classroom management compliments

Compliments: Keep the love going all year!

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Hi teachers! I’m Retta from Rainbow City Learning, and I’m so excited to be guest posting today on Performing in Education!

Have I ever told you what a great job you are doing in your classroom every day, and how grateful I am for the difference you make with our future citizens? That morning meeting yesterday? You totally rocked it with your thought-provoking lead question!

Who doesn’t love a compliment? If it’s sincere and focused on something that makes you feel proud and happy, a great compliment can carry you through even a not so great day.

I’ve always loved watching my students tear into their Valentine’s mailboxes, usually just before our class party, and listening to their delight as they read the messages from their classmates. I can still hear their little voices saying thank you across the room or table, from heart to heart, for the greetings and statements of friendship. Valentine’s Day has always been a favorite day for me to spend in the classroom.

Kids know how to give some basic compliments, but as teachers we can really help them to up their game. There are some skills associated with giving focused and specific, meaningful compliments, and ways we can help students learn to compliment better. Giving compliments to others is one of the ways to build a better student all around, and reinforce kindness, collaboration, and appreciation throughout the year. I’d like to offer a few suggestions here on how you might keep that Valentine’s Day love going all year by spending a little class time on how to be an effective giver of compliments.

Topics for Complimenting

You may want to introduce this activity by discussing the meaning of compliments and suggesting some behaviors of others that might be noticed and complimented. These could include friendship, cooperation, use of a unique talent, consideration or encouragement of others.

Most kids think they know what a compliment is, and will tell you that they give compliments all the time. “Nice hat!” “I like your haircut.” “You’re lookin’ good today.” Many adults think that’s all there is to it too. My daughter’s kindergarten teacher once told me at the beginning of our very first parent teacher conference that I “always dress her so cute.” After that, she didn’t have anything nice or helpful to say about my child’s progress or ways I might support her at home. Neither focused nor specific, somewhat hurtful, and never forgotten. As a teacher myself, I knew there was so much more she could have told me, and so many nicer ways to say it.

An idea for getting started with your kids is to start a chart with compliments that they suggest. Take all suggestions and add them to your chart. Place a second blank chart next to the first one. As you discuss each compliment, ask if it is about something the person receiving it has done or achieved, or if it’s just a general and unfocused “nice thing” to say. Example: “You look great today!” It’s nice. I would say thanks and smile. Anyone probably would. But what if you raised the bar and added, “The way you choose colors really shows up in your art. I loved the painting you showed us this morning. The bright colors made me feel happy!” Nice, friendly, focused, specific. Refers to something the receiver can do or has done – something he/she can control.

One more example: “You’re a great friend.” Thanks. But how about: “You’re a great friend. I really appreciated it when you stood up for me on the bus this morning. You made me feel safe.”

Plan to come back to the blank chart the next day (or next session).

How to Compliment

Kids will need practice with formulating their compliments, and also with figuring out when to actually give a compliment. Someone who spends their entire day spouting compliments, sprinkling them everywhere, will come to be seen as insincere and strange. We need to save our compliments, value them, and dispense them with sincerity. They must be focused, specific, sincere, and deserved. On that second chart I that asked you to hang next to the one you filled with your students’ ideas of compliments, list “Topics for Compliments”. Friendship, cooperation, use of a unique talent, consideration or encouragement of others should be included. Ask your students for other ideas. Try, especially with younger students, to work on one compliment topic per week. When they become proficient complimenters, there will be a lifetime filled with opportunities to mix it up!

Chart #3: Topic at the top. Say Friendship, for example. Start by scaffolding the suggestions you receive and list examples of skillful complimenting. Go back to “You’re a great friend.” List some ways to make that more meaningful, focused, specific. Examples might be: “I liked the way you asked James to join our soccer game when he was standing by himself.” “I love being invited to your house after school. It’s fun to do homework with you. You make me laugh!” The trick to a good compliment is making it personal, meant just for the receiver! Your kids will get there. They were born to be masters of the compliment! They just need you to lead them along the path.

Practice with Verbal Compliments

This one will take some planning and practice at first. Ask each student to write a compliment that they think is a good one on an index card. Give them a little time to practice saying it. Mirrors might be helpful if you have them, or want to place one at a center for independent practice. Mirrors are not required, just a little independent work. Then come together with the whole class.

I love the icebreaker format of two concentric circles of kids to practice this one. Form two circles of equal membership, the outer facing in and the inner facing out. If you have an odd number of students, you will need to participate! Ask students to practice giving their compliment to the person facing, and to practice receiving a compliment from same person. Allow about two minutes before asking one circle to move to the left or right. (Just to get with a new partner.) Keep it going in the same direction at the intervals that work for you until all have spoken with everyone in the other circle.

Some tips to share with your kids on verbal complimenting:

  1. Smile (Not a huge and silly one, but a sincere one. This will take some refining at first. Kids usually way overdo this one on the first few tries!)
  2. Make eye contact. (Much easier said than done! Gets better with practice!)
  3. Use a natural tone of voice. Not too loud or soft. No mumbling. Sound like you mean it!

If you can arrange one center during choice time where it’s ok to talk a little, have a basket where kids can contribute compliment cards and practice using them with a partner. If the cards are submitted with no names on them, try having two sorting baskets where kids can sort according to how close  the compliment comes to the target requirements.

Practice with Written Compliments 

Here we are! The greeting card/Valentine’s Day kind of compliment! The main takeaway that I always want to leave my students with on this one is that this type of compliment is always better when you add something personal and heartfelt to it.

Start with brainstorming and write some compliments together. Talk about why they are great compliments and what makes them great. If they’re not so great, work on revising them. Although it’s certainly nice to receive compliments any day of the month, I recommend stopping once each month to write a compliment card. I would start with one card to write to one student for each member of your class.

Some ways to make sure that every child receives one of these cards each month:
  1. Have students select a random student name or number, and write just one card to that student,  anonymously or signed on the back.
  2. Write some yourself and have them handy.
  3. Elect a kindness squad as part of your classroom jobs and ask the members to deliver the cards each month and write extra notes to those who have been missed.
  4. Use a random drawing method so that every student name (or number) is covered.
  5. You collect the cards and check off your class list to make sure there is a card for each student. If anyone did not receive a compliment card, just add one to the mix, anonymously written by you. 

 For some easy to print and use compliment cards and posters with idea starters for your students, I hope you’ll take a look at Compliment Cards for the Whole School Year from Rainbow City Learning. For a free February page, just click below!

Wishing you a wonderful remainder of the school year, and a huge step along the road to building a better student and a more caring classroom community!  






Retta London is an award-winning, now retired, Michigan teacher. Her blog and TpT shop are both named for Rainbow City, the classroom community she shared with her third, fourth, and fifth grade students for many magical years. Retta has been a frequent presenter at local, state, and national conferences, and enjoys volunteering in her home district.

At Rainbow City Learning on TpT, you will find resources for upper elementary that are grounded in research and kid-approved. Rainbow City Learning offers creativity and fun served with rigor and attention to learning standards!


You can also connect with Retta on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram @rainbowcitylearning. 

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April Smith

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