Positive Language in a Primary Setting

This teaching idea is part of my PERMA classroom ideas which you can find here

What can an individual teacher say to promote positivity and wellbeing in their own classroom?

Creative Commons Licence – taken from www.freesvg.org


Which words to use?

Positive Talk

It seems to have passed educators in Britain over, but when I look at other models, such as PBIS in the United States, emphasis is placed on Positive Talk in a classroom setting.

A good teacher is the authoritative voice in a classroom, and often the loudest. Reading this article published by mayoclinic.org made me reflect on the following idea:

‘can teacher talk, if persistent, over time become an aspect of self talk?’

If we agree that a continuous bombardment of negative messaging can detrimentally affect a child’s self perception, maybe it’s time we switched up the ratio.

The aforementioned PBIS suggests a ratio of 5 positive phrases to 1 corrective (or negative).


We can’t be going around saying ‘nice hair’, ‘you are smart’, ‘good boy’ – naïve educators do it and we know from experience that these are empty or even potentially damaging phrases. We need to be specific in our praise:

‘you have settled into your learning task well’

‘I’m impressed at your risk taking because today you are not using your multiplication grid’

‘I think this is the best handwriting I’ve seen from you’

‘I love how this pair took it in turns to speak, with partner A giving great eye contact and nodding as partner B spoke’

What if it all goes wrong? I need to be able to correct unsafe/disrespectful/inappropriate behaviour

Decide: Do I need to tackle this now, in front of everyone?

It’s likely if the behaviour is unsafe, you do, but you can attempt to be discrete about it. Otherwise, why not at least attempt to use positive language to counteract individual or wider misbehaviour?

It’s a busy classroom environment, children are wandering about when they shouldn’t be and you are ready to start a lesson. Instead of:

Can you just go to your seat please?

Why are people wandering about?

I’m ready to start, we’re so bored of waiting for _____ to be sat down and ready too!

Sit down, you are wasting our time.

I’m looking at my watch and for every minute this class isn’t learning, I will be taking it from your break.

That’s a warning, you can clearly see that I am ready to start and you are walking about the classroom inappropriately, next step will be sent to another classroom…

You can probably see I got quite into that roleplay, I’ve likely used each and every one of those phrases myself (and more than once!).

Positive framing is so much more… positive? You get to win on a few different fronts:

  • A child or group doing the right thing are praised.
  • The correct behaviour is highlighted publicly
  • You aren’t escalating unneccesarily
  • You get to build positive relationships that children will appreciate at the expense of developing a negative/strict/unfair reputation.

Here’s how it sounds:

‘Wow, this table are ready to learn, all sat on their chairs, eyes on me, hands free, amazing! Just waiting for a couple of others to join us’

Hey, positive framing doesn’t always work! Sometimes you do need to go to sanctions, but try not to make them the first thing you go to!


Be aware of Positive:Corrective ratio, ask a colleague to listen and count if you’d like!

Don’t perpetuate negative talk about a child, they may internalise causing long term issues.

Make praise specific, it will be more meaningful.

Try using positive framing first, highlighting someone doing the right thing reinforces expectations and builds the ‘feel good’ factor.

If you like my ideas, please send me a message! My contact is on the homepage.

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