After enriching minds and making a difference in the lives of young people, my next favorite thing about teaching is trickery.
Sometimes I use trickery for good, like tricking students into thinking grammar is fun. But sometimes, like on April 1, I use it for … well, trickery.
I should first qualify that I’m not a fan of tricks that might really cause a kid to stress out or panic. We shouldn’t be telling students we got fired, pretending our students have failing grades, or having elementary students line up to get their flu shots in the nurse’s office. That said, I also think gentle teasing and mild pranks can be a way to connect with students in a funny and memorable way (especially if you invite them to prank you back). As with anything in teaching, use your professional discretion as well as your knowledge of your students to determine which jokes are appropriate for your students.
Here are some of my favorite pranks for any age.
April Fools’ pranks for elementary students
At the elementary level, April Fools’ Day jokes should tend more toward silly surprises.
Change the seating
You can stack desks on top of each other, have them facing the opposite direction they usually are, or remove them entirely if you’re close to the library or another place you can temporarily store them. When students question the weird seating, pretend to have no idea what they’re talking about.
Create a silly new drill
Tell students you have a new fun drill to practice just in case the floor turns to lava. Have students practice crossing the room, getting all of their belongings off the floor, etc. Other silly drills: an ice cream glacier drifting toward school, a dragon drill, or an “Anna from Frozen made everything an arctic tundra” drill.
Come to school dressed as someone else
One April Fools’ Day when I was in grade school, lots of faculty members came to school dressed as each other (and stayed in character). The most memorable was our sweet librarian, who came to school in what our P.E. teacher typically wore and spent our library time bouncing a tennis ball off the brick wall. She asked us repeatedly to run laps around the library and pretended to be exasperated when we told her no.
Put a fake bonus question on a quiz as a scratch-and-sniff option
Watch how many students lift the paper or bend near the laptop screen to smell it.
Give students an unsolvable word search
Tell students you have a word search for them to complete, then monitor students as they hunt until they realize that none of the words are in it. Download ours for free! (Note: This one has anxiety potential if you pretend to tie the word search to a grade, a prize, or make it timed. Proceed with caution!)
Treat your students to brownies
When students arrive, tell them you brought brownies for them to enjoy. Then pass out E’s you’ve cut out from brown construction paper. Get it? For a fun twist, you can then serve actual brownies if your school gives you the green light.
April Fools’ pranks for middle and high school students
At the secondary level, earlier classes will often spoil a prank for later classes in the day. But with this list, you can have a different trick for each class all day long!
Write on the board that school has been cancelled for April 31
You can make up a fun reason, too, like, “You guys didn’t hear? They’re shutting down all Wi-Fi networks in the city for maintenance.”
Pretend to eat a gross snack
My favorite (and the one all over Reddit) is filling up an old mayonnaise jar with vanilla pudding, breaking out a spoon, and watching your students freak out when you casually eat straight from the container during class.
Tell them their laptops are now voice-activated
Make an announcement that your districts’ technology provider announced an update that laptops have a voice-activation feature. To start, you have to say, “Activate voice control” loud enough for it to hear, then give different directives. “No, no, you have to say it much slower.” “An online help forum says to try with a British accent?” I’m giggling just thinking about this one.
Destroy a fake phone
First, grab one of your old, non-working cell phones or ask around (someone you know has one). Then, pick a student who is very reliable and a good actor to be in on your prank. Give them the broken phone and tell them to pretend to be texting on it during class and then argue with you about handing it over. On April 1, let this play out in class. At the end of your increasingly heated argument, tell the student, “That’s it! I’ve had it!” and grab the phone and either throw it on the ground, drop it dramatically in a big glass of water, or stomp on it. Then revel in your prank.
Teach a fake lesson
Use these resources to start a fake lesson and see how long students believe you before figuring it out. (This can be a good segue into a conversation about using reputable sources, evaluating online content, conspiracy theories, etc.)
Dihydrogen monoxide awareness (aka water!)
Spaghetti tree: Be sure to read the caption of the video to students afterward, explaining how many people believed this 1957 BBC hoax.
Flying penguins: Another classic BBC hoax.
Birds Aren’t Real: My personal favorite, Birds Aren’t Real is a satirical conspiracy-theory group whose position is that birds are actually government spies. Pick up a “If It Flies, It Spies” shirt to wear for added legitimacy.
Don’t see a fake lesson that speaks to you? Get ChatGPT to write a fake article on whatever topic you want and use it as a reading passage, article assignment, etc.
Communicate with your class ghost
You’ll need a teacher in another room to be in on this prank with you. Before class, set up a FaceTime call so the other teacher can see and hear you but you can’t hear any noises that might happen on their end. Have a blank Word document already projected on the screen. Then, a minute or two into class, have the “ghost” start typing a message on your screen via a wireless keyboard/mouse. Ham it up!
Make a fake intro slide for your lesson
Make your students think you’re about to teach the most boring lesson of their lives. Wherever you post instructions or an agenda for the day, write something like this:
“Please make sure you have a writing utensil to take notes. The next three class days will be a lecture covering ____.”
Sample topics: The Lenstra–Lenstra–Lovász lattice basis reduction algorithm, the evolution of water-cooled chillers, the establishment of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, mixed Markov decision processes, occupational ergonomics.
If you’re good with technology, make a shadow self
I love everything about this prank, but especially the guy’s deadpan dialogue. A+ in my book.
How do you plan to (gently) fool your students this year? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
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Do you still play pranks when school doesn’t land exactly on April 1st?