How to Get Students Motivated with Encouragement Over Praise


Inside: Understanding how to get students motivated is essential for teachers. This post delves into effective motivational strategies for students that also embody positive classroom management.

I smiled encouragingly as Tina* (not her real name) showed me her completed math worksheet. “Great job, sweetie!” I said, giving her a high-five. She beamed proudly. She felt good. I felt good. It was good.

But the next day, sweet Tina was back to rushing through assignments and making careless mistakes. Again. I needed more than my praise to motivate any lasting effort or growth.

As I handed back Tina’s work, my heart sank. Her answers were hurried and sloppy, like yesterday and the day before. My praise had provided a quick burst of pride but did nothing to encourage real growth. There had to be a better way to motivate her. I couldn’t let Tina continue to slide by. I needed to find strategies to nurture lasting confidence in herself and her abilities.

Seeing Tina’s reaction made me think harder about how to get students motivated to work harder. Praise made her happy for a little while, but it didn’t help her want to keep trying or get better. I knew I had to try something different.

I needed to find motivational strategies for students like Tina that would make them feel good about their hard work, not just when they get things right. This made me look for better ways to encourage them, build more confidence, and keep them going. Let’s look at how changing from just saying “good job” to really encouraging students can make a big difference in how they see themselves and their work.

a teacher is working with a student, the text reads "How to Get Students Motivated with Encouragement Over Praise"

Praise- Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be

When we praise our students, we have the very best of intentions, of course. But the truth is- it has a few problems. Praise often focuses on a kid’s innate abilities (“You’re so smart!”) or their results (“Good job!”). It makes our approval seem like a reward, sticker, or prize. This can briefly make kids feel good but doesn’t provide lasting motivation.

In fact, overusing praise can promote a fixed mindset. Students may depend too much on our validation rather than building their confidence and drive. When praise emphasizes “being smart” or “doing well,” kids can become afraid to take risks or try challenging things.

a student is receiving a badge that reads "Smart Kid"

Instead of empowering students, overusing praise can reduce a student’s drive, making them depend too much on external approval. Since praise feels good temporarily, it often doesn’t motivate kids long-term.

Realizing the need for a shift in approach to how to get students motivated, I looked for motivational strategies for students that aligned with positive classroom management.

Shift from Praise to Encouragement

Encouragement, on the other hand, offers more meaningful motivation. While praise is generic (“Good job!”), encouragement gives specific feedback about what students did well. Praise looks at outcomes, while encouragement focuses on effort, progress, and strategies – nurturing a growth mindset.

Most importantly, encouragement builds lasting intrinsic motivation within students, unlike fleeting external praise. It develops abilities by recognizing that they can be strengthened through effort and perseverance.

a teacher is working on a puzzle with two students and is using encouragement to motivate them

TLDR- praise offers a quick self-esteem boost tied to results, while encouragement recognizes the learning process behind the results. Encouragement shows students their hard work and strategies make a real difference, fueling motivation beyond a single accomplishment. It’s a big part of truly positive classroom management.

How Encouragement Fuels Development

The key difference is that encouragement motivates real, lasting growth, while praise is temporary and superficial.

Encouragement, a core aspect of positive classroom management, is key how to get students motivated. It’s one of the most impactful motivational strategies for students, fostering deep, intrinsic motivation.

Encouragement recognizes the hard work and effort behind an outcome – not just the result. It focuses on the process students can control – their strategies, perseverance, and willingness to try. This gives students actionable feedback to apply to future learning.

a boy is writing on a paper at his desk

Encouragement builds students’ intrinsic motivation and growth mindset by emphasizing effort over results. It helps them believe their abilities can grow through hard work. Students are empowered to see challenges as chances to learn.

Unlike empty praise for being “smart,” encouragement provides purposeful motivation for progress. It inspires students to reach their potential.

How to Get Students Motivated: Practical Strategies

Changing your ways from offering praise to providing encouragement is going to take a little bit of work. 

But implementing practical motivational strategies for students is crucial to getting students motivated and ensuring positive classroom management. Here are strategies designed to encourage and motivate.

Set Collaborative Goals

Work together with students to establish goals and benchmarks. Recognize how they get closer to these targets with small wins. Celebrating incremental progress helps motivate students to keep trying.

a reading level progress chart to track students' growth

Display Growth Visibly

Use charts, graphs, or other visual tools to highlight long-term gains. Seeing concrete evidence of improvement, even if gradual, reinforces that learning is an ongoing journey.

