions. Thus, these researchers concluded that cultural factor
played a role in humor appreciation.
Humor and reading motivation for children
Literature confirms the benefits and significance of humour for school learning socially,
cognitively, affectively and behaviorally since it facilitates playful learning environment,
lessened learning anxiety, stimulated students’ learning motivation, and deepened
teacher-student relationship (Davies & Apter, 1980). Humour literature has for sometime
been regarded as interesting and attractive among young children (Higginbotham, 1999;
Struthers, 2003). In fact, humour is the genre consisting of comic narratives, such as pun,
joke and irony (Ermida, 2008).
When children read humourous texts, they engaged in a “cognitive play”, “where words and
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concepts are used in ways that are surprising, unusual, and incongruous, activating schemas
with which they are not normally associated” (Martin, 2007, p. 109; Shultz & Robillard,
1980). Such cognitive activity possibly activated positive emotion of mirth (i.e. enjoyment),
leading to enhancement of creativity, memory and social virtues that include: sense of
responsibility, helpfulness and generosity) (Martin, 2007).
Chik (2005) found that the Humourous English Reading Program evidently moderated the
decline of reading motivation with respect to increase of age. Humorous materials on students
reading motivation-analysis T test and repeated measure of ANOVA by Chik (2005) showed
significant changes in students’ intrinsic and extrinsic motivation reading with the primary six
students exhibiting stronger intrinsic motivation. In particular, the intrinsic motivation of the
primary six students was significantly increased despite significant decrease of extrinsic
motivation. Lee-Daniels & Murray (2000) both teachers, reported using the book worm
posting to motivate their students for independent reading. The book worm is a form of a
classroom display of students’ intrinsic independent reading time by the display of the
number of pages read. The fun part of having the children’ s bookworm reading graph moved
that is; wiggled around the board in increments of certain number of pages read, caught
students’ attention thereby stimulating their interest in reading.
In another related study, Zipke (2008) used riddles to teach metalinguistic awareness of
reading comprehension with 46 third grade students who were tested after being exposed to
lessons using riddles to identify and define homonyms and reading and writing stories that
are in conjunction with the original of Peggy Parish’s ‘Amelia Bedelia’ series. Results
showed that the students exposed to riddles teaching approach scored higher on both the
pretest and posttest than the control students. The author identified the fun aspect of using
riddles in reading and writing as part of the reason for the enthusiasm and motivation shown
by the students. “Riddles offer especially engaging instructional content for teaching
language manipulation for many reasons: Most children are familiar and comfortable with
riddles” (p.131).
Humorous poetry can be an excellent approach to motivation. The combination of humourous
and repeated reading approaches, with modeling, had been observed to have significant
movement and automatic word recognition and fluency (Wilfong, 2006). Dee Anderson
(2009) the American author of “Reading is Funny” opines that the intention to “tickle”
children’s funny bones, is one of the reasons why riddles help in reading motivation for
children. Anderson believes laughter brightens and keeps people energized including the
young ones. The author maintains that, “a sense of humour makes life more bearable” (p.1).
Other reasons for which to share riddles with children include sensation of tickling their
brains.
Anderson (2009) referring to the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget that children between the
ages of six and seven do possess “concrete operational thinking”. Anderson, through
observation and experience in children reading motivation views riddles as capable of helping
children to understand diverse meaning of words, to increase background knowledge, and the
enhancement of critical thinking. The author reinstates that riddles help children enlarge their
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vocabulary list with ease, and motivates children’s interest in reading through increase
curiosity.
The act of mastery that riddles give to children can boost their confidence as they are elated
to see that they can actually use their new found weapon of riddles to fool others even
grownups. The advantages of employing jokes as fluency texts surpass the idea that jokes
enable readers to have fun with reading; jokes are avenues for learning new vocabulary, and
diverse facets of meanings of words (Ness, 2009). Reading fluency, an idea supported by the
2000 report of the National Reading panel of the National Institute of Child Health and
Human Development, is viewed as vital in the recognition of reading ability in general, to
children.
Ness (2009) identified prosody - a multifaceted application of emphasis, stress, intonation
and punctuation with careful attention to the tempo and rhythm of the text in reading, to be
one of the most important factors that determine fluency in reading. Most readers who
struggle with prosody are hampered in their reading skills; as they can be less confident in
reading.-especially reading aloud Ness, (2009). The author described a one –on-one tutoring
experience with a struggling influent student who was able to enthusiastically use a joke book
to focus on the salient rudiments of prosody with much ease and became a fluent reader
through the use of ‘funny’ joke books.
