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Schoolchildren (2-5) sitting in the classroom, clapping, smiling

Be Specific with Your Praise

Schoolchildren (2-5) sitting in the classroom, clapping, smiling

Who doesn’t want to think they are the most amazing thing ever? Now imagine that the compliment you just received was also given to the fifteen people closest to you – how would that make you feel? Or, think about something a boss, parent, spouse, or friend asked you to work on; and so you did, you worked really hard. Then when they finally noticed, all they said was ‘nice.’


This is what happens to our students and children on a regular basis. Which is why, I feel there is real value in being specific with that praise that is given to students. Yes, it may take a bit more time, but not really. Plus, it’s a way to build individual relationships with your students. For your student, it will show them that even though you don’t have thirty minutes to spend with them each day, that you did/do notice their progression, dedication, hard work, and want to celebrate their victories.


Here are some example ways to change from general praise to more meaningful, special, and specific.

  • Instead of saying ‘good work’, how about: “good work on those spelling words”, “good stuff Tanisha – I liked your participation today”, “John, your paper is really well written – lots of details.”
  • Instead of ‘nice job’, how about: “Oscar, your thesis statement is very strong”, “Rose, I liked your pictures on landforms”, “Bobby you got 100% on your addition facts”, or “Che, I’m so proud of how you followed all the directions on your worksheet.”


When you give feedback on papers, projects, or essays, you can always use the ‘sandwich’ approach. Limit your remarks to the most important areas, try hard not to ‘nitpick’. Start by saying what the student did best, then talk about the area that needs the biggest improvement, followed by an area that is getting better but still needs work, finally close with an upbeat hope or remark on how by working on those areas, that it is going to result in a really strong final piece of work.


Here is an example of the aforementioned concept: “Kevin, your sentence structure is really amazing in this paper, you made sure that each sentence is following the CUPS elements; make sure to slow down and have your sentences flow from one to the other – there are some big disconnects when the paper is read together. Your thesis statement is getting better, but it needs to be easily recognized throughout the whole paper. If you can focus on these areas I know that your final copy will be one that you are proud of.”


I’ve said it so many times — our students are just younger, shorter versions of us. They need encouragement, recommendations, and feedback just like we do. So, if you are able to highlight those ways in which your students are succeeding, you really will be helping them to believe in themselves more and to reach their fullest potential.

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