ELA · For Your Classroom

Teaching Gratitude through ELA

The manifold benefits of gratitude are one of the few things that nearly everyone can agree upon. 

Ask any clergy, motivational speaker, life coach, or wise grandma, and they’ll all tell you: looking for things to be thankful for and expressing that thankfulness are key ingredients in the recipe for a happy and fulfilled life. 

And we want that for our students, don’t we all? A happy and fulfilled life. 

Due to the variety of components in our curriculum, ELA teachers have lots of opportunities to teach gratitude in our classrooms during the Thanksgiving season, or any time. 

Here are a few ideas for teaching gratitude in ELA from some seasoned teachers.

teach gratitude in ELA with a thank you note project

One of my favorite projects of the school year was a simple thank you note writing project

The grammar and writing text I used had a special section on how and when to write thank you notes, and provided some examples. 

We went over the examples in class and I really had a heart-to-heart with my kids about how important it was to let people know that you appreciate something they did for you, or that you simply appreciate them as a person.

I let students know that during the next class period, they would be writing a thank you note to a member of the school staff. 

a thank you note to teach gratitude in ELA
These festive Thanksgiving cards + lots of other thank you note designs are included in my How to Write a Thank You Note resource.

They could choose any staff member at all, and I encouraged them to keep in mind custodial staff and office administration, etc. If students didn’t immediately have a teacher or staff member come to mind that they wanted to write to, I provided the list of school staff (we had a small school).

I’ve found that often teens are actually grateful, but  they simply don’t know how to express their gratitude. So I provided them with specific ideas of what to write about in their thank you note. 

I picked up a multi-pack of blank notecards in solid colors for students to use, but you could have students make cards if that feels more appropriate. 

I had students draft their thank you note prior to class, so all they had to do was tweak their note and copy it over into the card during class.

When notes were completed, I delivered them to their recipients. 

I loved getting the positive feedback from teachers and staff members who received a couple of unexpected thank you notes. This no-prep resource has everything you need (including the cards) to do this thank-you note writing project with your students. Check it out!

teach gratitude in ELA by showing appreciation for an author

One of the most powerful things a reader can do for an author is, after finishing a book, take action. This is exactly what Krista Barbour from @whimsyandrigor and her students did after finishing the phenomenal book Refugee by Alan Gratz. Click here to read a summary of this must-read middle grade book!

Krista’s students read, took notes, annotated, and discussed the three plot lines in the novel. They used this bookmark to keep track of the characters and their journeys and, at the end, after multiple students shed literal tears, the students decided Alan Gratz had inspired them to take real action when it comes to the refugee crisis. 

So, the students used Canva to create flyers, went door-to-door in their neighborhoods (always with a partner!), set up tables at the farmers market and raised over $3,000 for the United Nation High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). 

Of course, the class tagged @alan.gratz like wild on social media to show their gratitude for the words he wrote and stories he shared. 

Krista did not set out with this activist piece in mind but when her students were moved to tears, she worked to harness that emotion and put it into action. For an author, what can be better than not only eliciting emotion from the reading but getting them to take action on an issue of dire importance? This was how Krista’s 6th grade English showed gratitude for this author and they hope you, too, can be inspired by an author’s work and see where the journey takes you and your students.

teach gratitude in ELA with gratitude poetry

Ever played with a magnetic poetry set on someone’s fridge? It’s amazing how fun word combinations spring to mind when you’re actually staring at those little tiles.

Turns out it’s pretty easy to make digital poetry activities along the same lines in Google slides. Betsy, from Spark Creativity, has created a fun (free) gratitude-themed digital poetry tile set for you, and she’ll walk you through the steps to make more of your own right here. 

In the gratitude set, students simply choose from gratitude-themed words to mix-and-match their own poem. This is an ideal activity for the day before Thanksgiving break, when you just need something easy and fun. 

Once kids have dragged their poetry tiles into a gratitude poem, you can invite them to snap a screenshot and add it to a group slideshow. Then they can virtually gallery walk through everyone’s poems. It’s a great way to go into break. 

teach gratitude in ELA with interactive thankfulness themed classroom decor

November is the best month to focus our hearts around gratitude. Although practicing gratitude is powerful all year long, the season of giving thanks really brings the concept of gratitude to the forefront. Harnessing this energy in your classroom can be a powerful way to build strong relationships with your students.

One way Samantha from Samantha in Secondary likes to do this is with a gratitude-themed bulletin board. One creative idea is to create a graffiti board where students can interact directly with the concept of gratitude. Write “WHAT ARE YOU GRATEFUL FOR?” on a large sheet of white paper and let your students’ ideas fly. Below is one example from Samantha’s classroom.

teach thankfulness in ela with a gratitude wall

Another way Samantha likes to infuse gratitude into her classroom is with a Gratitude Banner. This no-prep banner activity allows students to express their gratitude while also flexing their creative muscles. This is a great activity for fast finishers or the day before break! 

teach thankfulness in ela with a gratitude banner

Setting time aside to focus on these classroom culture activities is an effective way to build rapport with your students. Strengthening these relationships now will pay dividends later.

teach gratitude in ela with thankfulness bellringers

Amanda from Mud and Ink Teaching believes that gratitude comes from regular practice:  to express gratitude means that we must recognize it regularly.  This is why Amanda and her podcast co-host of the show Brave New Teaching created their gift to teachers to show their appreciation:  three weeks of bell ringers for students all focused on gratitude!

The bell work is designed to follow the scope of a typical three-week November.  The first week of bell work looks to the past:  what has already happened that we can be grateful for?  The second week harnessed the power of the present and tasks students with recognizing gratitude for the world they inhabit right this minute.  And the third week looks to the future and asks questions of what we will be grateful for later.

Each of the bell work prompts is editable and highly engaging for students.  Some prompts are seeking journal-types of responses, others are reactions to video, and others just ask students to make one big list. Help your students make gratitude a regular practice and experience the benefits of this daily work.  Grab your three-week, fifteen prompt slide deck here!

teach gratitude in ela with thankfulness ted talks and doodle notes

If you’re like Elizabeth from Teaching Sam & Scout, you have one random block with each class the week of Thanksgiving that can be tough to make meaningful… Thematic YouTube videos and/or TED Talks with Doodle Notes or coloring sheets are the answer!

First, choose something interesting and thought-provoking for your students to watch or listen to – depending on the content, age of your students, and length of the block, something under 30 – 45 minutes typically works best. You could even choose multiple videos and have students rotate through stations listening to several different ones.  If you’re sticking to the gratitude theme, Elizabeth recommends:

Next, make a very simple doodle-notes or coloring page (this is easy to do on Canva.com, Adobe Spark, or even PowerPoint) with a space for students to record the key purpose/thesis of the text, reflections, and lots of black & white graphics for coloring!  FIND A FREE PDF DOODLE SHEET FOR “365 Days of Thank You” HERE.

Finally, make copies for every student, pull out the colored pencils / markers / crayons, and PRESS PLAY.  If possible, spend time debriefing and sharing thoughts at the end of class and encourage students to take their notes home to hang in their bedroom or stick on the outside of a binder as a reminder to themselves to be grateful over the next few busy weeks.

A final word

Are you feeling inspired yet? I hope you’re able to implement at least a couple of these awesome ideas in your classroom. If you do, we’d LOVE to hear about it! Comment below and share with us!

If you’re looking for more ELA teaching ideas for November, check out this post with a curated collection of autumn-themed poetry to share with your students. (I’ve even noted some of the poetic devices in each poem, so you can quickly match it up with your curriculum.)

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