The Power of Words: Positive vs. Negative


The “Magic Ratio”

John Gottman, a researcher, studied positive and negative relationships among 700 married couples believed that negative experiences (words and emotions) needed to be balanced with positive experiences in a relationship in order for the relationship to be successful. He thought that there was a ratio of positive and negative experiences to balance or cancel the negative. Gottman used a 5:1 ratio, 5 positives to every 1 negative in his study. Ten years after his study he found that he was 94% correct on the his divorce rate prediction based on his study. There are many other researchers who support a ratio in negative to positive experiences, the ratios vary from 7:1-4:1, that I have seen.

Finding balance

After the 1st year of teaching I realized there was a lot of negative talk amongst students, mostly about themselves, in my classroom. Knowing about the need to balance negativity with positivity I started implementing a 7:1 rule in my classroom. If I heard a student say something negative about him or herself I said: “Now you need to say 7 positive things about yourself to cancel out that negative statement. They need to start with I am and be positive. I’ll count them out for you.” I would usually get a grunt, or an eye roll—a typical 6th grade response—but then they would start saying positive things about themselves. After only a few times doing this the students caught on pretty quickly. I even heard some students “catch” each other in their negative statements and say to their classmates: “You need to say 7 positives, I’ll count them for you.” One time I said something negative about myself. You probably can guess what happened—sure enough I had a handful of students who called me out on it and counted my positive statements for me.

See, say, hear, feel

Since I started using this technique over 7 years ago it has changed a bit, and some years I use it more frequently than others. One way that I have altered it is finding ways for my students to not only say positive things about themselves, but to also write in the positive. There is a power that comes from being able to see it, hear it, say it, and feel it. So, instead of waiting for the negativity to come, I am proactive in increasing the positive experiences in ways for the students to see, say, hear, and feel their words. Each student has created their own personal statement about himself/herself (I refer to it as a power statement). They have written this down, we say it daily as part of our morning routine, some students will read it and then we “feel” it as I ask them to say it in different ways. We will proclaim our statements like superheroes or fearless warriors or speak them softly and gently to ourselves. We also strive to build each other up through positive words.

The written word

Kidblog has been a great tool to use with curriculum and our positive words effort. As I review and leave comments on students work that they submit on Kidblog, I take that opportunity to give some specific positive feedback. I want to support and encourage them as a writer, student, and individual who is growing and learning. My students have become accustomed to writing uplifting, supportive, and positive comments on their classmates posts as well. I have really enjoyed observing the genuine kindness that has come through written words left by a student for another student. Our classroom may not reach the 5:1 ratio that Gottman used for his study, but we do make a positive difference in each other’s lives as we continue to learn and grow together in our use of words.

About the Author
I identify myself as a facilitator of dreaming, learning, and living, I strive to bring all of these components into my classroom. I have been teaching in public k-12 for eight years, most of my experience is in grades 4th and 6th although I have had a nice sampling of all grades K-6 except 3rd grade. I love seeing the “ah ha” moment that spreads across a student’s face when they realize they understand a concept, especially when they have struggled in the learning process. I am constantly awed by the insights and depth of student thinking. I enjoy being an advisor to our Student Ambassador Leadership Team (student government) and their desires to have a positive impact in making a difference in our school and community. Outside of school I spend time with family, and my dog Hollie. I enjoy paper crafting and teach others this fabulous hobby as well. All in all I just try to dream, learn and live!


  1. Meredith

    April this is great! I will now check out more of your blog posts!

  2. Theo Mcclain

    Spot on 🙂 made me glow inside to know it was not just a feeling but a lifestyle.

  3. Olivia

    This is just gorgeous – I’m a consultant working with schools on improving general school climate and just love your examples of different ways to use positive communication, and make it meaningful (ie: to the students as people but also in their approach to their school work too). Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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