April 23, 2012

Motivational Praise

Guest blog post by Kathie Wainwright, the Not So Wimpy Teacher

Every teacher understands the power of praise; it is one of our most powerful tools. To provide meaningful praise is to provide confirmation and stimulation. It is the driving force behind student interest, effort, and persistence. Praise for achievement strengthens a student’s esteem; it provides safety and security and helps to build a meaningful and productive teacher-student relationship.

Teacher praise should come naturally. ts can be a part of both public and private conversations. While it serves as a great source of motivation, it is important to understand how praise can do good or cause harm. 

Here are some strategies and guidelines that can be used to ensure positive/ productive praise. 

#1 Avoid giving praise to students in a “”sandwich." 
This can be counterproductive and cancel out the intended praise. A “sandwich praise” is when a caution or a warning is delivered followed by praise and ends with more caution or warning. There was a time when I thought this type of praise would serve as an incentive for students to avoid problematic behavior; however, research says that this actually dilutes the praise. An example of a sandwich praise is, “I’m calling your mom if you have to move your card to red. You’re having a great day, but if you start talking I will have to move your seat.” Does this sound familiar? Instead of this approach, it is best to instead try giving the warning separate from the praise. This way the praise is accepted and the warning is clear. 

#2 Put your praise in writing! 
Create an artifact of your praise especially if the student you are praising often displays challenging behavior and/or struggles with academics.  Students need to be encouraged. By providing a little note, postcard, brag badge, etc., students are given proof that they have done something significant. And they can share this accomplishment with others by showing off their token. It doesn’t have to be long, but a brief “You are showing improvement, great work!” is profound and can go a long way. When giving praise, be sure to focus on a student’s effort, progress, and strategies. Focusing on this over their ability provides a source of motivation and encouragement for students when approaching something they may consider challenging. If you focus on their ability they may avoid trying something that they may not think they do well. 

#3 Make your praise specific. 
Make praise specific by directly personalizing your thoughts and discussing them with the students. Showing interest in your students sends the message that you and establishes trust. Trust encourages motivation and effort, students may feel less intimidated to make mistakes and will more apt to take learning risks in the classroom. Asking questions about the process a student used or a decision a student has made are ways to establish a rapport.

#4 Praise the individual. 
It is perfectly fine to praise your entire class with a general statement (i.e. I am pleased with how hard everyone is working). However, praising individual students is powerful and can reinforce positive behavior (I like the way Angie is working quietly and on task). It is important to let the student know exactly what you are praising them for (i.e. “I am pleased with Josh for helping Rachelle with her math problems.” “Thank you Isaiah for raising your hand to ask a question.” “Herman, I m proud of you for turning in your homework three nights in a row!” 

#5 Spend quality time with your students. 
A good time to do this is by inviting a few students up at a time to spend their lunch period with you. Instead of keeping students in for lunch as a punishment, have them view it as a reward. During this time you can get to know your students personally. By getting to learn more about their interests and hobbies, you can learn more about what motivates them and what can be used to encourage/reward them. This also builds on trust, strengthening your student-teacher relationship. 

Praising your students is an integral part of your daily instruction. Being recognized for things that you do well fulfills the human need for safety and security. For a variety of ways to praise your student, download this free Super Student Praise Pack. Visit my blog for additional resources on how to manage student behavior and provide meaningful differentiation activities.  

Kathie Wainwright is a dedicated 4th grade teacher with 13 years of experience in the Philadelphia area. Known for her strong classroom management skills and ability to reach all learners, Ms. Wainwright has earned the title "The Not So Wimpy Teacher"! She is the writer of the blog The Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher where she shares a variety of teaching strategies and resources. She is also the author of her first self-published chidren's book Summer in the City (scheduled to be released June 2012). 


  1. Great reminders and tips for us all Kathie! Thanks for posting :)

    Teaching in Room 6

  2. Great post! Thanks for sharing, Kathie and Laura!

    Sally from ElementaryMatters

  3. Kathie-Love this post! Thanks for giving her the opportunity to share her thoughts, Laura! :)

    Mrs. Lirette's Learning Detectives

  4. Love your wonderful ideas on motivational praise Kathy! I wrote specific individualized notes to students for FCAT and periodically while subbing. The children really appreciated it, thanked me, and had a huge smile on their face. I truly believe it helped them make great choices and is a huge reason why they constantly wanted me back to sub!