As Thanksgiving rolls around each November, teachers and parents look for ways to instill an attitude of gratitude in children and students. Studies show that when children practice expressing gratitude, they have higher levels of optimism, increased life satisfaction, and decreased negative feelings. Additionally, children who regularly express gratitude appreciate close relationships and feel better about life and school.
To help teachers create a culture of thanksgiving in their classrooms, we've compiled a list of eleven fun, gratitude-focused activities to do with students.
1. Alphabet gratitude
Have your students write out each letter of the alphabet and try to come up with at least one item they are grateful for under each letter. For example, A might be “air” and B might be “bed.” To extend this activity, students can choose a few words from their list to write a poem or short story about Thanksgiving.
2. Gratitude journal
Have your students create a journal from stapled paper (or bring in a blank notebook from home) for a gratitude journal. Take five minutes in class every day to have your students write down 3–5 things they are grateful for. Teach them to be specific. For example, instead of writing, “I’m thankful for my family” they might write, “I’m thankful that my mom packed me a peanut butter sandwich in my lunch today.” Challenge them to think for one minute about what they will write before they start writing. You might even ask a handful of students each day to voluntarily share one item from their list with the class.
3. Gratitude collage
Using old magazines and newspapers, have students cut out and glue pictures of items they are grateful for on a piece of cardstock. This can include pictures of animals, the world, people, food, homes, and musical instruments—anything they would like. Have students display their collages in the classroom. Encourage any students who feel comfortable to share at least one item from their collage with the class.
4. Classroom gratitude jar
All you need is an empty jar, strips of paper, and writing utensils for each student. As part of your class morning routine, have students write down something specific they are grateful for on a strip of paper and put it in the jar. When you have free time—maybe after lunch or near the end of the day—have students come up and read items from the jar.
5. Circle of gratitude
Have your students sit in a circle. Ask one student to share something they are grateful for. Go around the circle allowing each student the opportunity to say something they are grateful for. You can mix this up to have students say something they are grateful for about the person on their left one day—and the person on their right another day (mix up where students sit so they have the chance to tell a variety of classmates what they are grateful for about them). You can also choose a theme, such as what they are grateful for in the winter, or in their family, or in nature.
6. Gratitude paper chain
Give each student one piece of colorful construction paper and have them cut it into strips to create a paper chain. Before creating the chain, have the students write what they’re thankful for on each strip of paper. Connect the strips of paper to create a classroom gratitude paper chain and hang the chain up in your classroom as a visual symbol of everything your students are grateful for.
7. Random acts of kindness
Discuss what random acts of kindness are. Give your students ideas on what types of things they can do at home and at school that are random acts of kindness—like writing a kind note to a friend or helping someone pick up something they have dropped. Encourage your students to practice doing random acts of kindness. You might even create a bulletin board with a leafless tree on it. Cut out paper leaves and place them near the bulletin board for students to write the random acts of kindness they’ve performed. They can then attach the leaf to the tree. Watch the tree fill up with leaves and talk about how this makes the class and each individual student feel.
8. Gratitude artwork
There are a variety of ways to make gratitude art. Students can draw something they are grateful for and create a classroom gratitude art wall. Or students can trace their hands on a paper and write one thing they are grateful for on each finger. Have students cut out their paper hand. Attach all the hands on to a paper tree trunk bulletin board to create a gratitude tree.
9. Gratitude photos
Take a picture of each child holding their gratitude artwork. Frame the picture and send it home as a Thanksgiving gift.
10. Books about gratitude
There are a variety of children’s books about gratitude that you can borrow from your local library. These include The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, Thankful by Eileen Spinelli, Thanks from the Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, or The Thank You Book by Mo Willems. See your library for more options of books to read with your children. Older children may want to read a few books about gratitude and try writing a story of their own.
11. Host a gratitude party
Invite parents, grandparents, siblings, or other family members to join your class for a “Gratitude Party.” Have students share some of the ways that they’ve show gratitude in the classroom. Family members can even take part in these activities by creating their own art or collage, writing in their child’s gratitude journal, reading books about gratitude with their children, or participating in the gratitude circle.