Teaching Tip: Notice the Good by Naming the Behavior

“Great job!” “Awesome!” “You are amazing!”

Don’t you like to hear those words when you’re working hard? I know I do. I definitely know children do. And all of us teachers wouldn’t be working for VIPKID or having repeat students if we weren’t giving them encouragement each and every class. So I’m pretty sure I don’t need to encourage you to encourage more. You’re already doing it and I say to you, “you are amazing!”

But let me tell you where we might be falling short. My husband is a Cognitive Behavior Therapy Coach. He helps caregivers guide children who might not be exhibiting desired behaviors. One of the most important steps in the process is, you guessed it, noticing the good.

By Teacher Beth Ann


“But I’m already noticing the good. I said my student was awesome!“

Yes, you are giving great positive reinforcement. However, I’m suggesting we notice the good in a very specific way…by naming the behavior.

Here’s an example: You have a student who gives one word answers. You use TPR and encouragement and much explanation and do everything but stand on your head and finally they repeat a complete sentence. Instead of just saying, “great job”, tell them, “great sentence!” Give a big thumbs up, high fives, throw some teeth in that reward system mouth. Make a big deal of it and be sure the main message is “great sentence!”

Say you have a student who is particularly active and unfocused, perhaps he/she is doing other activities while you are teaching. Do something to get their attention; blow on a horn, pull out a puppet, make a ridiculous face, sing your favorite Justin Bieber song at the top of your lungs. Once they are looking at you tell them, “great job listening!” Give a big thumbs up, high fives, feed that reward monkey a bunch of bananas. Make a big deal of it and once again be sure the message is they did a great job because they listened.

This seems like a little thing but it is so effective. I use it with my own children. If I ask my kids to clean up their room and they do it right away, I first pick myself up off the floor from the shock of it all, then I say, “great job listening to me the first time.”

Yes, it was wonderful that they cleaned their room. It was also great that they listened. But, even more importantly, they listened the first time which is the ultimate desired behavior I want to see.

With particularly difficult students set them up for success by finding a simple thing to notice. When my student is looking anywhere but at their computer screen I pull out my trusty harmonica, which I can’t play by the way, and I wail on it as loud as I can. Every student stops and looks at me. Then I say and mime,  “great job looking at Teacher!” It is a baby step on the way to an actively listening and positively participating student.

If you have a lower level English student it can be tricky to notice the good and have them understand. I would suggest trying your best during class and then notice the good and name the behavior in the feedback section for their parents to read and hopefully relay.

Behavior change doesn’t happen overnight but as we all know, with practice and repetition it can happen.

To all you wonderful teachers, great job enriching young lives! See what I did there 😉 ?

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