Teacher Language Reminders

Something that I always like to review before the start of the year is teacher language. It’s not something that comes naturally, even after years of teaching I forget about the power of reinforcing, reminding, redirecting teacher language.  After a whole summer vacation I definitely need the reminder, so I thought I would share with you too!

Responsive Classroom

This idea of reinforcing, reminding, and redirecting teacher language come from Responsive Classroom. There is a very helpful book called The Power of Our Words which I definitely recommend if you are looking for more information. I also recommend going to a responsive classroom training if you can – it was the best professional development I’ve ever had!

Basic Teacher Language Reminders

Stay positive. Stay calm. Say exactly what you want the children to do, instead of what it is that you don’t want them to do. If you simply say, “Don’t do that!” the child has no idea what it is you are talking about or what they should do instead. Sometimes it can be hard to think about what it is that you do want the child to do so definitely think about the specific behavior you want to see in your students.

Instead of…Try…
Don’t run!Walk!
Stop talking! Work quietly.

Reinforcing Teacher Language

This type of teacher language names concrete and specific behaviors and applies to all students. It emphasizes description over personal approval and points out approximations toward mastery. It may be followed by a question to extend students’ thinking. This language reflects important goals and values.

Instead of…Try…
You got that math problem right! Good Job!     I know today’s math was tough for you, but you kept trying! That persistence will help you solve all kinds of problems
Nice job reading. You read three books during readers’ workshop today. What helped you concentrate?
Ok time to clean up reading.Today you read for 15 straight minutes; you’re really getting close to your 20-minute goal! What helped you read longer today?

This language is often the first to be forgotten, but it should really be the majority of the language used in the classroom. This is something I need to remind myself of every year!  It not only praises the students for their effort and behavior, but it specifically names what it is that they are doing well so they know to do it again. It’s so easy to overlook when the students are doing what we expect them to be doing, but this is exactly when we need to praise them. It not only supports that student in showing this behavior again but it also reminds the other students what is expected.

Reminding Teacher Language

This language is based on clearly established expectations (that must be explained and modeled and practiced during the first weeks of school). This language may be in the form of a question or a statement and it may be proactive or reactive. This language is used when the teacher and child feel calm and it should be briefly stated.

Instead of…Try…
Stop talking. What do you need to be doing right now?
Don’t get distracted. Think about what you can do to help you concentrate.
That’s not nice. How can you say that in a friendly way?
It’s math time. Get started. What will you need to do so you can be ready for math quickly?
Stop. That’s not safe.Show me a safe way to do that.

This language is a great way to respectfully remind students of the expectations and it gives them a chance to show you they know what’s expected. It’s great to use before an activity and after giving directions, but it is also great to use when you notice students starting to get off track. Sometimes if just takes a simple question or statement to remind students what they should be doing.

Redirecting Teacher Language

This language is direct, specific, and brief. It names the desired behavior, sets firm limits, and makes a statement instead of asking a question. Redirecting teacher language uses a firm but calm voice. It is used especially when a reminder has already been given or when the behavior is getting unsafe or too distracting for others.

Instead of…Try…
Why is your work area such a mess? Clean up your work area.
Don’t use scissors like that! Scissors are for cutting paper only.
Don’t throw paper!Pick up the paper on the floor.
Stop talking!Use quiet voices.


These teacher language reminders are so helpful to read before school starts to help get in the right mindset for guiding children’s behavior and creating a safe, positive learning environment. My goal for next year? Remember that most of the language should be positive reinforcers of the behavior you are expecting. What do you want to focus on this school year?


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