AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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Examples of Constructive Praise and Encouraging Comments

By Daniel T. Willingham

Label the praiseworthy action, not the child.

These examples point out a single instance in which a student has been helpful, honest, or organized. There is no pressure for her to always be that way.

"You saw that Amy was having trouble memorizing her part for the play, so you rehearsed with her until she had all her lines down pat. That was helpful—not only to Amy, but to the whole cast."

"You told me what happened at recess today even though you knew I might get angry. I appreciate your honesty."

"You sorted out your pencils, crayons, and pens, and put them in separate boxes. That's what I call being organized!"

Avoid the kind of praise that hints at past weaknesses or failures.

Instead of referring to past weaknesses, focus on the child's present strength.

"Well, you finally played that piece of music the way it should be played!" vs. "I really like the way you kept a strong, rhythmic beat going in that piece."
"I never thought you would pass that test—but you did!" vs.
"I can see you put in a lot of work to pass that test."


When students are too eager for praise, be positive without explicitly praising.

A positive comment can help students think about working for their own satisfaction, instead of trying to earn praise from the teacher.

When the teacher says: She helps the student think to himself:

That was a tough problem, but you kept working at it until you solved it.

I don't give up easily. I persist.
You cleaned the brushes and put away all the art materials without being asked. I really appreciate that. I can be responsible.
Your opening sentence grabbed my interest and made me want to read on. I'm getting good at writing.



These examples were adapted from How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk and How to Talk So Kids Can Learn at Home and in School by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.