Visualising Praise – A Verbal Framework

Part of the Visualising Education Blog Series

Over the years, I have learnt, to my expense, that praise is subjective to each student, so much so that praise can activate or deactivate a learner.  Worst still, for some learners it acts as an ignition point for conflict.  As with most teaching practices, it is critical to know your learners. Praise can be awarded (praise is a reward) directly (from teacher to student) or indirectly (from teacher to parent to student). Praise can be holistic (group or class) or personalised (unique to the individual student).  Praise can be intrinsic (internal to the learner) or extrinsic (external to the learner). Furthermore, praise can have a value or weight, presenting the idea of a praise taxonomy.  For example, which has more value a ‘gold star sticker’ or a ‘praise postcard home.’  Finally, praise can be used to remind and reinforce other students of what they should be or need to be doing at any given time (Behaviour For Learning).  For example:

Thank you Sam.  You are sitting quietly, waiting for me to start my lesson.  You have your pen and pencil out and your book open, which will help you to learn about Shakespeare in today’s lesson.

Praise has its roots in both the behaviourist approach and the cognitive approach to education (learning is shaped by internal and external factors) making references to conditional theories such as Pavlov’s (1927) Classical Conditioning Theory and Skinner (1943) Optional Conditional Theory.

Towards A Speaking Frame

It is very difficult to create a one size fits all framework for praise but there are four general steps:

  1. Acknowledge
  2. Identify
  3. State (Justify)
  4. Attribute


It is important to acknowledge who you are talking about.  For example, the whole school, the year group, the class, a learning group within the class or an individual student. For the individual student, you need to know if identifying them by name will deactivate them from learning or create an ignition point for conflict.


You need to identify the desired behaviour or the behaviour which you like (listening, waiting, writing, walking, using please and thank, putting their hand up). This may be linked to whole class targets (learning and behaviour) or individual learning targets (IBP, IEP, Statement). This is a critical stage in praise as it is important for the student to know what you are praising them for so that they can do it again.

State (Justify)

State why the behaviour was rewarded using a compound sentence (because).  I say using a compound sentence because it is not enough to highlight the behaviour, you also need to justify the behaviour, which in turn will give authenticity to the praise (reward).  Now, an issue here is the learning needs of the student and the appropriate expectations.  Is it reasonable to expect a student with ADHA to sit still and quietly for five minutes?  Is it reasonable to expect a dyslexia student to read a paragraph out loud to the whole class from a textbook?


Attributing success is identifying how the behaviour has helped them to achieve e.g. a higher grade, advanced their learning in some way or reflects their value as a person (promotes social, emotional, attitude). This is the part of verbal praise which is often left out.

In conclusion, I have suggested that Praise is a reward and that students respond differently to rewards, linking to behaviourist and cognitivist theory of reward. I then proposed a framework which can be used to develop verbal praise within the classroom.