7 Ways to Foster Gratitude in the Classroom 

Fostering a sense of gratitude in children promotes happiness and contentment. It also contributes to a positive classroom environment. Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to teach students the art of thankfulness, but cultivating gratitude is something we can do all year long to develop social-emotional skills in our students. Here are seven age-appropriate gratitude activities that you can incorporate in your classroom for November and the rest of the school year. 

1. A Gratitude Journal 

When students keep a daily gratitude journal, there is power in acknowledging the positives going on in their lives. When one focuses on the positives, the brain creates neural pathways that continue to draw attention to the good aspects of life. By focusing on the negatives, the brain will, in turn, continually draw your attention to the negative. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology states that people who regularly practice gratitude reported higher levels of satisfaction and lower levels of depression. 

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Task students with writing a daily journal entry for what they are thankful for on that particular day. Perhaps, they are thankful their breakfast was a delicious donut, or they’re happy that they get to do something fun this weekend. Encourage students to write whatever they are thankful for, whether it’s big or small. 

Have them complete it for morning work or as a wind-down activity at the end of the day. Give them a sentence starting with, “Today I am thankful for…” or “Something that happened to me that was good…” Younger students can draw the items that they’re thankful for and even older students can as well. This activity not only promotes a positive mindset but enhances writing skills. 

2. Thank You Letters

Encourage your students to write a thank you note to a friend, family member, a veteran (since Veteran’s Day is on Nov 11), or a teacher. By expressing why they’re thankful for that person, they will feel an increased level of contentment toward that person. They’ll start to see that the person they’re writing a letter to is a blessing in their lives and a positive thing to be happy they have. If students write letters to a teacher, have them hand-deliver it to him or her. The surprise and happiness on the person’s face for receiving that letter will encourage the student that making someone happy in turn makes us happy too. 

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Grab our FREE Happy Thanksgiving Letter and Card here! Students can draft their letters or choose to write their letters in a card template. It also comes with a cute coloring page to gift to the recipient as well. 

3. Thankful Tree

When I taught third grade, we would read Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo in the fall. In that book, a character, Gloria Dump, had a mistake tree. She hung a bottle from a tree in her yard for every mistake she made but also to show that she forgives herself and she’s thankful she is trying hard not to make those same mistakes.

To piggyback off of this tree, I would pull a large branch into the classroom, set it up in a vase, and we would make it our Thankful Tree. Students would write what they are thankful for on a paper leaf cut-out that I would tie to the tree. It created a beautifully vibrant centerpiece for the classroom. Make it a weekly occurrence and the tree will fill up with beautiful thankful leaves. 

Another option is to create a tree out of twisted brown paper to put on the wall or on a bulletin board and tape or staple the leaves to the branches. Additionally, since it is a fun trend to have our Christmas trees up a bit early, you can put up your classroom Christmas tree and tie the leaf cutouts to create a fall thankful tree.

4. Gratitude Rocks

Create a “Gratitude Rock Garden” by supplying every student with a smooth rock. Ask them to think of something they are thankful for and then paint it on the rock. Perhaps, they’ll paint their pets or a food item or a sport. If your school has a garden, you can place your rocks there, or even showcase them on a shelf in your classroom. 

5. Gratitude Collage

A fun afternoon project is to have students create a gratitude collage, filled with items they are thankful for. Gather magazine donations from parents and then have students cut out things they are thankful for and paste them on a piece of construction paper. This visual representation celebrates the diversity of what students value and appreciate. 

An alternative is to create an online gratitude collage on Canva or Google Slides. Students insert pictures they find online that represent things they are grateful for. 

Throw a Thanksgiving party and have students share their collages to promote a sense of thankfulness. 

Here’s a cute Thanksgiving banner for a party. 

6. Gratitude Poetry

Similar to a gratitude journal, students express their thankfulness through poetry. Task students with writing a poem about all of the things in their lives they appreciate. Another option is to have students focus on one thing they are thankful for and write a descriptive poem centered around it. You can even challenge students to be descriptive, but mysterious to not reveal what it is that they appreciate. After reading it aloud, other students can infer and make predictions as to what their peer is thankful for.

Also, students can write an acrostic poem centered around an item they are thankful for. Perhaps, their acrostic poem will be MOM and they can write traits they are thankful for when it comes to their mother. 

