Teaching Gratitude in the Classroom

Hi there! Jenn here, from The Teacher Next Door.

One of the strongest teaching philosophies I've held over the years is to teach to the whole child. Of course, I want kids to learn and grow academically, but it has also been a big goal of mine to help them learn those social and emotional skills which make them into the kind of people who will help shape the world in a positive way. 

Teaching gratitude in the classroom is one of the character traits I include each year. Gratitude doesn't just make us feel good, it can be a life-changer for kids and adults alike. In fact, studies have shown (Froh and Boo) that gratitude improves mood, mental health, and satisfaction with school and with life in general. It has also been shown to reduce stress, increase a sense of self-worth, boost levels of energy, optimism, and empathy.

Since we know having a grateful attitude is beneficial, what are some things we can actually do in the classroom to create kids who have a more grateful, less entitled attitude?

1. Be a Role Model for Gratefulness
Life is not always easy and sometimes even the best of us can be negative at times, but if we intentionally try to notice and comment on the positives, this can be contagious and cause our kids to start to notice things to be thankful for too. For example, as the kids go out to recess, I might comment about what a beautiful day it is or at a class party, I'll mention how much time and work the parents have put into the party and aren't we lucky they did this for us? This pattern of positive acknowledgments will hopefully cause our students to start noticing the small things we sometimes take for granted.

2. Read Mentor Texts about Gratefulness
At our morning meetings, we usually focus on a character trait of the month and gratefulness is one of the character traits we discuss. Reading short picture books about gratefulness and then talking about them as a class can be a powerful way to raise awareness of how much we have.

3. Write Thank You Letters
When we do this activity, I start by talking about how many people have contributed to make our school a great place to be. We talk about several of these adults, such as the custodian, the lunch lady, the yard duty aides, and more. We also talk about how these people often go unnoticed and perhaps feel unappreciated and how we can brighten their day by writing them a letter thanking them specifically for everything they do. After a quick, reminder of how we write a friendly letter (4th and 5th graders usually know this by now), I tell the kids that this letter is REAL, it can be written to any adult at school (except me) and that when they are done they will be able to deliver it themselves! Not only has this been a wonderful activity for the kids, I can't tell you what it means to the people who actually receive these letters. Simply awesome!

4. Create a Gratitude Journal
You could do this for a full month and create a simple journal for the kids to use, or you could have kids simply write in their Writer's Notebooks but the idea is to regularly (for just a quick 5 minute time period) reflect and write down a few things they feel thankful for. This brings ideas to the surface and helps kids not to take for granted the things they have. Sometimes I list categories (family, nature, food...) and sometimes I don't. Totally up to you.

5. Do a Class Service Project
At the beginning of the year, I like to have the kids brainstorm and then vote on a service project that we'll do as a class for the whole year. I think this helps kids to look outside of themselves, to be less selfish minded and to build empathy. Some of the projects we've done include collecting pop tabs school-wide for the Ronald McDonald House (seriously ill children), donating for the World Wildlife Federation (endangered animals), and collecting for the local homeless shelter (socks and toiletries). My favorite project though was when I read the kids Beatrice's Goat and they all decided to raise money to send animals to other countries to help families in need (Heifer International). Talk about learning something of lasting value!

6. Do Ongoing Gratefulness Activities
There are a multitude of easy but meaningful things to do to increase gratitude during November or really at any time. You can designate an area on one of your walls as a Gratitude Wall, where kids can put post-its of things they are thankful for or you could make a large tree, using bulletin board paper and have kids add leaves with their thankfulness items on them. A smaller Gratitude Tree can be made from actual twigs, placed in a vase. Kids can write things they are thankful for to add to this tree on paper leaves (the Ellison machine works great here) and attach them using twine or yarn. The same idea could be done with a Gratitude Garland. Another idea is to make a Gratefulness Jar, where kids write grateful ideas on small slips of paper. Whenever you have a spare minute or two, you could pull a few out and read them to the class.

In addition to all of these activities, I do have a complete, print and digital unit on Gratitude that might be helpful to you. 

It has a self-reflective quiz about gratitude, 32 discussion task cards, a sort, a poster, an award, a mentor text list, as well as an activity idea page that you can grab and use in November or any time. It can be purchased separately or as part of a year-long Character Education Kit. 

There's always something for which to be thankful, and by teaching it intentionally in our classrooms, we are helping our students notice and be thankful for the positive things in their lives.

What have you found to be helpful in regards to teaching gratitude in your classroom? Do any of these ideas sound like ones you might try? I'd love to hear from you.

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