Dr. Dan Dewey had a vision for a textbook that implemented positive psychology and language learning outcomes. It was brought to life by a research team led by him, which started working on this book while researching whether positive psychology interventions lowered student stress in the classroom significantly (Rogers, 2022). The results showed that there were no negative effects on students’ test scores and qualitative data showed a positive reaction to the lesson plans, so we decided to continue the process and make enough lesson plans to fill an entire year of listening and speaking curriculum. It was decided that Positive Psychology in the Classroom: Lesson Plans for English Language Teachers would be open source here in Ed Tech Books to allow its influence to reach as many people as possible. We hope to make a positive impact on students, teachers, and institutions by sharing our resources.
How to Use This Book
As you will see in each chapter, there is an intro to the chapter’s topic with an explanation on the introduction page. You will also see that each chapter has 10-13 lessons with adapted levels: novice high and intermediate mid. These adaptations are based on the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines (2012), which is the proficiency scale we use at our institution. Here is an example of an introduction page:
You may be teaching students that fit one of the proficiency levels well or they may be just below or above one or the other. The lessons were designed to be adapted. Feel free to use the activities as guidelines, change them according to your students’ needs, or use activities from both proficiency levels.
The title page of each lesson plan will have a quote that describes the topic being presented in the lesson plans. Here is an example of a lesson title page:
Each lesson plan has six major sections: Lesson Information, Overview, Activate Background Knowledge, Activities, Follow Up, and Homework. Lesson Information is where you will find the language learning and positive psychology outcomes. This will explain the outcomes for both positive psychology and language learning, and the activities will combine the two. In most activities, you will see positive psychology being used as the content for language learning. This section will also list the materials you will need for the lesson.
The Overview will simply state what the lesson is about in one to two sentences. The teacher should be able to look at this section to get a quick understanding of the lesson. Activate Background Knowledge is a short three-to-five-minute activity or explanation that will hopefully do just what it is titled: activate students’ background knowledge on the lesson topic.
The activities are explanations to the teacher about what their students should do. Each lesson has about five to seven activities and are designed to fill a 65-minute time period. Here is a sample activity from Gratitude-Novice High:
The next section is Homework where there is a homework assignment for the students to do with the positive psychology topic they just learned in class. Feel free to use the assignment suggested or change it based on what you think your students would benefit most from.
The last section, Follow Up, is another set of three-to-five-minute activities to follow up on each day after the lesson was taught. The lessons design is based on a model where positive psychology lessons are taught on Monday and then each day of class after (Tuesday-Thursday) there is a follow up activity to remind the students what they learned on Monday. This is another aspect of the lesson plan that we hope you will adapt according to your teaching context and schedule.
The following video provides examples of the experience teachers had teaching and creating the lessons at Brigham Young University’s (BYU) English Language Center (ELC) where these lessons were created and implemented into the curriculum. This video will also provide teachers with a background on how to create and implement the lessons into their specific contexts.
What is Positive Psychology?
“Positive psychology takes you through the countryside of pleasure and gratification, up into the high country of strength and virtue, and finally to the peaks of lasting fulfillment, meaning and purpose” (Seligman, 2002).
The theory behind this book is positive psychology, which has been defined as “the scientific study of what goes right in life,” Peterson (2006). Martin Seligman, who has become known as the “father of positive psychology”, realized that there was a problem in the traditional approach to psychology as it focused on negative human emotions, whereas positive psychology concentrates on well-being and facing problems with a human strengths perspective rather than focusing on difficulties (MacIntyre & Mercer, 2014). There are many positive psychology interventions that will be addressed in the lesson plans contained in this book. Some of which include gratitude, hope, self-regulation, and self-compassion. These interventions are synonymous with the human strengths mentioned previously.