Here is a Thanksgiving Descriptive Poetry resource with detailed instructions for descriptive poetry, six acrostic poem templates, six shape poem templates, and six publishing papers for descriptive poetry. 

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7. Read Thankful Books 

Reading a picture book that encourages positivity and gratitude is a way to promote thankfulness. We particularly love the following books that tell a sweet story and encourage gratitude at the same time. 

Thanksgiving in the Woods by Phyllis Aldurf

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Publisher’s Synopsis:

Every year a family and their friends gather in the woods to celebrate Thanksgiving among the trees. Everyone brings something to share and the day becomes a long celebration of family, faith, and friendship. Told in a gentle, lyrical style, this picture book includes warm illustrations of people gathered around bonfires and long tables adorned with candles and food, singing songs and sharing laughter. Thanksgiving in the Woods is based on the true story of a family in Upstate New York who has hosted an outdoor Thanksgiving feast in the woods on their farm for over twenty years.

I Am Thankful by Sheri Wall

We also love I am Thankful, by Sheri Wall. This is a wonderful book that reminds all of us to be grateful: the reason for Thanksgiving!

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Publisher’s Synopsis:

Teach kids about coming together with loved ones to give thanks! I Am Thankful is an adorable, rhyming storybook that follows three different families as they celebrate the holiday with their own traditions, acts of kindness, and ways of giving back. Kids will learn how to be thankful for the people and world around them as they delight in the sweet illustrations that show diverse families and exciting Thanksgiving adventures. This heartfelt, poetic story will show young ones the meaning of giving and sharing.


By incorporating these gratitude activities into your classroom, you’re not only teaching the importance of thankfulness but also fostering a positive classroom environment that promotes happiness and well-being. Let’s cultivate gratitude in our students, making this season and the culture of our classrooms a time of reflection, appreciation, and connection. 

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Short Stories in the Classroom

Teaching short stories during the first month of school is a simple and effective way to get upper elementary to middle school students acclimated to Language Arts or English classes. As novel units are the new paradigm for reading instruction for older students, short stories in the classroom still have a place too. With so many fascinating short stories written by amazing authors, educators can teach a variety of standards. 

A short story eases students into the year without the overwhelm of beginning a novel and diving into a long unit. A short story unit, normally a week-long, is quick and can hold the students’ attention just long enough to begin another short story. During that first month of school, a child’s attention is so divided. Between learning new schedules, new teachers, and even just the craziness of navigating school and lockers after a long summer, various short stories, broken up over a month, help lessen stress, hold attention through the differing storylines, and overall ease students back into reading. This is why I always spend the first month of school exploring short stories with students. 

Short Stories in the Classroom: What to Focus On

When exploring how I teach short stories, I like to focus on specific common skills that students will need that will carry them into the rest of the year.  For example, when teaching 6th-8th grades, the very first short story I would complete with them focused on comprehension questions and detailed answers. Students would learn or relearn the RACE method for answering questions. 

  • R – Restate
  • A – Answer
  • C – Cite
  • E – Explain

I find that the RACE method is a wonderful way to prepare students for essay writing. In the second week, I would then focus on various standards such as Theme, Characterization, and Genre on top of practicing the RACE method. These are solid standards that students will continue to use repeatedly throughout the year. 

Written Responses

Next, in the third week, I would start incorporating 1-paragraph written responses as well as learning about plot development and plot lines. Students can take what they learned during the RACE method and expand it in these 1-paragraph responses. These paragraph responses are a skill students perfect over the course of the year, as a well-organized paragraph helps prepare them for longer essay writing and more formal MLA-style reports. Plot lines are taught to emphasize the arc of a storyline, plus various terms such as climax and resolution. 

During the fourth week of a short story unit, I introduce more skills that will be utilized throughout the year such as setting analysis and types of conflicts on top of the RACE method, 1-paragraph written responses, and plot development. By focusing on concrete standards that are applied year-long in a way that eases them back into English class, students get a solid foundation for the year. Additionally, if you are tasked with teaching multiple grade levels, changing the short story but keeping the same standards streamlines your lesson plans and helps review for all the differing grades. 

Short Stories in the Classroom: What Stories to Teach?

