Praising students effectively and remembering to do so often


Research shows that praise, administered correctly, is a powerful tool to shape student behavior. Yet it is generally underutilized.

A helpful discussion of praise and how to give it are found in “Teacher Praise: An Efficient Tool to Motivate Students,” on, and was also in the “What’s In Your Toolbox?” presentation at the 2018 MCEC (Michigan Council of Exceptional Children) conference. Here are suggestions for increasing the effectiveness of praise:

  • Praise effort and accomplishment, not ability. This rewards dedication instead of suggesting that success should be effortless. Example: “I can see that you really worked hard on this book report. Well done!” instead of “I can tell you’re a natural writer.”
  • Describe noteworthy student behavior. Rather than a general statement such as “Good job!” offer specific observations, such as “Good job on providing details about the main character.”
  • Explain why good behavior is important. This added step in specific praise will make it more memorable. Example: “Good job on providing details about the main character. This helps me really understand what she was like.”
  • Match the method of praise delivery to student preferences. Research shows that in general, elementary students easily accept public praise, but middle- and high-school students prefer to receive praise privately.
  • Praise often. Praise can be a method of classroom management when it rewards good behavior with attention. This should be done very often — the teacher who presented on this topic said she tried to give praise every three minutes.

Praising often isn’t difficult — it’s basically just catching children doing something right and remarking on it. It’s the ‘remembering to praise often’ that is usually the challenge, but there are a couple of tools to help.

MotivAider Timer

Buzz and beep digital timers attach to your belt and vibrate when the time is up. Because they are quiet and unobtrusive, they have the advantage of being less obvious to students.

The MotivAider was recommended at the MCEC conference and displays a message of your choosing. It’s pricey — around $100.

Polder Timer

Polder offers timers for $15 to $20.

Phone apps are available which cause your phone to vibrate after an allotted time. MotivAider offers one for iPhone and Android, which costs about $2. There are free timer apps too, such as “Behavioral Timer — Free” which can make your phone vibrate and/or play a ringtone at intervals you set.


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