Seligman (2009) took positive psychology a step further by implementing it in the education system. In this form, positive psychology has become known as positive education. Positive education has been more specifically defined as “an education for both traditional skills and for happiness.” (Seligman, Ernst Gillham, Reivach & Linkins, 2009). Its “fundamental goal” is to “promote flourishing or positive mental health within the school community.” (Norrish, Williams, O’Connor & Robinson, 2013). Flourishing has been defined in several ways but can largely be described as “both feeling good and functioning well.” (Norrish, Williams, O’Connor & Robinson, 2013). Seligman also describes flourishing as finding fulfillment in life, accomplishing tasks that are meaningful and worthwhile, and having a connection with others on a deeper level (Seligman, 2012).
Positive psychology interventions have rarely been addressed in the field of second language acquisition (SLA) (MacIntyre & Mercer, 2014). To bridge the gap between SLA and positive psychology, we have written these lesson plans to help students deal with the stress language learners experience while studying English as a second or foreign language. The education experience is naturally stressful (Akkermans, Paradniké, Van der Heijden, & De Vos, 2018) as students are supposed to be pushed and challenged to grow. Language learning adds a layer of stress to being educated as stress and anxiety are common factors in SLA (Dewaele, Chen, Padilla, & Lake, 2019; Mercer, MacIntyre, Gregersen, & Talbot, 2018). Research suggests that to change this we need to consciously practice positivity (Achor, 2010), meaning there are huge benefits to making positivity a consistent practice in SLA students’ daily life. Due to the foreseen benefits of positive psychology in language learning, our belief is that applying these lessons will help reduce the negative side effects of language learning and support flourishing and well-being in English language learners (Rogers, 2022).
Each chapter (see details in chapter introductions) was chosen as units because of Seligman’s (2012) beliefs about positive psychology interventions and how they will help humans flourish. PERMA and Character Strengths came directly from Seligman’s (2002, 2012) research about well-being and human strengths. The Mindfulness chapter was based on research by Shauna Shapiro (2020), specifically about how to show ourselves self-compassion. The other topics in this chapter were decided on based on research by Dr. Dewey and brainstorming what we believed would be the best mindfulness topics for the English language learners we taught.
Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: How a positive brain fuels success in work and life. Currency.
Akkermans, J., Paradniké, K., Van der Heijden, B. I., & De Vos, A. (2018). The best of both worlds: the role of career adaptability and career competencies in students’ well-being and performance. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1678.
American Council of Teaching Foreign Languages (ACTFL). (2012). ACTFL proficiency guidelines 2012. https://edtechbooks.org/-rdJX
Dewaele, J. M., Chen, X., Padilla, A. M., & Lake, J. (2019). The flowering of positive psychology in foreign language teaching and acquisition research. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 2128.
Lopez, S.J. and Gallagher, M.W. (2011) A case for positive psychology. In S.J. Lopez and C.R. Snyder (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology (pp. 3– 6). New York: Oxford University Press
MacIntyre, P. D., & Mercer, S. (2014). Introducing positive psychology to SLA. Studies in second language learning and teaching, 4(2), 153-172.
Mercer, S., MacIntyre, P., Gregersen, T., & Talbot, K. (2018). Positive language education: Combining positive education and language education. Theory and Practice of Second Language Acquisition, 4(2), 11-31.
Norrish, J. M., Williams, P., O'Connor, M., & Robinson, J. (2013). An applied framework for positive education. International Journal of Wellbeing, 3(2).
Peterson, C. (2006). A primer in positive psychology. Oxford university press.
Rogers, C., Dewey, D. (2022). Positive psychology in an SLA context: A semester-long study of the impact of positive psychology on the well-being and language development of English language learners. Unpublished manuscript.
Seligman, M. E., Ernst, R. M., Gillham, J., Reivich, K., & Linkins, M. (2009). Positive education: Positive psychology and classroom interventions. Oxford review of education, 35(3), 293-311.
Seligman, M. E. (2002). Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York, NY: Free Press.
Seligman, M. E. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. Simon and Schuster.
Shapiro, S. (2020). Good morning, I love you: Mindfulness and self-compassion practices to rewire your brain for calm, clarity, and joy. Sounds True.
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