The giving and receiving of compliments is not always an easy skill to learn, let alone demonstrate. Our culture doesn’t place a lot of value on receiving kindness and help. It is often seen as weakness to accept  compliments, so we often deflect them.

I have done a lot of reading about compliments, the art of giving and receiving, and the fact that we, as individuals, can be divided into givers, takers and matchers (an even mix of the two, guided by an intrinsic sense of fairness). Adam Grant, a professor and TED presenter explains that givers and matchers often contribute to successful, positive work cultures, but that takers can essentially corrode a safe and encouraging culture from the inside out. He argues that in order to create the most ideal work conditions for our teams and organizations, we should weed out the takers. As this is not an option in schools, and I believe that often these “takers” have it within them to be givers and matchers, we have to find ways to teach giving and receiving. Compliment Circles are the perfect conduit for that lesson, and if you give space for the practice frequently enough, I believe that it can become an on-going habit thatbecomes ingrained within our students.Screen Shot 2017-11-21 at 6.23.04 AM

How I would teach it:

  1. This might be an activity you introduce at any grade in September as a routine that would become an on-going practice every couple of weeks or one-a-month. It’s really important to establish a culture of safety around kindness circles, so establishing clear expectations and procedures is essential. For ideas, check out the free posters from
  2. Have students sit on the floor with their legs stretched out in front of them in a circular formation.
  3. Start with a volunteer. Ask him/her to choose a classmate by stating his/her name audibly so everyone can hear. Next, the volunteer gives that student a compliment.
  4. The receiver of the compliment says “Thank you!” and to indicate that he/she has received a compliment, he/she sits in crossed-leg position.  This provides a clear visual of who still needs to receive a compliment.
  5. Keep going around the circle until everyone has had a turn.Screen Shot 2017-11-21 at 6.22.59 AM
  6. The first Compliment Circle may seem superficial, but it’s a good warm up for walking through the motions of giving and receiving compliments without attaching a lot of emotion or meaning to it. Start by asking students to complete the sentence, “I like your…” Asking students to be deeply vulnerable and genuine immediately, might backfire. Obviously, this depends on your group and age-range you’re working with. Keeping the activity light, short, and superficial to begin with gives you a foundation to build upon. (Check out the Compliment Circle Starters).
  7. Over time, graduate to giving compliments about abilities, characteristics, kind things students have done, and phase out any of the superficial compliments. Depending on the age of your students, by the 3rd or 4th circle, you may not need to provide sentence starters at all because students will have the frame of reference from which to pull.

Leave a comment below to share how you used and adapted this lesson for your classroom! I always get inspired by people’s stories and the things they do. You might just inspire someone today!

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