When I taught 6th-8th grades, I utilized varying difficulty, interest, and maturity levels to grasp student attention. I also made sure to choose differing lengths so students wouldn’t be overwhelmed by a longer short story or bored by a shorter one. Additionally, throwing in a narrative poem for 7th was a great way to compare and contrast authors while providing a shorter read for the week. Here is the layout of what short stories I would teach the first month for each grade level.

6th GradeStray by Cynthia RylantRikki, Tikki, Tavi by Rudyard Kipling (Week 1)Rikki, Tikki, Tavi by Rudyard Kipling (Week 2)Eleven by Sandra Cisneros
7th GradeSeventh Grade by Gary SotoOranges by Gary Soto (Poem)Thank You Ma’am by Langston HughesThe Lady or The Tiger by  Frank R. Stockton
8th GradeGeraldo, No Last Name by Sandra CisnerosThe Sniper by Liam O’FlahertyThe Dinner Party by Mona GardnerAll Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury

For fifth grade, these are some short stories that would interest and grasp attention.

5th GradeMarble Champ by Gary SotoHer Hands that Held the Stars by Rebecca BirchSometimes a Dream Needs a Push by Walter Dean MTamitha & the Dragon by Elizabeth C. Desimone

How to Assess a Short Stories Unit

I completed a variety of formative and summative assessments during the short stories unit. The 1-paragraph responses and the comprehension questions that required the RACE method were the type of formative assessments that would help me gauge how the students were doing. I also did a variety of end-of-week quizzes as a summative assessment. With my older students, they would have an end-of-month test that assessed their understanding of all the short stories we had read. Students also received a study guide for a larger test like this because oftentimes they would not exactly remember all the details of the earlier stories we had read.

More Opportunities for Short Stories

The first month of school is a great time for short stories, but I utilized them throughout the entire year as well. After completing a novel unit, we would dive into a 2-week to even a month-long short story unit.

I have taught Edgar Allan Poe stories during the week of Halloween. From The Tell-Tale Heart to The Pit & The Pendulum, I would reserve these stories for 7th-8th graders.

In December, my eighth graders would complete a three-week O. Henry unit with The Gift of the Magi being the focus. My seventh graders would dive into the play version of A Christmas Story by Charles Dickens.

After coming back from holiday break, we did a 1-week short story unit for 6th-8th grades. One of my favorites to complete was The New Year’s Stockings by Francis A. Durivage. 

Sixth graders would complete a picture-book unit. Picture books are short stories in and of themselves. We read Radiator the Snowman by Tami Parker. Additionally, we would compare and contrast that picture book to the Snowmen at Christmas and Snowmen at Night books by Caralyn Buehner. Then, we would focus on a snowman narrative writing piece.

When teaching formal MLA essays to 8th graders, we would read Mark Twain’s short stories before learning all about and writing formal reports. Popular Twain stories included The Californian’s Tale & The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.

End-of-Year Short Stories and Movie Pairings

As novel units are wrapped up and there are a couple of weeks of academic instruction left, I would use this time to teach various short stories. I would utilize the end of the year as the perfect time for short-story units while pairing it with a fun movie or show.

For sixth grade, The Smallest Dragonboy by Anne McCaffrey is a fun read. We would then compare it to the How to Train a Dragon movie. (Which is a novel series.)

Seventh graders loved diving into eerie stories such as The Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs and The Monsters are Due on Maple Street by Rod Serling. Both have short movies on Youtube.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is an interesting and fun read for 8th graders. It’s a hilarious movie to watch and compare as well.


Short stories in the classroomare full of interesting characters, fascinating storylines, and captivating events. Short story units are wonderful to teach at the beginning of the year, in between novel units, aiding in teaching formal essays, during holidays, and at the end of the school year. Short stories are great quick reads to teach a variety of standards. With so many amazing short stories existing, there’s bound to be some fascinating ones that your students will love.

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5 Winter Picture Books to Teach Figurative Language

In college, my beloved Reading Methods professor read us picture books at the beginning of class. As twenty-something-old college students, we relished those five-ten minutes it took for her to read a book. We could relax, get lost in something other than student teaching hours, seminars, and projects, and just enjoy a good story. When she read us a picture book for the very first time, she asked, “Did you enjoy that?” Our response was, “Of course, we did!” She went on to say that if we, as grown adults, enjoy a picture book this much, then don’t discount it for older elementary students, middle schoolers, or even high schoolers. It was one of those ah-ha moments I’ve clearly held onto ever since. Today, we are going to dive into 5 winter pictures books to teach figurative language.

