Strategy: Using Behavior-specific Praise

Check-Up Menu > Using Behavior-specific Praise
Praise is a very simple and viable tool you already have in your toolbox that can help promote successful student behaviors in your classroom. The behaviors that you give attention to will increase. Therefore, finding ways to provide attention to effective and positive behaviors that you observe from students will increase the likelihood that students will display those desired behaviors in the future. Not only can behavior-specific praise increase positive behaviors, but it can also improve teacher-student relationships. Effective communication is key in providing effective behavior-specific praise and increasing the positive behaviors that you want to see in your classroom.
Using effective behavior-specific praise frequently helps to inform students of what successful classroom behaviors are while providing positive attention to those students who demonstrate these effective classroom behaviors. You will see more of the behaviors you pay attention to in your classroom.
How Using Behavior-specific Praise Connects to CARES
Behavior-specific praise is one way that teachers can effectively communicate with students from all backgrounds. Recall a time when someone genuinely praised you for something you did. Recall the positive emotions that you experienced. You likely felt appreciated and you probably continued to engage in that behavior and maybe even improved it. When you provide behavior-specific praise to your students, they will feel that same sense of pride and will feel that their teacher notices and values them. In addition to effectively communicating with students, by using behavior-specific praise, you will also be deepening authentic relationships with your students. Remember that positive teacher-student relationships can be especially important for students from diverse backgrounds. Most people like to receive attention and some students, often some of the most challenging students, will seek attention in negative ways. Providing behavior-specific praise is a tool that you can use to preemptively provide positive attention to students who need it. Perhaps the most important part of providing behavior-specific praise is to make sure that the praise is genuine and also that you provide it in a way that is most appreciated by the student. Knowing your students will help you to determine when or if to provide public praise or private praise to each student.
Some elements to effective praise include:
1) The praise happens immediately after the expected behavior occurs—contingent on the behavior.
2) The praise is behavior specific. Explicit feedback is provided about what the student is doing and which student or students have displayed the behavior. For example, “Jale’t, great job lining up quietly!”
3) The praise is authentic. In other words, when you provide the praise, you really mean it and it is not given for something that is not very important or valued.

How To

How to Increase Your Use of Behavior-specific Praise
One way to increase your use of behavior-specific praise is to first think of behaviors that you would like to see less of in your classroom. Sounds backward, right? In fact, giving attention to the opposite of unwanted behaviors is proactive. Using behavior-specific praise will make it less likely students will display the unwanted behaviors in the future.
  • First, identify any behaviors you want to see less of in your classroom (e.g., noncompliance, not completing work, calling out).
  • Next, identify the opposite of this problem behavior (e.g., following directions the first time, completing work in a timely manner, raising hand to be acknowledged).
  • Next, develop behavior-specific praise statements you can use to “catch” students when they are displaying the behavior you want to see more of (e.g., “Thank you for following directions the first time.” “Great job getting right to work and finishing all the problems!” “Thank you for raising your hand.”). Remember to include the who and the what of the behavior-specific praise.
  • Keep in mind that your pre-developed behavior-specific praise statements are just a starting point. You can praise any positive behavior that you see in your classroom.
  • You can praise individual students or groups of students, or you can prompt students to praise each other (e.g., let’s all give Jody two snaps for safely completing that science experiment).

Example Videos:

Whole Class Compliment

Video Prompts: 

  • In this video, you will see a teacher using several strategies, including providing behavior-specific praise.
  • Notice how she uses both individual and group opportunities to respond (see Increasing Opportunities to Respond).
  • Listen for when the teacher says, “Let’s give Bailey a big hand for doing such a good job,” prompting the whole class to compliment a student.
  • Lastly, notice how she uses behavior-specific praise (“I like the way people are raising their hands.“) to let students know it is important to raise their hands to answer. She is noticing the behavior she wants to see rather than pointing out the instances of students not raising their hands.
  • What did you like about how this teacher used praise in her classroom?
  • How do you think Bailey felt when her class recognized her good work?
  • How might you incorporate some of what you saw in this video into your daily teaching?
Calling on Student

Video Prompts: 

  • Watch how this teacher uses behavior-specific praise when calling on a student to answer a question.
  • How does using behavior-specific praise make it clear to students what the expectation is at that time?
Learner Look

Video Prompts: 

  • Listen for the behavior-specific praise statement, “I like how Brooke is ready to go with her learner look.”
  • Notice how this teacher provides feedback to the students who are demonstrating they are ready by having a “learner look.”
  • The “learner look” would be taught to the students by the teacher prior to use.
  • How can using behavior-specific praise help get students not ready to get on task more quickly?
  • What did you like about how the teacher used behavior-specific praise?
  • How do you think it made that student feel?
  • How might other students respond after hearing the teacher?
  • How might you use this strategy in your classroom?

