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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.