George Lucas Educational Foundation
Social and Emotional Learning

Building a Positive Mindset One Word at a Time

Students can craft uplifting poems and narratives using a list of inspiring words you provide.

Two elementary school boys sit together, writing and laughing.
Two elementary school boys sit together, writing and laughing.

In her book The Days Between, Marcia Falk provides a set of words she uses to create poems about optimism and gratitude. What a marvelous activity for our students, to create a poem like that from the words she provides or that the teacher provides. This kind of activity can engage students in articulating a positive mindset, both individually and collectively.

Writers’ Workshop

Ask your students to create a poem focused on a theme for social and emotional learning, or to create a story using these words or a related set of words—in the order the words are presented.

Here is Falk’s positive word list (you will most likely want to include additional words): abundant, blessings, beauty, creativity, confident, courageous, calling, devoted, delight, enriched, education, fulfillment, friendship, grow, good, health, hope, infused, joy, kindness, love, music, nurturing, pleasure, peace, quiet, reason, romance, serene, solace, tolerance, truth, understanding, vision, wonder, yearnings, zeal.

This writing activity is best done in student pairs or small groups. However you decide, create time after for students to share what they’ve crafted. You can add a little entertainment and make the activity more challenging by assigning the groups to use only part of the list—A to H, I to P, or Q to Z, for example.

Be sure to thoroughly review the list of positive words with students before they write. You can make the instructions for the poem more explicit, asking students to create a Poem of Aspirations or a Poem of Questions using the following stems (along with others you might brainstorm together):

  • May we/May our . . .
  • Why is/How can . . .
  • Will I/Will we . . . 

Here are some sample lines that use those stems:

  • May we be inspired by joy, kindness, and love!
  • Will I be courageous enough to listen to my calling?
  • May we have the pleasure of peace and quiet in our lives.
  • Why is there solace when we have tolerance for others?

Depending on the age and ability of your students, the list of words you provide will vary in complexity and length. (You may also choose to let them use the words in any order they wish and not in the order they are listed.)

With the set of words, students can also create a narrative of their school at its best. Options are always key in the classroom, so they could instead create a story about themselves at their best, or a classmate, friend, or family member. Consider providing them also with story stems to assist them with starting their narratives. Simple stems are almost always best for getting those pens and pencils moving. Examples include: “It all started when . . .,” “Few people know this, but . . .,” and “At a young age . . .”

Student Collaboration With Positive Word Play

Writing activities in which specific vocabulary words are provided help students build their language skills while also giving them a chance to use their creative voices. And as students share their creative products with each other—and with parents and perhaps other classrooms—you may find the conversation shifting in unexpectedly, positive ways.

Additionally, as they collaborate with classmates, they are developing competencies of respectful listening, taking turns, cooperation, and giving constructive feedback, while also building their social and emotional vocabularies.

What opportunities have you presented to your students for working together and sharing ideas around seeing themselves, each other, and life in a better, more positive light? Please share with us in the comments section below.

About the Author
  • Maurice J. Elias Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (www.secdlab.org), Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (engage.rutgers.edu) @SELinSchools
Share This Story

Comments (2) Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Conversations on Edutopia (2) Sign in or register to comment

Christina Gil's picture
Christina Gil
Former Classroom Teacher, Current Homeschooler and Ecovillager

Love this idea--I've had similar success by giving students words to craft poems around.

The fun part for us was that I actually cut the words out so that they could move them around and then write their own words around them. You can see more of how I did that here:https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Poetry-for-Kids-Common-Core-...

(Click on the screenshots in the top left corner or on the preview.)

Maurice J. Elias's picture
Maurice J. Elias
Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (www.secdlab.org), Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (engage.rutgers.edu)

Christina, thanks for sharing an excellent poetry- based resource!!

(1)

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.