If your school uses reading levels like GRL, DRA, or Lexile to measure student progress, be sure to check out my Student Led Data Tracking Sheets and Goal Setting bundle. It’s perfect for focusing students on progress over perfection and culturing a growth mindset!

Facilitate Peer Encouragement

During reflection, have students share positive feedback on each other’s strategies, persistence, or creative solutions. This peer validation builds classroom community and amplifies encouragement.

It just hits different when the feedback comes from a peer, not an adult.

two students are working on an assignment together

Foster Autonomy

Prompt self-reflection by having students evaluate their work and set goals. This builds intrinsic motivation and self-direction.

Track Growth

Highlight gains made over time, not just results. This reinforces that learning is an ongoing process, and progress is significant.

Encouraging Phrases to Start Inspiring Students NOW

Using specific encouraging phrases is an effective motivational strategy for students, a vital component of how to get students motivated, and an element of positive classroom management.

I’ve devised a list of phrases you can use to encourage your students today. Remember, the goal is to be specific. These goals are general, so you can adjust them and use them in different situations. Wherever you see vague words like “this” or “it,” replace them to fit the situation. For example, “You worked so hard on this.” -> “You worked so hard on this math problem!” Whenever possible, add language to keep it specific.

a teacher is teaching a class


  • “You worked so hard on this!”
  • “I see you tried a new way to do this.”
  • “You kept going even when it was tough.”
  • “I noticed you practicing this a lot.”
  • “You’re doing a great job paying attention and trying.”
  • “Wow, you looked at your work again to make it even better!”
  • “You’re asking excellent questions.”
  • “I see you’re thinking hard about this. You should feel proud of yourself.”
  • “You’re working hard to understand this.”
  • “You put so much effort into your drawing/writing/project!


  • “Look at how much you’ve learned!”
  • “I can tell you’re getting better at reading/writing/counting!”
  • “You know a lot more words now.”
  • “You solved that math problem easier than before!”
  • “Your handwriting is getting so much better!”
  • “You remembered what we learned yesterday.”
  • “Your drawing shows so much more detail now.”
  • “You’re getting really good at sharing your ideas!”
  • “You’re listening so well and learning a lot!”
  • “I can see you understand the stories better!”
a teacher is working with a small group of students


  • “You figured out a new way to solve it.”
  • “You didn’t give up and found an answer.”
  • “You used what we learned to fix the problem.”
  • “I like how you made a plan to solve it.”
  • “You asked for help when you needed it.”
  • “You tried different ways to find the best one.”
  • “You thought about it and made a good choice.”
  • “You worked together to solve it.”
  • “You kept trying until you got it right. That’s how we learn!”
  • “You remembered a rule that helped solve the problem!”


  • “You’re really good at sharing with your friends.”
  • “I love how you listen to your classmates’ ideas.”
  • “You help your friends. That’s very kind!”
  • “You and your friend worked out the problem together!”
  • “You’re great at taking turns.”
  • “I saw you helping. That was very thoughtful!”
  • “You made sure everyone in your group had a turn. Thank you!”
  • “You spoke nicely to your friends. That makes them happy!”
  • “You worked together and finished faster. That’s teamwork!”
  • “Everyone in your group did their part because you shared!”
a teacher is reading a book to a class on the rug


  • “You kept trying and didn’t quit.”
  • “Even when it was hard, you didn’t stop.”
  • “You tried again and did it.”
  • “You found a way to keep going.”
  • “You didn’t let a mistake stop you. That’s how you learn!”
  • “You chose to try one more time. That made the difference!”
  • “You’re learning not to give up. That’s very important!”
  • “When it didn’t work the first time, you tried another way!”
  • “You faced a big challenge and didn’t give up!”
  • “Every time you try, you get a little better. Keep it up!”


