Praise and Motivation within the Classroom


The answer is No!

Ian Gilbert (Independent Thinking Company) says:

Be aware that we cannot really raise someone’s self-esteem for them, as it is not yours to raise in the first place, hence the word ‘self.’  All you can do is to work to create an environment in which their capability and lovability starts to come through. [1]

So what are you doing within your class/school to promote lovability and capability?

The answer is all in the ‘praise’ that we give the children.   Almost everyone enjoys praise; whether you are 7 or 70.  It’s a pleasant experience to hear you have done something well; but praise should come with a health warning:  If too much is used or it’s not targeted correctly it can be ineffective.   Some practitioners give out praise like confetti but as you have no doubt guessed four fifths of it is wasted and falls by the wayside.  Therefore (In keeping with the wedding theme) effective praise should be issued like the bouquet: directed and caught by just the one person.  However, it goes without saying that we don’t face away from the children and throw praise over our shoulder.

When issuing PRAISE think:

P = PERSONAL: Aimed at just one individual

R = REFLECTIVE:  The learner should be able understand they’ve received it.

A = ASSESSED: You, the teacher, should know why you are giving it.

I = IMMEDIATE:  Catch them doing the right thing and praise immediately.

S = SENSITIVE: Not all children like being praised in front of others.

E = EFECTIVE:  It should have a lasting impact on the learner.

There is nothing wrong with the Jim Bowen school of thought: lovely, smashing, super, great but if you want to promote effective sustainable learning you have to be concise with your choice and use of praise.

There’s a subtle but massive difference between:

 “Well done Sally super writing.”


“Sally the adjectives you have used to describe your character are super.”

 Sally will feel happy and contented with the first statement.  However, in the latter statement she knows exactly what she needs to do next time if she wants to receive that sort of praise.

The giving out of ‘stickers’ to reward children for the learning is also beneficial but remember that gratification I child receives from a sticker lasts about as long as the adhesive on the back.

Knowing the difference between ‘Intrinsic’ and ‘Extrinsic’ motivation was our starting point for issuing praise.

Dealing with children who were extrinsic learners, I soon came to understand that they were mostly motivated by external factors: stickers, certificates, house/table points, postcards home or the weekly mention in assembly.  Nevertheless, if (God forbid) they went a week without any recognition, this would have a major impact on their motivation and their ability to grasp new concepts within their learning.

On the other hand the intrinsically motivated learners sought their motivation from within – enjoying learning for learning’s sake.  They got their excitement or ‘buzz’ from learning a new piece of information, a new skill or after successfully revisiting an item with which they previously struggled.

To summarise we have found it most beneficial to be more succinct and to the point with our praise.   I’m not saying that we don’t, slip into the Jim Bowen role,  you may still hear the odd well done, great answer, lovely explanation within our classroom.

But we now have a greater awareness and you are more likely to hear:

“Thank you Harvinder for that great question, you really got me thinking then.”

“Super Idea Joel, I can see you’ve used the text that we’ve read earlier.”

“James that’s the second time you’ve used that strategy to solve that divisional problem well done,”

How do you praise and the reward the children in your class?  We would love to hear from you.

Lee & David (The Thought Weavers)

Check out the ‘Thought Weavers’ on Facebook:

[1] Source of Quote:  Gilbert, Ian, Essential Motivation in the Classroom.  (Routledge, Farmer,London) 2002. p.136


14 thoughts on “Praise and Motivation within the Classroom

  1. Totally agree with this. It is a point that is always hard to get across to trainee teachers; praising children too much or too randomly loses impact. Giving feedback to children which deepens understanding and enables them to become more reflective is key. I do use stickers with my class for a variety of reasons as there are many who love to collect them. Others are not interested in stickers at all and this is where the carefully chosen comments can make a profound difference. A hand on the shoulder, a quiet word, a wink or a thumbs are, to some of the children in my class, far more powerful methods of recognition. There certainly isn’t a one fits all approach and I constantly strive to find ways to enable children to feel secure and want to learn.

    1. Anna,
      I would love to wax lyrically about your comments but you’ve said it all – Obviously we sing from the same song sheet. Let’s keep passing the message on!
      “Praise is like sunlight to the human spirit: we cannot flower and grow without it.” Jess Lair

  2. Excellent article! I have copied it to all my staff! A great reminder for all, helps to re-focus what we say and do. Many thanks, really enjoyed this article.

  3. As someone who feels she does not receive praise as a child, either at home or school, and who has worked with children from very damaging homes, I am heavily committed to praising children and endeavouring to make them feel better about themselves. However, I totally agree with everything paceanderson says above. It must be real and relevant, precise and formative. great blog, thank you. Ros Wilson

  4. Hi Ros,

    A few years ago I was attending a seminar with Sir John Jones (The Magic Weaver) where he said if you go into any Reception or Year 1 class and ask for volunteers who can either paint or who can sing and nearly all the class will put their hand up. Carry out the same exercise when they are in Year 6 and almost no one will volunteer.

    The little voice in their head tells them they can’t do it. That voice comes from 5 or 6 years interaction with parents and teachers. Therefore I can’t agree with you enough on how encouraging or damming those little throw away comments can be. Like you we’ll do out best to keep spreading the word.


    Lee and David (The Thought Weavers)

  5. I enjoyed these reflections very much and agree totally as I base a lot of my teaching on looking for that powerful moment to move a student on through a well thought out comment. For those sensitive ones, I try and make the comment privately, say on the playground. It’s wonderful to see the glow, one they just can’t handle in front of their peers. It’s always a challenge at the beginning of a new year to sort them out!

    1. Thanks Marg
      For your comments I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. They say in business that there is many a great deal struck on a golf course – in teaching there is many a great relationship formed on the playground. You are so right in saying that feedback can be given outside of the confines of the classroom. It’s great to see that others share our thoughts and our visions.
      Check out this week’s blog: Bring the outside in to the classroom

  6. Loved the comments from people. They’ve got the point and praised you well so you continue to add quality Blogs. 😉
    Agree with the blog. It is right on the mark. Children are individuals and should be catered for according to their needs, even in the type of praise/reward.

  7. A very thoughtful posting. I taught in the USA for a while and the overuse of phrases like “good job” and “awesome” from teachers really grated and made me so aware of what I said. However one thing I did bring back with me and shared in many schools over the years was the idea of peer praise. In my class pupils could nominate others for weekly awards.I had a little booklet on my desk that they could write in unobtrusively with reasons for the nomination. It worked well especially with one class that had issues with respecting each other.

    1. Sue,
      Thanks for you kind words. In Y5 we have ‘Star of the Week’ which is usually selected by me. After your idea, I am going to get my class to select their own Star of the Week from September. I love sharing these ideas as you always get one back – its great.
      Take care David

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