The incredible persuasiveness of second and third person pronouns

self-talk - Version 2

When writing essays I always have to remind my students to not use “I,” that I will know that the ideas are theirs because they are writing the paper. “I believe that the United States is a good place to live” is weaker than “The United States is a good place to live.” Always when I give a writing assignment, they will ask if they can use “I” as if the license to do so releases so much of the stress of doing a writing assignment. When I say “yes” in answer to their question, some of them actually cheer. Middle schoolers are developmentally in the midst of their “me” time (I see it everyday) so this is not a big surprise. They think by not saying “I” they are erasing their persona, becoming someone they are not. Untrue, obviously, but they are still growing into this idea.

Today my son shared with me and his dad an article he read about self-talk. Apparently according to several studies, if people use the second or third person when talking to themselves, they gain some emotional distance from whatever issues and problems they are dealing with, thereby reducing their anxiety and performing better on tasks. Those who use the “I” when talking to themselves are much more stressed, emotionally strung out, and perform more poorly.

So actually the stress that students feel when they are writing a paper could be much reduced by not using “I” and would lead to a greater likelihood in getting an “A.” Maybe I can convince my students of this! I’m not sure they will buy it. After all, a paper is not necessarily self-talk, but maybe there is something here for them about the incredible power and persuasiveness of those simple second and third person pronouns.

Alright JY. Let’s finish preparing for school tomorrow.

(one source of the studies mentioned above, and another and another)

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