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22 Powerful Alternatives to “You’re Smart!”

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Much has been written about the detriments of praise in recent years, particularly the kind that focuses on inherent intelligence.

It was Carol Dweck who inspired me to consider the unintended consequences of over-celebrating my students’ smarts, and as this conversation continues within and beyond the field of education, everyone seems to be a bit more sensitive when it comes to reinforcing learners; some are even throwing out the old, “you’re smart” compliment.

Wondering how you can motivate and inspire in ways that build confidence, stamina, and perseverance? Take a few of these statements for a test drive.

22 Alternatives to “You’re Smart!”

1. I know you’ve been working hard to improve x, and this is where I see you succeeding.

2. I remember how overwhelmed you seemed by y. Tell me what you did to overcome the hurdles you faced. You’re inspiring me.

3. I wouldn’t have thought to use that approach. You really know how to think outside of the box.

4. Wow, that was brave. Your willingness to take a risk there really paid off.

5. That must have been a hard choice to make. You have a lot of integrity.

6. You should share that idea with Luke. He would really appreciate learning this from you.

7. Your patience is a real gift. It will continue to serve you well as a learner.

8. You are one of the most reflective learners I know.

9. That problem was really tricky to solve. I like how you tinkered around with a bunch of approaches before you settled on one.

10. When you gave a Mike feedback on his work, you framed it so respectfully. I like how you referenced his work specifically, too. This takes real skill. I can tell you’ve been thoughtful here.

11. I know that situation must have left you feeling very frustrated. I’m impressed by how well you managed your emotions.

12. You’ve become quite a role model for others. Your classmates are looking up to you because ___________.

13. I admire the time you invested in learning y.

14. You truly know how to practice active listening.

15. I recognize how deeply you’ve revised your thinking and your work here. That shows how much you’ve learned.

16. It takes a real leader to do what you just did. I know others are inspired by your actions.

17. Thank you for recognizing Daniel’s point of view. I sense that you might disagree with him, yet you did an excellent job of putting your biases aside in order to hear him out.

18. You are so detail-oriented. I can always tell which pieces are yours.

19. Your voice comes through loud and clear in this piece.

20. You’ve really mastered x. Will you share your process with the rest of the class so we might learn from you?

21. You are so tenacious. That perseverance is really paying off.

22. I was listening in on your exchange with Jennifer. You know just how to encourage people.

This list is meant to be illustrative, not exhaustive. I’m wondering: what would you add? Please share your ideas in the comments section.

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.

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