Active Constructive Responding

Middle SchoolHigh SchoolElementary Education

This intervention can be used with children and adults and requires no additional cost.

Intervention Overview

Active constructive responding encourages students to listen and respond to the successes of others in a positive way. Researchers have found there are four ways one can respond to the good news and positive events of others: active and passive destructive and active and passive constructive. Consider the model below regarding the four different ways you might respond to a student who just told you they earned a spot in the school play (adapted from Shankland & Rosset, 2017).

This image is a graph, with passive to active on the horizontal axis and destructive to constructive on the vertical axis.

One way to help students practice active constructive responding (ACR) is to have what Peterson (2013) called “but-free days.” Rather than pointing out the downsides of someone's good news by using the word “but,” you and your students could have an entire day devoted to avoiding this response and enjoying each other’s positive experiences. Encouraging your students to practice ACR will help them experience increased positive emotion, decreased loneliness, and improved feelings of trust, commitment, closeness and stability in peer relationships (Gable et al, 2004).

Intervention Guide

Grade Level:





20-30 minute introduction, practice time as needed


1. Introduce to the class the four types of responses they could use to react to "good news" someone has shared (active and passive destructive, passive and active constructive). See examples in the model below.

2. Share examples of each of the responses either via video clips or role play.

3. For younger students, it may be best to introduce only active constructive and what happens when we include "but" in our responses to point out the downsides of someone’s good news.

4. Have the students practice active constructive responding with their peers.

5. Throughout the school year, have dedicated “but-free” days where students are encouraged to practice active constructive responding throughout the day.

Does it work?

Though significant research has not been done on the impact of active constructive responding with children and adolescents, it has been used with the Geelong Grammar School’s positive education model and has been shown to improve student wellbeing and relationships (Norrish et al., 2013; Seligman et al., 2009). Gable and colleagues (2004) assessed the impact of active constructive responding on the interpersonal relationships of dating and married couples. Couples who felt their partner responded to their positive events in an active constructive way also experienced greater levels of commitment, trust, satisfaction and intimacy. All other response patterns (passive constructive, active destructive and passive destructive) were associated with negative trends in these measures. Active constructive responding was also associated with a reduction in relationship conflict. (Gable et al., 2004).


Gable, S. L., & Reis, H. T. (2010). Good news! Capitalizing on positive events in an interpersonal context. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology, Vol. 42, pp. 195–257). Academic Press.

Gable, S., Reix, E., Impett, E., & Asher, E. (2004). What do you do when things go right? The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 228–45.

Norrish, J. M., Williams, P.,O’Connor, M., & Robinson, J. (2013). An applied framework for positive education. International Journal of Wellbeing, 3(2), 147-161.

Peterson, C. (2013). Pursuing the good life: 100 reflections on positive psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Seligman, M., Ernst, R., Gillham,J., Reivich,K. & Linkins, M. (2009). Positive education: positive psychology and classroom interventions. Oxford Review of Education, 35(3), 293-311.

Shankland, R., & Rosset, E. (2017) Review of brief school-based positive psychological intervention: a taster for teachers and educators. Educational Psychology Review, 29, 363-392.

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