The Power of Choosing Your Words Carefully

Choose Words Wisely

As a teacher, it is important to use words wisely. How we say something can be just as important, or maybe more so, that what we say.

For instance, having a long list of classroom rules that prohibit all sorts of behaviour and activities sends a rather negative impression. It makes your class feel restrictive right away. Plus, students already know most of what is unacceptable in a school setting. You don’t necessarily have to hammer the point home with a list of rules.

In Adam Grant’s book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, he mentions a study done by psychologist Christopher Bryan that showed how a simply change of words can have a huge impact. This study focused on cheating and shifted the act of cheating to the character of the person who would do such a thing. The results were phenomenal.

Bryan showed that he could “cut cheating in half with the same turn of phrase: instead of ‘Please don’t cheat,’ they changed the appeal to ‘Please don’t be a cheater.’”

How could that one word change make such a big difference?

Grant explains, “When you’re told not to be a cheater, the act casts a shadow; immorality is tied to your identity, making the behavior less attractive.”

That’s what we want to do in the classroom. We want to eliminate behaviours that stand in the way of learning. Perhaps, one way of doing this is to use nouns instead of verbs.

“In light of this evidence, Bryan suggests that we should embrace nouns more than thoughtfully. “Don’t Drink and Drive” could be rephrased as: “Don’t Be a Drunk Driver.”

Evidence suggests that “when we turn our emphasis from behavior to character, people evaluate choices differently.”

How could you rewrite your class rules or talk to your students to get better results, so they can make better choices both inside your classroom and outside of it?

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