Greenling / During Reading / /

Positive and Negative Language

Investigating positive and negative descriptions of Greenling and relating this to the wider world context.

Lesson length: 1 session

Lesson from Greenling teaching sequence

Required reading: Whole book

Text potential

  • Vocabulary: Positive and negative connotations


  • Language Study
  • Discussion and Dialogue
  • Vocabulary: Blended Approach


Writers employ language that guides a reader’s response. Language can reveal a positive or negative perspective on a character. In picturebooks, this is achieved through both verbal and visual language.


  • Copies of Greenling, at least one between two.
  • News headlines showing negative language. 


Read from the beginning of the story. Ask the children to raise a hand when they hear the Greenling referred to. Note, he may not be referred to by his proper name.

The first three mentions use the pronoun ‘it’. The children may not pick this up:

Is it intended for Barleycorn hands?

Where it came from

Back to the land it should go

Read past unless they raise their hands, you can return to these mentions later.

Next mention is

A baby is not like a hat.

Consider if this is a positive or negative word. Usually, people think of babies positively. It’s a human instinct to want to protect a baby.

Next, we have the pronoun ‘him.’

We can’t leave him outside for the crows.

This is more positive than the ‘it’ used earlier. It gives more human qualities. If the children don’t mention the pronouns, you can come back to them later.

Next is. ‘Get rid of this goblin by morning.’

  • Is this positive or negative?

Goblins have negative associations. In folklore, they are cruel, malicious and ugly.

  • Is there a difference in the language used by Mr Barleycorn and Mrs Barleycorn?

In pairs, have the children find other words used to refer to Greenling.

  • cuckoo
  • vegetable
  • Greenling
  • Do these words have positive or negative connotations in how they are used in this story?

We can use language to describe things, people and places positively or negatively.

Newspapers often use negative language in headlines because it grabs more attention.

The words “bad,” “worst,” and “never” work 30 per cent better at catching attention than positive ones like “always” or “best.”  

  • Is that surprising?
  • Why is bad news more likely to grab attention?

Here’s an example: Psychiatric bed cuts could lead to more murders.

  • How does the headline make you feel? Why? 
  • What do you think the journalist wants you to believe?

Have a look at some recent headlines in the papers. Ask the questions

  • How does the headline make you feel? Why? 
  • What do you think the journalist wants you to believe?

Final reflection

Make explicit the point that it’s good to be aware of when people use positive and negative language and the effect that it has on us.


Key vocabulary

positive, negative, connotation

Subject-specific and technical vocabulary 
Academic process words 
Advanced vocabulary 
Morphological investigation 
Etymological investigation 


Guardian article by Steven Pinker

This article explains why negative news is more persuasive than positive news.

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Nikki Gamble

Nikki Gamble
Director, Just Imagine
Nikki has worked extensively in schools across the UK and internationally. She is the author of Exploring Children’s Literature (4th edit) (2019) and co-author of Guiding Readers (2016) which was awarded the UKLA Academic Book of the Year Award 2017. Nikki is KS2 reading advisor and series consultant for Oxford University Press and content creator for the Oxford School Improvement and Oxford Owl websites. Nikki is Associate Consultant at the University of London, Institute of Education and Honorary Fellow at the University of Winchester

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