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…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

Emphasizing What Students Can Do, Instead Of What They “Can’t” — Part Two


'Pecha Kucha: Positive Negative Patterns' photo (c) 2010, bluekdesign - license:

I wrote a post a couple of years ago titled Emphasizing What Students Can Do, Instead Of What They “Can’t” and have since elaborated on it in my books and in an article at ASCD, Eight Things Skilled Teachers Think, Say, and Do.

As I said in that original post:

For example, if a student asks to go the restroom, but I think the timing is not right for our lesson, I’ll respond, “Yes, you can. I just need to have you wait for a few minutes” instead of just saying, “No.” Or I’ll start off field trip instructions by saying what students can do, instead of what they can’t.

Marvin Marshall, who inspired that original post, has now written another one that is somewhat related and is worth reading. It’s titled Use Contingencies, not Consequences, to Discipline.

You’ll want to read the entire piece, but here’s an excerpt:

A more effective discipline approach than imposing consequences is to use contingencies because they paint positive pictures and empower. Contingencies prompt people to feel better, not worse.

Here is what a contingency sounds like: “Yes, you may do that, as long as you first do this.”

And here is an actual example: “Yes, you may go to the park, as long as your room is clean.”

I’ve found that these positive approaches are generally much more effective than alternatives.

The challenge, of course, is remember and having the patience and self-awareness to use them “in the moment”…..

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Larry – you should take a look at “The Pedagogy of Confidence” by Yvette Jackson; “In her new book, Yvette Jackson, NUA CEO, shows educators how to focus on students’ strengths to inspire learning and high intellectual performance.” Book has won some awards and gotten a lot of positive reviews.

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