Don’t Skimp on the Compliment.

Many teachers follow the research-decide-teach structure of conferring. These types of conferences are opportunities to provide explicit instruction targeted to the needs of one particular student/partnership. This is the go-to conference structure anytime we need to do on-the-spot conferring. First, we investigate so we can understand what the writer is doing, what their plans are for the piece of writing they’re working on, and how they’re working towards their writing goals. Next, we decide what to teach the writer so we can help the student become a “dramatically better writer” (Calkins, 2013, 75) by the end of the conference. Once we’ve decided upon one thing to compliment and one strategy for instruction, we teach the writer how to do something new. All of this happens in about five minutes!

Since time is short, it’s easy to gloss over the compliment. However, the compliment is critical to boosting a student’s self-confidence as a writer. It’s important to take the time to genuinely respond – often with emotion – to what the writer is doing well.

Way back in 2006, I heard Jennifer Serravallo say a good compliment should be equivalent to a paragraph of speech. During the compliment, teachers take the time to explicitly name a strategy they notice the child using. One might start a compliment with one of the following phrases:

  • I want to compliment you. Some people are doing ____, but you’re doing ____.
  • You’re doing really smart work as a writer. I see you…
  • I noticed the way you’re…

Here are some sample compliments you might give a writer or a writing partnership:


1_1 Conference Compliment

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peer conference compliment

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When I was trying to build my conferring skills, I often shifted from a compliment to a teaching point by uttering the word “but.” Thanks to some smart people pointing out that this negates the compliment one gave moments before, I monitored my language so in an effort to eradicate the word but as a transition word during my conferences. Instead, I memorized a couple of phrases that build beautifully on was said during the child’s compliment so it flows into the teaching point:

  • You’re already doing this work, so I want to give you another tip…
  • I think you’re ready for the next step…

Attachment-1Language like this helps build up something a student is trying to do so you can help that student excel.

There are many ways we can build-up young writers. One of the many ways is by delivering long and sincere compliments every time we confer with a student. What are some other phrases or ways you use to help build your students up as writers? Please share them by leaving a comment below.