Sweet Words: A Compliment Activity for Valentine’s Day

Say Nice Things - Give ComplimentsIn high school, we had “Data Match”… a school fundraiser that filled the hallways with chatter in the first two weeks of February. My friends and I eagerly filled out personality surveys and crossed our fingers that our not-so-secret crush would be on our “list.” In homeroom on Valentine’s Day morning, we were delivered our computerized matches in the form of a perforated document, and high school romances bloomed.

In college, my roommates and I purchased a “serenade” from The Heightsman… the all-male acapella group at Boston College. They showed up in our dorm suite, sang love songs, and handed us roses (pre-Bachelor days!). We thought we would just melt at the sound of their voices.

Years later, in my own 5th grade classroom, I take the opportunity each Valentine’s Day to do an activity I learned back during my Boston College days when I was student teaching with Missy Costello in Newton, Massachusetts. It’s something so simple, yet has been a highlight of each school year.

In the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, we discuss “compliments” during our Morning Meeting. I teach the children that a compliment is something true, specific, and kind. Using Interactive Modeling, I demonstrate how a person gives and receives a compliment. We discuss the importance of not “shaking off” kind words from another person — as if we don’t deserve them — but rather, how you smile, and say “thank you.” We practice giving compliments about a person’s attitude, behaviors, and personalities versus their physical appearance.

Then, I explain the activity:

  • Each child receives a class list.  
  • Write a compliment for every single classmate and your teachers (if I have instructional aides working in my room, I make sure to include them on the list).
  • The compliments are anonymous; only I know who wrote each one.
  • I then compile the compliments in a typed document for each child, print them on “fancy” paper, and laminate them (because everything looks nicer once it’s laminated).

I love this activity.

First, I am always amazed at how my students see one another and honored to have a chance to look through their lens.

Second, there is always a student who asks, “What if I don’t have a compliment for a classmate?” My response, “Observe that classmate over the next couple of days, and find something.” They always do.

Third, it teaches kindness. How to both give and receive kindness from others. It reminds my students that they are a valued member of our classroom community and that their individuality is appreciated by others.

On Valentine’s Day, before the exchange of sugar and cards, my students receive their compliments. I tell them to keep this in a safe place, so that if they’re ever having a bad day, they can pull it out and be reminded of all the good others see in them.

She looked up at me through her silver rimmed glasses, blond hair pulled back out of her face, and a smile spread across her face.”

A few years ago on Valentine’s Day, one student, a child who struggled socially, sat there reading her compliments. As I walked around the room, I stopped at her desk. She looked up at me through her silver rimmed glasses, blond hair pulled back out of her face, and a smile spread across her face. She said, “My classmates really like me. I never knew that.” The joy she received from those compliments was palpable.

Say Nice Things - Students Give ComplimentsValentine’s Day may be a Hallmark holiday, but I’ll take any excuse to find a way to teach my students the importance of kindness. Sometimes, during the chaos of our everyday school lives, between dealing with changes in the schedule, issues from the lunchroom, and just trying to, you know, teach curriculum, I miss opportunities to teach kindness, so it’s helpful to have a structured activity to remind me of its value.

I encourage you to take on the “compliment” activity — and it’s not too late. Make it about Leprechauns’ and Saint Patrick’s Day…Or maybe you don’t need a holiday at all because kindness is good for the soul. It lifts people up, and makes people happy.

Oh, and one last thing – happy people, they’re more likely to want to learn (just in case you needed an academic reason).