Beyond the Thankful Turkey: 10 Ways to Teach Gratitude All Year

Gratitude Turkey craft (box)Remember the last time you made a turkey out of a cardboard box, pasted colorful construction-paper feathers on the back, and filled the interior with slips of paper filled with grateful thoughts?

Maybe this was a school tradition when you were a kid. Or maybe it was just last week, in your own classroom.

Of course, you probably don’t need a cardboard turkey to teach students about gratitude. After all, Thanksgiving is just one day in 365—and gratitude is a great year-round gift for any class.

As to the benefits of gratitude in the classroom, consider this: anecdotal data suggest that students who practice gratitude are generally more engaged with, motivated by, and connected to learning in general.

Grateful students also feel more connected to their teacher and fellow classmates.

It’s also true that gratitude is a great gift to any overworked teacher. The more grateful your class, the happier everyone will feel, including you.

So if you want your students to show more thanks for what they have, take a look at the list below.

Reimagine the Gratitude Journal

A gratitude journal is still one of the best, time-tested ways to feel more grateful. Some teachers hand out small notebooks that students write in each day. But what about younger students who can’t read or write with confidence? Maybe it’s time to reimagine the traditional gratitude journal and try something new.

  1. Regardless of their age, most children enjoy an occasional show and tell. Assign your class to bring something they are thankful for to class (ask each student to tell you ahead of time what they want to bring, so you can approve each item ahead of time).
  2. If you have a class social media account, ask children to find a scene in nature that inspires gratitude. Parents can then post the photo on your class’s Twitter feed or Facebook page. You can assign different gratitude categories every month or whenever you prefer.
  3. Make a class gratitude video. Record the audio separately so you can have children say what they are grateful for. Include drawings, objects, or scenery that visualize the gratitude list.
  4. Poll your class informally about what they’re grateful for on a given day. Afterward, you can post the list on social media or your blog. If your class follows a blended learning model, this kind of activity can also help students practice good digital citizenship.

Serve the Community

Every community has needs, large and small. While your classroom may not be able to offer large-scale assistance, you can still organize class projects to help others in your community and build your students’ gratitude for things they may take for granted. Here are a few ideas to try:

  1. Collect food for your area food bank. Most communities have food banks that need donations all year. Even one can of soup or tuna per child can go a long way toward helping those who are hungry. More importantly, this activity helps foster a giving, grateful attitude. However, be sensitive to your own students’ needs. Some students may not have resources to donate.
  2. Prepare one or two no-sew fleece blankets as a class, and then donate them to a local center for women and children, or to another shelter in your area. You can also donate to Project Linus.
  3. Do your students’ families have DVDs they no longer use? Collect them for use at area hospitals or libraries.
  4. Build consideration for the homeless by creating snack packs that contain items such as apples, protein bars, granola, or other portable food items.
  5. Talk to the children about a local cause that may interest them. If appropriate, help them write a letter about this cause. Send the letter to your mayor or city council. Invite a city representative to talk to your class at a later date, if possible.
  6. Older students might hold a service scavenger hunt instead of a more typical field trip. For example, your class could leave uplifting quotes or messages on a few car windshields, or pick up trash at the edge of the city park. Another item on the list might be to wash a few windshields at the local gas station or gather a few stray shopping carts that are far away from a store. Offer treats at the end of the activity.

By following just one—or several—of the above activities, you actively help your class members feel more gratitude. You also build stronger relationships with each other. And that’s something everyone can be grateful for.


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