Cultivating a happy emotional state through positive psychology not only puts a smile on students’ faces—it actually helps them learn better and boost reading comprehension.

How positive psychology reduces stress and boosts reading comprehension


Cultivating a happy emotional state not only puts a smile on students’ faces—it actually helps them learn better

The acronym SMILES can help you get started. Here’s a breakdown of what it means.     

1. Shared Gratitude

Experiencing gratitude changes the brain’s structure, raises your students’ sense of happiness and pleasure, and reduces their level of cortisol (the stress hormone linked with impaired cognition and learning difficulties). Find ways to incorporate a routine of thankfulness in your classroom. For instance, after reading a book about a famous person from history, you could ask the class to share why they’re thankful for this individual.  

2. Meditation

Being more mindful reduces stress and promotes positive emotions. In many classrooms, students rush in and immediately get into their coursework and lessons. Try starting each class with a brief moment of meditation and mindfulness. Students of all ages can sit for a minute or two while you (or an app or audiobook) guide them through a few quick breathing exercises and a moment of calm.

3. Intentional kindness

Decades of research have revealed that being intentionally kind boosts your mood. Invite your class to consider ways to be kind, and find ways to weave kindness and giving back into your curriculum. For example, your students could help pick up trash in the schoolyard, write letters to cheer up frontline healthcare workers, or fundraise for a local animal shelter. Try to find a way to give back that relates to your reading curriculum’s seasonal topics.

4. Looking back with thankfulness

Self-reflection, or looking back at past positive experiences, primes the brain for positivity. You can use worksheets or verbal questions to create an opportunity for each student to think back on a recent experience they’re thankful for. This could be something that happened at school or in their personal lives. 

5. Exercise

Physical movement triggers the release of feel-good, cognition-enhancing neurotransmitters within five minutes. It’s also a powerful way to help your students burn off fidgety energy (thus improving focus and attention). Before jumping into a reading lesson or giving an exam, give the kids a chance to move their bodies. It could be something as simple as a game of tag, or something that relates to their academics, such as acting out a scene from a book they’ve been reading.

6. Social connection

Social connectedness improves mood and overall life satisfaction. Create opportunities for students to connect on a social level within your classroom. For example, they can take turns sharing about their background and life or bring snacks or objects from their own lives that represent their connection to a certain lesson.

Incorporating elements of positive psychology into your classroom teaching can feel foreign at first. But teachers who invest in their students’ mood and positivity, and who use the above psychological principles to reduce student stress and tension, will see dramatic results in their classroom’s academics and reading comprehension. You may even be tempted to apply these same principles to your own life to build your own stress resilience and overall sense of joy and happiness.

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