  • “You did it all by yourself today.”
  • “You made a good choice on your own.”
  • “You picked up without being asked. That’s very responsible!”
  • “You figured out your homework by yourself.”
  • “You decided to read a book when you finished early. Good thinking!”
  • “You cleaned up your space on your own. That’s very helpful!”
  • “You remembered to do your chore without a reminder. Wow!”
  • “You solved the problem without help. You’re getting independent!”
  • “You chose a good book to read by yourself. Nice choice!”
  • “You asked for help after trying it yourself.”
a teacher is reading a book with a young student


  • “Trying something new is brave.”
  • “You shared your idea, even though it was scary. That’s brave!”
  • “You tried even though you were unsure. That’s courageous!”
  • “You were not afraid to ask questions. That’s how we learn!”
  • “Trying a harder book/puzzle shows you’re brave.”
  • “You tried to make a new friend today.”
  • “You played a new game without knowing how.”
  • “You drew something new today.”
  • “You tried speaking in front of the class.”
  • “You tried a new way to do math. That’s exploring!”


  • “Your reading is getting better every day.”
  • “You’re writing more words now. Keep writing!”
  • “Your drawings have so many details now. Beautiful!”
  • “You’re adding bigger numbers. You’re growing!”
  • “You know your shapes/colors/letters much better now.”
  • “You’re getting faster at cleaning up. Thank you!”
  • “You’re asking outstanding questions. That’s learning!”
  • “You’re remembering to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.'”
  • “You can do more math problems now without help. Wow!”
  • “You’re getting better at following directions. Great listening!”
a teacher is reading a book with a young student

Peer Recognition:

  • “You said something nice about your friend’s work. That’s kind!”
  • “You noticed your friend was sad and helped. That’s caring!”
  • “You told your friend they did a good job. That’s sweet!”
  • “You helped your friend when they were stuck. That’s being a good friend!”
  • “You shared your snack with a friend. That’s generous!”
  • “You clapped for your friend when they finished. That’s supportive!”
  • “You helped a friend learn something new. That’s teaching!”
  • “You said ‘thank you’ to your friend for helping. That’s polite!”
  • “You told your friend their drawing was cool. That’s nice!”
  • “You helped a friend who fell. That’s being a great friend!”

Open-Ended Questions:

  • “How did you come up with that idea?”
  • “What was your favorite part of what we did today?”
  • “How did you feel when you figured it out?”
  • “What could we try next time to make it even better?”
  • “What did you learn from working with your friend?”
  • “What do you want to learn more about?”
  • “What was the hardest part, and how did you solve it?”
  • “How can we help each other learn better?”
  • “What would you like to try doing differently next time?”
  • “What was the most fun part of your project?”

Go Beyond Encouragement for Positive Classroom Management

I can’t say enough about the power of specific, effort-focused encouragement. By celebrating the process behind achievements, not just the result, we intrinsically motivate students to keep learning and growing. 💪

a young student is erasing chalk from a chalkboard

Another great way to build this growth mindset in students is by giving them classroom jobs. Assigning responsibilities that align with students’ strengths and interests is a profound act of encouragement. It sends our students the message: “I see you, I value you, and I trust you.” This trust and recognition can significantly boost students’ self-esteem and motivation.

A great first step is having students fill out job applications indicating their preferences. Download my free printable Classroom Job Application to get started! This practical resource is designed to help you assign classroom jobs in a way that acknowledges each of your students’ unique contributions and capabilities, helping you foster an environment of encouragement and support. 

For more on the power of classroom jobs, check out my blog post, “The Power of We: How Classroom Jobs Build a Stronger Community.” The benefits go far beyond just getting help with tasks. Classroom jobs set the stage for student growth, shared responsibility, and a positive culture.

a young student is holding a spray bottle and microfiber cloth and smiling

The key is recognizing that our students can accomplish more than we imagine with encouragement and opportunity. By focusing on progress over perfection, we empower kids to believe in themselves and the power of effort. Help them see their potential by recognizing small wins and providing specific praise for strategies—Foster collaborative contribution through classroom jobs. Guide students to focus on growth and give them chances to shine.

When students feel encouraged to try rather than afraid to fail, their confidence and abilities will soar beyond what even we might expect. 🌟

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Melissa Glenn

I’m a teacher, a certified Reading Specialist, and the author behind "Real Life in the Classroom". I love to create classroom resources and share ideas to help real teachers in real classrooms easily plan and implement instruction that they can feel great about.

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Hi, I'm Melissa!

I’m Melissa Glenn of Real Life in the Classroom. I live in New Jersey with my husband, Tom, our two children, and our dog, Klaus. I taught first grade for 12 years and I also have a certificate in Reading Specialization. I love spending time with my family, all things tech, [online] shopping, and new books!