Praising students does more than build self-esteem. Classrooms with more praise than reprimands stay on task 20-30% longer. Praise also increases the opportunity for connection and participation—meaning every positive word helps builds a better learning environment for students.
But all too often, praise sounds like, “I’m proud of you. Good work,” which can unintentionally end a discussion instead of start one. Read on for some simple tips for turning praise into a conversation starter.
Ask them to tell you more
Instead of using a simple praise statement like, “Great job!”, ask them to share more details by saying something like, “That’s great. Tell me all about it.” Doing so gives students a chance to feel seen, but it also encourages them to reflect and allow their good feelings to build.
Focus on progress
Basketball players don’t go from making 0% of their shots to making 100% overnight. Instead, practice, focus and coaching help them improve over time. Likewise, praising students whose work still needs improvement shows them what they’re doing well and encourages them to further enhance their work.
When students hand in an assignment, in addition to points or letter grades, be sure to include notes on what looks great and what needs work. Be creative by pointing out things like improved imagery, good use of details and great example of how to link ideas.
Apply the right type of praise
While praise is always powerful, some methods have more impact than others. The three most common types of praise are:
- Personal praise: “You’re really good at that!” This style puts the focus on an “innate” ability without noting the hard work or learning that went into the result. This can prevent future growth especially for students who struggle academically.
- Effort-based praise: “You’re working really hard on that!” This shows that you’re impressed by the drive to keep working and improving—something the student will need to do all their lives.
- Behaviour-based praise: “You’re doing what I expected!” This type of praise shows both approval and appreciation, encouraging repeat behaviour.
Ask how they made it happen
When a student passes a test, creates an amazing presentation or meets a goal, it’s an opportunity for praise and for looking ahead. Help nurture the skills they’re using by asking, “How did you do it?” It gives them a chance to tell you more about their achievement, while also helping them think ahead, so they can achieve success next time too.
If the student shares steps that clearly led to their success, “Keep it up!” can reinforce the behaviour. But if a student shows that they’re unsure, it’s a great chance to walk through the process with them to help establish lifelong habits.
Reinforce this type of conversation with a classroom gift. A puzzle cube with a list of good study habits or a notebook where students can jot down the steps they took for their latest accomplishment make great gifts.
Use appropriate statements
Starting praise with “I appreciate” or “I admire” is an ideal way to help students modify and model proper behaviour. Offering appreciation when everyone turns in an assignment on time (“Thank you for saving me time—now I don’t have to send reminders”) or displaying admiration when they accomplish something impressive (“I admire the way you asked for extra help outside of class”) puts the focus on the students’ behaviours instead of your reaction.
Reinforce the admiration by putting a certificate in a holder that shares their accomplishment and allows them to display it as an easy reminder.
A better chance to learn
Praising students—whether with words or classroom gifts—can encourage them to keep working hard, even when the work is challenging. But when you know how to praise students and turn it into a larger conversation, the sky is the limit.