Positive praise goes a long way

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Classroom management strategy for teachers

Saying thanks goes a long way.  Our goal is to have positive comments about on-task behavior outweigh redirecting comments 5 to 1.  That way the teacher has built up a store of rapport with students so if they need to get called out on something, it’s much easier to take.

We all expect a thank you.  Whether we hold a door open for a stranger at the bank or we’ve just completed a major project at work, we expect to hear thank you.  It helps students to hear thank you too.  

But should we praise students for things they are expected to do? We should certainly acknowledge compliance.  When we do things we’re supposed to do, such as turn lesson plans in on time, we expect to hear thank you.  Our students should hear thank you or positive acknowledgement when they do what they’re supposed to do too.  We can reserve overwhelming praise for special situations, but let’s dive into what positive praise and acknowledgement can sound like.

Effective praise exactly mirrors the directions and includes a student’s name.  For example, if the directions given are “When I say go, silently take out your notebook and turn to page 115 in your textbook. Go.” then the positive praise that follows could sound like this, “I see Carmen has her notebook out” and “Thank you James for turning to page 115.”  Notice how “notebook out” and “turning to page 115” exactly copy the directions given.

Avoid saying vague phrases such as “Good job, Raymond,” or “Alyssa is working.” Instead, name the specific action that the student is doing and make sure to mirror the directions.

The power in this is that the teacher can repeat their directions without nagging!  It puts the teacher’s attention on students who are doing what they are supposed to, instead of those who are off task.  And the students who are off task hear the praise and can quickly self-correct.  By using a student’s name, it puts a positive drop in the rapport bucket with that student.  

A few other criteria for good positive praise is that it should be succinct, happen 3-5 times after each set of directions, and should be done in a positive tone.  Additional actions that teachers should include in their class are eye contact with smile, thumbs up, nod, or a mouthed “thank you.”  

Recap of positive praise:

  • Includes a student’s name

  • Exactly mirrors the directions given

  • Happens 3 - 5 times after every set of directions

  • Positive tone

  • Brief

Let’s do it!


  • Script out what positive praise would sound like following this set of directions: “In your notebook, respond to the prompt on the board silently. You have 3 minute. Go.” Do this with a buddy teacher or instructional leader to get feedback.

  • After every set of directions you give students, positively praise 3 - 5 students by specifically mirroring the directions and using student names.