As a teacher who has taught all three levels of students: elementary, middle, and high school, her philosophy has proven true as I have used picture books quite often to teach concepts, as a brain break, and to ignite a love of reading and writing in students.

Picture Books as Mentor Text

Picture books are being used as mentor text more and more. Just because a book is written for younger students doesn’t mean the author didn’t devote hours to that piece of writing, perfecting every word, every character, and every storyline. Just because it’s geared toward younger students doesn’t mean that the writing isn’t amazing. Using picture books to teach students how to write is the beginning of students connecting authentic, real-world literature to their own writing.

When teaching writing, I love to teach figurative language, a concept explored in literature classes as we analyze stories and novels. Think about your favorite author and you probably don’t think about how many similes or metaphors they used; however, you do think about how descriptive their characters were or how they got the setting just right for you to imagine it clearly. Great authors use figurative language so smoothly that you don’t even realize it. Figurative language takes descriptive writing to the next level. It adds a creative flair to help readers understand the words and descriptions even more clearly. That’s a writing skill I hope my students can grasp.

The following picture books can be utilized as wonderful mentor text to teach figurative language. Plus, they’re based in winter, so it fits in nicely with the season, and if your students are writing a winter story, these books will be great inspiration.

1. Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen

A Caldecott Medal winner, this book breathes figurative language. It is in almost every sentence. This book paints such a lovely, timeless, still scene of winter. It is a soothing picture book that students will enjoy and glean a lot from on how to use figurative language.

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Publisher’s Synopsis: Late one winter night a little girl and her father go owling. The trees stand still as statues and the world is silent as a dream. Whoo-whoo-whoo, the father calls to the mysterious nighttime bird. But there is no answer.

Wordlessly the two companions walk along, for when you go owling you don’t need words. You don’t need anything but hope. Sometimes there isn’t an owl, but sometimes there is. Distinguished author Jane Yolen has created a gentle, poetic story that lovingly depicts the special companionship of a young child and her father as well as humankind’s close relationship to the natural world. Wonderfully complemented by John Schoenherr’s soft, exquisite watercolor illustrations, this is a verbal and visual treasure, perfect for reading around and sharing at bedtime.

Examples of figurative language:

Simile: The trees stood still as giant statues. / Somewhere behind us, a train whistle blew, long and low, like a sad, sad song. 

Personification: A farm dog answered the train, and then a second dog joined in. They sang out, trains and dogs, for a real long time. And when their voices faded away, it was as quiet as a dream.

Alliteration: Our feet crunched over the crisp snow./ He looked up searching the stars.

Metaphor: The moon made his face into a silver mask. 

These are just a couple of examples from Owl Moon. This book is a wellspring of figurative language. 

2. Snowflakes Fall, by Patricia MacLachlan

Snowflakes Fall is a wonderfully descriptive picture book all about the beauty of snow, the winter season, the children who enjoy it, and even the blessings found at the end of the winter season. Not only does this book contain a blizzard of figurative language, but the deep meaning and motivation behind this book are also inspiring. 

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Publisher’s Synopsis: In Snowflakes Fall, Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan and award-winning artist Steven Kellogg portray life’s natural cycle: its beauty, its joy, and its sorrow. Together, the words and pictures offer the promise of renewal that can be found in our lives—snowflakes fall, and return again as raindrops so that flowers can grow.MacLachlan and Kellogg, who are longtime friends, were moved to collaborate on a message of hope for children and their families following the tragic events in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. Kellogg lived in Sandy Hook for thirty-five years—he raised his family there and was an active member of the community. With Snowflakes Fall, they have created a truly inspiring picture book that is both a celebration of life and a tribute to the qualities that make each individual unique.

Examples of figurative language: 

Personification: Snowflakes fall to sit on gardens and evergreen trees. / Frantic, icy snowflakes scratch the window glass./ Branches fly and shadows darken dreams. 