Conclusion
When children are motivated to read, they tend to seek to understand, enjoy learning, and
have confidence in their reading abilities. Hence children develop the intrinsic value of
reading which enables them to read with enthusiasm, curiosity and critically thinking through
the challenges of the pages before them. If educators are to raise intrinsic and motivate
readers, it is time to evaluate the importance of scheme books versus ‘real book’ (books that
meet children’s needs). It is observed that the latter encourages and motivates reading the
better. Therefore, it is pertinent to emphasize the need to implement the perceived reading
needs of students based on empirical findings such as the need to help students to be
proactive readers. Reading aloud to kids is a great tool but more importantly is the need to
know what children expect when teachers read aloud to them. Adalsteinsdottir, (2011) in the
study on teaching literature in Europe, asked why children think their teachers read out loud
to them, they replied that it is in order that they can enjoy the story second only to learning
new ideas and vocabulary from such story. Children would like to share and talk about the
story being read out loud by being actively involved to acquire new vocabulary but also, to be
independent intrinsic readers.
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This study sought to ascertain the internal consistency and factor structure of a Chinese translation of the Multidimensional Sense of Humor Scale (MSHS; Thorson & Powell, 1993a). Based on earlier findings on Hong Kong participants, the instrument was revised, followed by translation and back-translation and then administered to 289 undergraduate and mature students at two universities in Hong Kong. The reliability of the scale in this sample was satisfactory (α = .88) with no gender or age difference. Factor analysis using Varimax principal components analysis presented a four-factor solution accounting for 53.67% of the variance.
Book
This volume brings together the current approaches to the definition and measurement of the sense of humor and its components. It provides both an overview of historic approaches and a compendium of current humor inventories and humor traits that have been studied. Presenting the only available overview and analysis of this significant facet of human behavior, this volume will interest researchers from the fields of humor and personality studies as well as those interested in the clinical or abstract implications of the subject. © 1998 by Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co., D-10785 Berlin. All rights reserved.
Book
Research on humor is carried out in a number of areas in psychology, including the cognitive (What makes something funny?), developmental (when do we develop a sense of humor?), and social (how is humor used in social interactions?) Although there is enough interest in the area to have spawned several societies, the literature is dispersed in a number of primary journals, with little in the way of integration of the material into a book. Dr. Martin is one of the best known researchers in the area, and his research goes across subdisciplines in psychology to be of wide appeal. This is a singly authored monograph that provides in one source, a summary of information researchers might wish to know about research into the psychology of humor. The material is scholarly, but the presentation of the material is suitable for people unfamiliar with the subject-making the book suitable for use for advanced undergraduate and graduate level courses on the psychology of humor-which have not had a textbook source.
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A total of 401 Croatian university students completed a translation of the Multidimensional Sense of Humor Scale. Scores were compared with those of a sample similar in age and sex composition from Omaha, Nebraska (N = 242). The American respondents scored significantly higher on the element of self-described humor creativity. Factor analyses of intercorrelations from the two samples indicated differences in constructions of sense of humor.
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This study examined the internal consistency and factor structure of a Chinese translation of the Multidimensional Sense of Humor Scale for Children (C-MSHSC), similar to the conceptual framework developed for Chinese adults (Ho et al. North American Journal of Psychology 10:425–434, 2008). Exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses supported the three theoretical humor dimensions: humor creation, coping with humor, and humor appreciation. Validity was assessed by correlations between the humor dimensions and measures of competency, self-esteem, personality, and behavioral characteristics. The results of most of the hypotheses were statistically significant and in the predicted directions. The C-MSHSC provides a useful measure for a variety of research and clinical applications in school-aged children.
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New evidence shows that some types of metalinguistic awareness could be important for reading comprehension in much the same way that phonemic awareness is important for learning to decode. In a recent study, students between 7 and 9 years old were taught to manipulate language and understand the multiple meanings of ambiguous words and sentences. This brief training program resulted in improved scores on standardized tests of reading comprehension. One of the most successful elements of this training was a session on understanding and producing riddles. Riddles are the perfect medium for learning how to manipulate language for many reasons, including students' familiarity with them and motivation for reading them. This paper contains the procedures used for writing riddles with primary-grade students as well as observations on the riddling abilities that can be expected from students with widely varying reading abilities.