As our graduates know, an important part of TtMadrid’s TEFL course involves positive reinforcement of their students; a process of continuous praise. This is one of the ways to ‘Lower the Affective Filter’, (one of the five hypothesis of Stephen Krashen’s monitor model) and it is recognized as one of the most important elements of second language acquisition. Some ways of praising students can be more effective than others, however.

“Teachers are often puzzled about what to do when students don’t make an effort to learn, or when they become discouraged by setbacks or material they perceive to be too difficult […] Research has clearly demonstrated that having the mindset that you are either smart or not smart has serious negative consequences for learning. Fortunately, one powerful way that you can intervene as a teacher is by being careful about how you give students praise. Offering praise for students’ work and efforts can alter this mindset so that students can begin to view their own intelligence as something that can be developed. This mindset of developing intelligence will increase students’ ability to “bounce back” in the face of academic setbacks and other difficulties.” American Psychological Association

According to the studies conducted by Dweck and her colleagues (e.g., Dweck, 2000; Dweck & Molden, 2005, Kamins & Dweck, 1999; Mueller & Dweck, 1998), students that believe that their successes and failures are based on their problem solving strategies and efforts have a more constructive outcome than those who give credit to characteristics that are unchangeable, like intelligence.

Here are the recommended do’s and don’ts for giving praise, according to this theory:


  • Notice students’ good efforts and strategies and praise them.
  • Be specific about the praised behaviors and reinforce this behavior with your feedback.
  • Use praise to link the outcomes of an assignment to students’ efforts.
  • Talk explicitly and in detail about the strategies a student has used. Comment on which strategies were helpful, and which were not.
  • Ask a student to explain his or her work to you.


  • Don’t offer praise for trivial accomplishments or weak efforts.
  • Don’t inflate praise, particularly for students with low self-esteem.
  • Don’t let a student feel ashamed of learning difficulties. Instead, treat each challenge as an opportunity for learning.
  • Don’t ever say, “You are so smart.” in response to good work. Instead, praise the work a student has done (e.g., “Your argument is very clear” or “Your homework is very accurate”).
  • Don’t comfort students following a failure by telling them that not everyone can be good at everything.

When these praise strategies are used, students seek challenges, apply more effort, set higher goals for themselves, look at failures as opportunities to learn, and learn more.

How a student deals with successes and failures is very powerful in predicting how they will face difficulties. A “growth” mindset leads to resilience and higher academic achievement, whereas a “fixed” mindset is tied to academic withdrawal and alienation leading to lower achievement.

To get some ideas on specific ways to praise your students, check out 100 expressions using praise which will motivate your students to learn with a “growth mindset”.

TtMadrid provides ongoing professional development training, including sessions on the psychology of teaching. A ‘Child Psychology 101” will be held this Saturday, December 12th, from 10:00 to 13:00 with qualified psychologist, Rae Smith. For more information, send an email to [email protected].