Effective Praise

Effective Praise


Leah Davies| Educator
Leah Davies received her master’s Degree from the Department of Counselling and Counselling Psychology, Auburn University. Her professional experience includes teaching, counselling, consulting, instructing at Auburn University, and directing educational and prevention services at a mental health agency.



The goal of educators is to help children become intrinsically motivated. Children's self-worth develops from working hard, surmounting frustrations and overcoming obstacles. Honest praise provides children with the opportunity to gain a realistic understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. In order to feel strong, confident and independent, children must receive truthful valuation. Children, who have grown accustomed to continuous applause, may develop anxiety about their abilities, a fear of failure, a reluctance to try new things and be ill-prepared to cope with future setbacks. 

Effective praise focuses on a child's effort rather than on what is actually accomplished. When educators give genuine praise that is specific, spontaneous and well-deserved, it encourages continuous learning and decreases competition among students.

How can educators use praise effectively?
1. Think in terms of acknowledgment and encouragement rather than praise. Praise helps most when it conveys not only approval but information about the progress a child is making. For example, "You have been trying so hard to learn those new words and now you are able to read the whole story!"
2. Demonstrate interest and acceptance in children because they have an innate value that is not contingent on their work. For example, say, "(Child's name), I'm glad you are in my class."
3. Use positive body language such as smiling, looking directly at the child, standing close, listening intently and assisting when needed.
4. Acknowledge a child's effort or progress without judgment using clear, specific language. Offering descriptive praise shows that you are paying close attention. For example: "I'm glad to see you are working so hard on your spelling words!"Whenever possible, take the time to say something similar to the above examples, instead of using a generic response like, "Great work," "That's terrific!" or "You're super!"
5. Communicate constructive observations. For example, say, "You listened without interrupting."
6. Acknowledge a child's specific behavior rather than commenting on his or her character. For example, "Since you have been doing all your math homework, you have brought up your grade!" rather than saying, "You are such a good student."
7. Foster children's discussion and evaluation of their work by asking questions, "I can see that you worked hard on this project. Can you tell me about it?"  When adults listen to children, they are demonstrating interest and care.
8. Encourage positive character traits in students by naming them. For example, "Boys and girls, I appreciate each of you being quiet while I talked to Mrs. Jones. You were being respectful."
9. Relate praise to effort and to how it benefited the child as well as others. Say things like, "Since you remembered to return your homework this week, you have done better in math and I have had more time to spend helping the other students."
10. Promote initiative and attempting new skills. For example, "You listened well and followed directions without any help," and "Last week you could not kick the ball, but you practiced, and now you can!"
11. Encourage perseverance and independence, and acknowledge independent thought and creativity
12. Reserve exuberant praise for an outstanding effort.

This article was originally published in TheTeacher.in magazine in the month of December, 2018.