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Use Specific Language for Feedback and Praise

Found In: teaching strategies

Good Job. Way to go. Excellent. Hearing these words from their teachers may make students feel good, but they don’t let students know what they did well.

Instead, teachers should give students positive, specific feedback on the effort they’ve made and what they’ve accomplished. For example, “You were well prepared; it sure paid off.”

Specific Words

To encourage students, use words that describe rather than judge. “When possible, describe both the work and the process—and their relationship,” says Susan M. Brookhart, author of How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students. “Choose words that communicate respect for the student and the work.” Below are some examples:

  • Your topic sentence is clear and captures the reader’s attention.
  • Great solution. You used all the facts and came up with a clever new idea.
  • It looks like you did the steps out of order. Why don’t you try the exercise again?

Ongoing Progress

Teacher feedback allows students to understand their progress in learning the required skills. For example, I create a chart using the rubrics from the state and textbook curricula and regularly refer to it to provide feedback.

I make sure the students understand the language of the rubric and what it looks like in practice. Then the students and I rate their performance in measureable terms, and they can make adjustments to improve their skills.

Here are some ways we use the specific language of a writing rubric:

Student: “I wrote a powerful first sentence, but I forgot to indent and my thesis could use some work.”

Teacher: “Yes, you caught the attention of the reader. Good effort. Your claim sentence [the sentence in which you state the point you will prove in your paper] is missing some important parts. Use your prewriting chart and research you did and add one more item to your claim sentence. I would like to see you re-write your claim by the end of this hour. We will continue to work at this together.”

To involve students in providing feedback for each other, I say,

“Now turn to a table partner and exchange your research claim sentences. Look at the rubric and check for the three sections we are talking about. Make two suggestions to your partner on how his or her sentence can be made clearer. Use what I have taught you and your written rubric. Please accomplish this in 5 to 7 minutes.”

Teachers can reinforce or redirect student learning using feedback that is positive, specific, and reflects the progress students are making. Such feedback helps students know what they’ve accomplished and what their next goals are.


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About the Author

Naomi K. Poindexter has taught in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, public schools for 27 years, the first 15 as a teacher of learning disabled students and the last 12 as a language arts teacher. She earned her National Board Certification in Early Adolescence/English Language Arts Ages 11-15 years. She is currently in a doctoral program.


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