5 Ways to Cultivate Gratitude in the Classroom This Thanksgiving

I like Thanksgiving. It's a holiday centered around gratitude-- hello social emotional learning! Plus, it's not religious, so most students and schools can celebrate it. There is that unfortunate aspect of the Thanksgiving origin story being totally made up, but that doesn't mean we can't take some time in November to reflect on things we are thankful for. Let's just stay away from construction paper headdresses, shall we?
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1. Create a thankfulness display. 
Kick off November by introducing the idea of gratitude to your students. Taking time to think about what you're thankful for is proven to have a positive effect on your mental health. Ask students to reflect on one or more things they are thankful for and write it down. You can create a beautiful bulletin board display or a festive anchor chart.

I created this anchor chart using the leaves from my Thankfulness Bulletin Board Kit. I printed the smaller leaves two to a page (just select this under the "Layout" option when printing) to make them the right size for my anchor chart tree! 

2. Read a book about gratitude.
Rather than perpetuating the fictional Thanksgiving story, take time this November to read a book about everyday thankfulness, such as Thankful by Eileen Spinelli. You could also read The Thankful Book by Todd Parr or The Things I'm Grateful For... by Arnie Lightning.  

3. Reflect and write about gratitude.
The week before or of Thanksgiving can be a challenging one for students. If you have a half week, it can difficult to find meaningful activities. This is a great time to have students do some more in-depth writing on what they are thankful for! My Thankfulness Reflection Journal has 5 journaling pages and 5 zen-style coloring pages that will keep students engaged in meaningful activity for hours. (Seriously... those detailed coloring pages can take a long time!)

4. Model thankfulness.
As Kid President says, "Grown-ups: it's scary, but true. Kids are learning how to be people by watching you." So take time to model gratitude to your students-- telling them what you are thankful for in your life and that you are grateful for them! You could even sport a Thankful Teacher tee!

5. Write a thank you note.
Have students write a note of appreciation to someone at your school. I've had whole classes do this for our cafeteria workers and custodians, and these staff members are always so touched. One of the cafeteria workers came in to speak to the class and told them she had never gotten a thank you note in all her years working at the school and how incredibly touched she was. It made a huge impression on the students! You can use notebook paper or snag my Thankful Notes if you want to make it a bit more festive.

Here's hoping you and your students have a wonderful Thanksgiving! 


  1. We live in a time when people love to revise history to suit their own agenda and the Thanksgiving story is a favorite target. While the real story may not be quite as glamorous as the one we have been told in school, there is some basis for it. This article, quoting noted historian and author Nathaniel Philbrick is more scholarly than most: http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/saints-and-strangers/articles/the-true-story-of-thanksgiving/

    1. Thanks for your comment! In all times, history tends to be written by the oppressors. For example, many students learn all about Thanksgiving, but nothing about the Trail of Tears and the systematic erasure of Native American peoples and culture. I read the article you linked-- thanks! That's one take, but I've seen a lot of conflicting accounts. It might be interesting to present both versions to students along with supporting materials and see what they think!


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