Teaching Compliments to Build Empathy 

By Laura Driscoll
Read Time:  min
Create a culture of kindness and empathy.

This winter, focus on giving and receiving compliments. Genuine compliments can be a great way to build a positive classroom culture. When students learn to give and accept compliments, they also build empathy. Teaching compliments is an easy way to create a positive community.

Giving Compliments

Start by defining what a compliment is.

A compliment is something nice we say to someone else.

Try to steer students away from compliments about physical appearance and give them some guidelines so they can check theirs. I like them to check that their compliments are true, specific, and positive

Try these activities to help students give better compliments:

  • Sort good and not so good compliments.
  • Brainstorm compliments you could give.
  • Give compliments to a fictional character.
  • Reflect on how compliments make others feel.

Accepting Compliments

Often, students struggle to accept compliments. I know that I do, too! We often deflect compliments,

Oh, it was nothing.

Or reject compliments.

You should get your eyes checked if you think my project is good.
teaching students to learn to accept compliments by recognizing not so great responses.

It can help students to know these are common responses. Compliments can make us feel awkward. We can struggle to believe the compliment is true. When students don't accept a compliment, teach students to call each other out by saying, "Accept, don't deflect or reject." 🙂

Have students reflect on how it feels when someone deflects or rejects your compliment. It can help students see the importance of accepting compliments.

To learn how to accept compliments, I have students:

  • Rewrite could have been better responses.
  • Sort great and not so great responses. 
  • Use sentence stems until they are comfortable.
  • Remember that sometimes, a simple thank you will do just fine.

Download a set of free compliment sentence stems.

Compliment Activities


I love this activity in the winter! Students get a set of mittens and write a compliment to another student on it. You can then create a simple bulletin board with all the complimittens the students created.

Compliment Circle

Students sit on the floor in a circle with their legs outstretched. Students take a turn giving a compliment to someone else in the circle. When a student receives a compliment, they sit crisscross. It continues until all students have received a compliment. It is a great way to end a morning or end-of-the-day meeting.

Compliment Web

Students sit or stand in a circle. One student starts with a ball of string. They choose someone across the circle from them and compliment them. They pass the ball of string to that person, holding on to the end of the string. The following student does the same but holds onto the string while unraveling enough to reach the next student. It may be helpful for the teacher to help with passing the string and improving compliments to match instruction.

Helpful Resources

giving compliments activity and lesson

Giving Compliments Lesson and Activities

In this lesson, students will understand what giving compliments should look like and what it shouldn't look like. The lesson provides scaffolded instruction, practice activities, and opportunities for reflection. 

Complimitten Activity for Winter SEL Activity

Complimittens Activity and Bulletin Board

This winter-themed activity helps elementary school students practice giving compliments. It includes a simple activity, teaching slides, and bulletin board materials for display.

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I’m a school psychologist who left her office (closet?) and got busy turning a decade of experience into ready to use counseling and SEL resources.

I live in New York City with my adventurous husband and relaxed to the max daughter who’ve grown to appreciate my love of a good checklist.

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