Simile: Snowflakes fall, drift, and swirl together like the voices of children. 

Alliteration:On its loved library, And its familiar flagpole 

3. Bright Winter Night, by Alli Brydon

This adorable picture book has beautiful illustrations, incorporates the forest animals working together as a team, and has rhyming words. All of these elements will intrigue students, but it also has some great examples of figurative language. 

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Publisher’s Synopsis: The forest calls, and creatures come: big and small, one by one. They sense there is a task to do as night descends, replacing blue. On one bright winter night, a group of woodland creatures emerges from the forest. Despite their differences, they start to build something together, using items found on the forest floor. What are they making? And how quickly can they build it? Something special is happening tonight, and soon the animals are off—in a race to catch a glimpse of one of nature’s most astounding wonders! With lyrical text and sparkling artwork, Bright Winter Night is a celebration of the joy and beauty of nature and the special gift of friendship and togetherness.

Examples of figurative language:

Metaphor: The wolf pack launches with a start and races through the forest’s heart. 

Onomatopoeia: The sleigh careens, the rabbits jump as the rest go BUMP BUMP BUMP. 

Personification: The colors dazzle, glow, and blaze-the flashes sizzle, shock and amaze!/ The magic in the winter’s air drifts all around them, everywhere. 

4. The Snow Dancer, by Addie Boswell

Not only are the illustrations gorgeous in The Snow Dancer, but the word choice is the perfect example of descriptive writing. The figurative language is also amazingly abundant in this story. Additionally, if you wanted to choose one book to focus on onomatopoeia, this one is it! 

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Publisher’s Synopsis: Young dancer Sofia wakes up to a quiet, white world—it’s a snow day! She makes her way outside to the neighborhood park, where a field awaits her, white and shining and open. It isn’t long before the rest of the neighborhood wakes its sleepy head—and the other kids make their way to the park, scattering all of Sofia’s beautiful silence. But with the help of a new young friend, Sofia is ready to show everyone what a snow dancer can do on a perfect day like this. With lyrical language and gorgeous art, this book sparkles with all the joy and beauty of a snow day.

Examples of figurative language: 

Personification: All through the night, they fell-frosting the rooftops, fluffing the sidewalks, laying fuzzy hats on the fire hydrants. 

Alliteration: She sniffed the cold, clean air. 

Onomatopoeia: Whooomph! She fell down the hidden steps./ Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. She hopscotched down the invisible sidewalk.  (There are so many more examples of Onomatopoeia!)

Simile: The sun shone like a giant spotlight. The soccer field gleamed like a giant stage. /Outside the world sparkled and glistened. 

5. Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter, by Kenard Pak

I love this series of books. Kenard Pak has a picture book that says goodbye to every season and hello to another. These straightforward books with gorgeous illustrations use personification for the entirety of the story, as parts of the season speak as if they are animate. Not only is there a plethora of personification examples, but the author uses other figurative language examples as well. 

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Publisher’s Synopsis: As leaves fall from their trees, animals huddle against the cold, and frost creeps across windows, everyone knows―winter is on its way! Join a brother and sister as they explore nature and take a stroll through their twinkling town, greeting all the signs of the coming season. In a series of conversations with everything from the setting sun to curious deer, they say goodbye to autumn and welcome the glorious first snow of winter in Kenar Pak’s Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter.

Examples of figurative language: 

Alliteration: Autumn afternoon/Setting sun/wispy winds/…Swept into the sky

Personification: Now that the wispy winds have come, we fall from the oak tree branches and are swept into the sky! (Leaves)/ Our pine-needle branches shiver in the wind while you sleep. (There are many examples of personification!)

Metaphor: Hello, snowflakes. Hello. We fall in a white, misty curtain and muffle all the sounds around you. 

Simile: Hello, clouds. Hello. We cover the sky like a downy, soft blanket. 


To further practice identifying and writing figurative language, check out this FREE Picture Book Figurative Language Activity we have!

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We also have Figurative Language Posters available in our store as well!

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Using winter picture books as mentor text to teach figurative language is a great way to provide authentic examples for students. Picture books can be utilized for any grade level as a way for students to see real writing examples that have figurative language and to practice identifying figurative language. Also, winter picture books bring just the right coziness that makes reading so fun and delightful. 

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