The Compliment Conference

Several weeks ago, I wrote my blog entry hoping to encourage teachers to jump right in and get their Reading and Writing Workshops’ routines and rhythms beating strong by getting straight to the heart-  conferring.  The week following that blog entry, I participated in an amazing and authentic professional development experience that was led by Barb Golub.  We all learned first-hand the power and efficiency of the compliment conference.

a5bd96da3f42e28c1fe1109d55bb9889 Leo buscaglia

The compliment conference gives new meaning and serves as an ideal example for the idiom, “bang for your buck.”  This 90 second conference has the power to transform Reading and Writing Workshop in the classroom.   It helps the teacher look at the child through a lens of strength, and sets a positive tone where students know their strengths are recognized.  Too often, teachers look at their students and notice all of their learning deficits.  The compliment conference can help to shift that paradigm. This in turn fosters an environment where students are willing to take risks.  We know that the only way to grow as learners is to be willing to take risks and to learn the fix-it strategies needed when we stumble.  Delivering targeted compliments encourages students to consistently use strategies that they are approximating or already able to do.  It allows the teacher to work with students more frequently and keep track of their progress.  It facilitates classroom management as the teacher is able to have a presence all over the classroom.  While doing that, the teacher can gather data that will help to determine topics for effective strategy groups. Last, but far from least, the compliment conference teaches students how to talk about their reading and writing and learn the language of a conference.


Compliment conferences can be effectively used with individual students, partnerships, or even book clubs.  You want to give targeted compliments that reinforce strategies.

  • Strategies for staying focused and engaged
  • Strategies that were previously taught.
  • Strategies students are beginning to approximate and use
  • Strategies for effective partnerships
  • Strategies that facilitate quality discussions

Wondering where to get some ideas of the different strategies to compliment?

reading resourcewriting resource

The structure of the compliment conference should feel comfortable and conversational.  You will research:

  • “Could you read aloud to me a little bit?”
  • “What are you working on as a reader/writer right now?”
  • “What are you thinking about as a reader/writer right now?”
  • “Could I take a look at your sticky notes?”
  • “Could I take a look at your reading/writing notebook?”
  • “I’m going to listen in on your discussion for a moment.”
  • “What are some of the questions that you have for your partner?”

Decide what strategy that they are using or approximating that you want to compliment.  Compliment a specific strategy and show the student/students specifically where they applied the strategy. Keep it student centered!  Barb Golub pointed out that our message to the student should be, “The compliment is not about how I think of you, it is about what you are doing.” Teachers need to avoid the phrase, “I like how you _________.” The following phrases help to make it all about the student:

  • “Can I give you a compliment?”
  • “I’m going to name what you just did.”
  • “I noticed that you. . .”
  • “Do you know what you just did?”
  • “I’m going to give you a compliment, are you ready?”

Tell students how the strategy can help them as readers/writers and provide a link to future use of the strategy. Barb Golub also reminded all of us to follow house guest rules, “Don’t overstay your welcome.”

Jennifer Serravallo has posted three excellent examples of compliment conferences on YouTube.

It is always the students that make us true believers in anything new that we try.  As we all went from classroom to classroom practicing compliment conferencing, there was a phenomena that occurred at all grade levels.  Many of us broke out in goose bumps, as we watched all of the students break out in smiles, sit taller in their chairs, and puff out their chests with pride.  The students felt validated and successful as readers and writers.  Success breeds success.  Lucy Calkins says to celebrate what you want repeated.  The compliment conference feels like a mini-celebration!  Celebrate your students with compliment conferences next week.  I wish you a reading and writing fantastic week filled with smiles and goose bumps!

~ Alice Terwege

sunshine( This is a 7 minute video worth your time that focuses on the power of compliments throughout your life and that of those you care about.  Enjoy! )


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