INTRODUCTION: I am a counselor and instructor at a community college with a substantial immigrant and ESL population. The 17 students in my On Course class are also enrolled in a high-level ESL reading class plus a developmental English class linked with my class in a learning community. We have a wonderfully diverse group, ranging in age from 18 to 43, all interested in both improving their English and their success skills. Many of our students feel some degree of uncertainty about their ability to be successful students. Appreciation is a powerful tool that can lift spirits, contribute to self-esteem, improve performance and morale, and build a sense of relatedness and team spirit in our classrooms. Appreciation can go a long way to contradict the “Inner Critic” voice with which many of our students live.

PURPOSE: To give students the experience of both giving and receiving appreciation.


  • One sheet of 8 ½” by 11” paper for each student

  • Colored marker pens

  • Student journals

  • If possible, arrange chairs in a circle

  • A whiteboard or easel pad

Some thought needs to be given to when in the semester this exercise will be used. After they have been together for a number of weeks, students will know more about each other and will be able to share more meaningful appreciations. To save time and keep things moving, a large class can be divided into groups of 7 or 8 students, which will still provide each student with a sufficient number of appreciations to have an impact.


1. Begin by requesting definitions of “appreciation” and ask for examples. I make sure students understand that the best appreciations come from the heart and are sincere, and that appreciations should be completely positive, without qualifications. I record examples of appreciations and compliments: You have a beautiful smile…. You write well… You are smart…I appreciate that you share lots of good ideas in class….

2. Continue introducing students to the concept of “appreciation.” I point out that appreciation is used widely in many settings, including the world of work, the home and in school. When done well, appreciation helps people function more effectively and feel more confident. It helps foster a sense of collaboration, of being “for” one another. I then speak briefly about the embarrassment people sometimes feel when they receive appreciation and compliments, which can lead them to minimize or even reject the compliment. “Oh, it wasn’t that great…. I made a lot of mistakes on my paper…. I don’t like my haircut that much….” I suggest a better approach is to accept the appreciation, let it in, and own it. It is another way we can be kind to ourselves and affirm our own worth, plus it makes others feel good to have us accept their appreciation. I then write some sentence stems on the board or easel pad, such as, “Something I appreciate about you is…. Something I like about you is…. I think you are very good at ….”

3. Ask students to write their names clearly across the top of their sheet of paper, using a colored marker pen.

4. Continue with these directions: “Everyone pass your sheet of paper to the person on your left. When you receive a sheet of paper from your neighbor, write down something you appreciate or admire about that person. When you finish, pass the page to the student on your left, and continue by writing down what you appreciate about the student whose page you receive next. Continue writing comments and passing sheets to your left until you end up with your own page.” (This means that each student will have as many appreciations written on his/her sheet as there are students in the class or in their group.)

5. When everyone has his/her sheet back with appreciations, continue, “We will now go around the circle several times, and each time read aloud one of the appreciations written about you. Please read it in the first person, claiming it as true for you, and say it proudly. For example, if another student wrote, ‘You are very intelligent and have good ideas,’ you would say proudly, ‘I am very intelligent, and I have good ideas.’”

6. “Please take your journals and write for several minutes about how you felt reading what your classmates appreciate and like about you. Were you pleased? Nervous? Happy? Embarrassed? What is the life lesson here for you?”

7. Lead a discussion to draw out the lessons available. “I would like to hear about your experience of giving and receiving appreciations and what you learned.”

OUTCOMES/EXPERIENCES: Students in my class understood the process with very little coaching, and seemed to enjoy thinking about and writing down what they appreciated about each other. The time spent ahead of time having students come up with examples of compliments and appreciations helped the process flow smoothly, I believe. Also, as students read what others had written, it gave them further ideas.

There was a little hesitation or shyness on the part of the first few students about reading the compliments aloud, but as we continued around the circle that disappeared, and the smiles on faces seemed to indicate students enjoyed the exercise. I made sure students read the remarks in the first person, as if it were true for them, with a tone of pride.

I don’t know how students chose which compliments to read, but they had a large number from which to choose. I imagine they chose remarks that seemed most true, or that they felt comfortable reading aloud. Students generally listened attentively to the student reading their appreciation. One advantage of sitting in a circle is that everyone could focus his or her attention on the student whose turn it was.

I’m glad I asked students to write about how they felt and what they learned from reading comments from their fellow students. If I hadn’t, I don’t think I would have realized how much impact the positive comments had on them. Here are some representative comments written in their journals. (These are ESL students, and I have not edited their grammar):

  • When I read the positive words about me, I felt very happy and grateful.

  • At first, I was surprised when I read the positive list which my classmates wrote about me. Then I was very happy because people said many nice things like that. I love my life more! 

  • Almost all of my classmates see me as a beautiful girl. I like it but I also want them to see me as a friendly and hard-working student…. It makes me feel I’m not thoughtful and intellectual. Maybe I should change the way I act.

  • I felt happy when reading what my classmates wrote about me. I appreciated them for seeing what I am – which I don’t think my family can see. 

  • When I heard these positive things about myself, I felt proud and confident. I really like myself. I start thinking that I have something positive that others like but I never pay attention toward it. 

  • I really like my compliments. I don’t know my positive things till I read them. I came to know what I am after reading them. I understand what others are thinking about me, and what is my value in the public.

  • I feel very good when I read about the compliments that people wrote about me….It brings me to have more confidence to live the way who I am.

  • When I read all these comments people wrote about me it makes me feel that I can have more friends in the future being the way I am.

LESSONS LEARNED: I realize once again how starved many of us are for appreciation and acknowledgement. We (teachers and students) are often much more aware of our faults than our strengths. Reading and repeating what others admire and like about us can help undo the web of self-criticism that can ensnare us and hold us back from success. Owning the compliment can be tough, as we have grown much more used to the voice of the Inner Critic than to the Inner Guide. I find myself thinking about the faculty and staff that I work with day to day. Do they know how much I appreciate their work?

Harvey Jackins, founder of Re-evaluation Counseling, wrote about the power of self-appreciation in healing old injuries to our self-esteem. This present exercise is easier for most students to do, as they are reading positive comments that others have written. Should a teacher wish to go further in enhancing students’ self-esteem, a good next step could be to have students write a list of 8 or 10 things they appreciate about themselves, and read the statements aloud, proudly, in small groups.

Educators know that students learn and perform better when they feel good about themselves and their abilities. This exercise is a tool we can use to assist students in being more effective, inside and outside of our classrooms. For instructors using On Course as their text, this exercise would go well with Chapter 4 (Interdependence), Chapter 5 (Self-Awareness), or any of the activities throughout the book related to Believing in Oneself.

–Ray Charland, Counselor, Mission College, CA

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