Strategy Tool

Using Behavior-specific Praise - Strategy Tool
Use the Catching Students Being Good strategy tool to help you increase your use of behavior-specific praise.


Using Behavior-specific Praise - Reflection
Take a moment to reflect on if your plan is going to work.

Goal Setting

Using Behavior-specific Praise - Goal Setting
Use the following form to set your behavior-specific praise goals.

References to Other Relevant Resources:

Good, T. & Brophy, J. (2003). Looking in classrooms. (9th edition). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Rathvon, N. (1999). Effective school interventions: Strategies for enhancing academic achievement and social competence. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Reinke, W. M., Herman, K. C., & Sprick, R. (2011). Motivational interviewing for effective classroom management: The classroom check-up. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Sprick, R., Knight, J., Reinke, W., Skyles, T., & Barnes, L. (2010). Coaching classroom management: Strategies & tools for administrators and coaches. Eugene, OR: Pacific Northwest Publishing.

Stormont, M., & Reinke, W. M. (2009). The importance of precorrection and behavior-specific praise strategies. Beyond Behavior, 18, 26-32.


Concentration Areas: Connection to the Curriculum; Authentic Relationships; Reflective Thinking About Cultural, Racial/Ethnic, and Class Differences; Effective Communication; Sensitivity to Students’ Culture

What is CARES?

CARES is an acronym for the five domains that research has found to be successful in engaging students of culturally diverse backgrounds at school. Each letter refers to a significant element of interaction within the classroom. Applying all five domains of CARES works because it promotes a better understanding of students and ourselves by using strategies that deepen those relationships every day.

There is no single element that works independently of the others. All five CARES domains, together with the Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate elements, support one another and need to be applied in the classroom to be successful.

Why is it important?

Research has shown that each of the five CARES domains has a significant impact on students and their behavior when used regularly and over time. Students who are known and understood by their teachers as individuals in the classroom report deeper connections academically and to their school. When teachers understand their own cultural heritage, they better understand the differences between themselves and their students and report higher levels of mutual respect with students. This also helps teachers to recognize the similarities they share with their students as well as recognize ways in which they are different. Students are more connected and engaged in classrooms where teachers welcome exploration; invite, acknowledge, and celebrate cultural differences; make relevant connections to the curriculum; listen attentively to understand how each student is approaching the concepts; and use humor and other effective communication tools.

Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate

Concentration Areas: Smooth Transitions, Pacing of Instruction, Student Engagement, Clear Expectations, Use of Praise, Use of Reprimands, Level of Disruptive Behavior

What is Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate?

Positive Behavior Supports refers to the proactive ways that teachers work with their students, as well as the ways that teachers respond to challenging situations with students. The focus is on recognizing and affirming student strengths rather than punishing them or taking something away from them. A positive approach to the classroom will promote a classroom climate that is welcoming to all students and is a place where students want to engage with the teacher, each other, and the curriculum. All individuals, students and teachers, and the interactions between and amongst all classroom members play a role in the climate.

There is no single element that works independently of the others. All Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate elements, together with the CARES domains, support one another and need to be applied to the classroom to be successful.

Why is it important?

In a classroom climate that is positive and welcoming to all members, the classroom becomes a safe place where culture and diversity can be openly discussed. A supportive climate is one that promotes student engagement and success. Students feel supported and motivated to be an active member of the classroom community. The teacher taking a positive and proactive approach creates a climate of care and respect and promotes desired student behaviors. This classroom is also a place that provides consistency to students, which is especially important for students who may experience stress and uncertainty outside of the school building. Teachers who have positive and proactive classrooms report fewer disruptive behaviors from their students, an increase in student achievement, and better overall perceptions of school climate.

Using Behavior-specific Praise

CARES Overview

Greeting Students at the Door

Using Journals to Build Relationships

Identifying Reinforcers for the Classroom

Using Social and Emotional Coaching

Using Active Supervision

Using Group Contingencies

Using Precorrection

Teaching Behavior Expectations

Providing Academic Feedback

Increasing Opportunities to Respond

Developing and Using Clear Academic Objectives

Posting and Using a Schedule

Coaching Process – Menu of Options

Coaching Process – Providing Feedback

Coaching Process – Introduction and Overview

Observation Practice 4

Observation Practice 3

Observation Practice 2

Observation Practice 1

Using an Attention Signal

Teaching Classroom Routines

Physical Classroom Structure

Values Card Sort – Example

Card Sort Introduction

Coaching – Interview Guide

Opening the Meeting

Defining and Teaching Classroom Rules

Mrs. James

Miss Faber

Double Check Classroom Check-Up Overview