The way teachers speak to students can go a long way toward building a positive learning environment and helping students improve their self-esteem.

Language is one of the most powerful teaching tools—nearly every aspect of education and learning is influenced by the words we use and how we use them. For teachers, that’s good news: by mindfully employing the right kind of language, they can help shape their classrooms into powerful mitochondria of learning.

Here are some strategies to help you master the art of positive messaging in the classroom:

Show you believe

Even seasoned teachers can forget that students often look to them for signs of approval and then adjust their behavior accordingly.

Express your belief in your students as capable, independent learners; this will pay dividends down the road for both you and your students.

Describe, don’t judge

Instead of framing behavior that falls short of your expectations as a personal failing of the student, focus on describing the behavior itself. This helps students understand that their behavior is the issue, not their character or ability to learn.

Modulate tone

While it can be tempting to be firm when correcting unacceptable behavior, remember that if you maintain a warm but professional tone, you can potentially stave off resentment from students in the face of disciplinary action.

Name positive behavior, and be specific

Praise students whenever they behave in a positive way, naming the behavior specifically so that the student’s peers can readily identify the behavior being modeled.

Make sure to spread affirmations widely to dispel any notions that you’re playing favorites.

Inclusive Pronouns

Use inclusive pronouns, like ‘we’ and ‘our,’ to engender a sense of class community and help build a positive learning culture.

Compliment Sandwiches

Nobody likes to be told they’ve done something wrong, particularly in a classroom setting, where criticism can feel like rejection and often takes place in close proximity to peers.

A tried-and-true method for delivering constructive criticism is to sandwich your critique between two complimentary phrases. This strategy works especially well for younger students.