Thanksgiving is coming up fast and while most of your students are probably focused on how much turkey they will eat, it is important to remind them what this time is all about - giving thanks and showing gratitude.
Gratitude is expressing appreciation for what you have received, whether tangible or intangible. Gratitude helps people acknowledge the goodness in their lives and in the process, they recognize that the source of that goodness sometimes lies outside of themselves.
Gratitude also helps people develop a closer connection to something — whether that is a closer bond to other people, nature or themselves. When it comes to teaching kids gratitude, writing is often the best place to start.
The writing prompts below will definitely get your students thinking about gratitude, but we suggest also having them keep gratitude journals. In their journals, they can write down 3 things they are grateful for every day. Studies show that to feel the positive effects of gratitude, you must regularly practice it - and the best way to do this is through journaling.
Writing Prompt #1: Why is gratitude important? Give me one example of how you have shown gratitude so far this year.
This writing prompt gets right to the point and asks your students to think about the impact gratitude has.
Expressing gratitude has been proven to have some extremely positive emotional and physiological benefits that you can share with your students. Fourth and 5th grade students, in particular, will likely be fascinated by how something as simple as gratitude can directly affect things like sleep and stress. But have your students dig deeper and think about how expressing gratitude affects others. Ask them the following questions to get the ball rolling for this prompt.
- When someone doesn’t say thank you, how does it make you feel?
- If someone tells you that they are grateful for something you did, how does that make you feel?
- What do you think would happen to the world if more people expressed gratitude?
- How do you think it makes others feel when you express gratitude for their help or advice?
Your students can answer these questions on a piece of notebook paper, discuss their answers with a partner or simply sit for a few minutes and think about their reponses to the questions.
Once they have thought over, discussed or written their answers to the questions above, have them write a paragraph or two about why gratitude is important and give an example of how they have shown gratitude this year. have them focus on why gratitude is important in building fulfilling relationships with the people and world around them.
Writing Prompt #2: Think about a person that you are grateful to have in your life. What are some creative ways you can show that person you are grateful for them?
This writing prompt will inspire students to think of the different ways they can show someone gratitude. Although a simple thank you or saying that they appreciate that person can go a long way, it is important to sometimes take a step further to show how thankful they are to have them in their life.
Start by having your students write about different ways they can show gratitude. Give them a few general ideas like making that person’s favorite dessert, writing them a song or poem, going to their favorite place, writing a special thank you note, drawing them a picture etc.
After your students have all of their ideas written down, have them choose 2 or 3 from their list and write about why they chose each act of gratitude.
The things they choose to write about do not need to be extravagant - for the project idea below to work, it is actually best that their expressions of gratitude are realistic and simple. The whole point is for your students to think of creative ways to show someone that they are grateful to have them in their lives.
Writing Prompt #3: What is a talent you have that you are thankful for? Tell me why you are thankful for that talent.
When it comes to gratitude, we often think about telling other people that we are grateful for them but forget to show ourselves gratitude. This is an extremely important thing to talk to students about early on because it will help build self-esteem, promote positive thinking, facilitate self-awareness and much more.
Although this is just one writing prompt, it can be a stepping stone in getting your students to regularly think and journal about things they are grateful for regarding themselves as an individual. Establishing a mindset of self-appreciation will help them become strong people throughout the rest of their lives.
Have your students sit quietly with a piece of notebook paper and think about their own personal talents. Are they a good listener? Do they enjoy helping others who are struggling? Maybe they are really great at math and soccer. Whatever they decide the talent is that they are thankful for, have them write about it and come up with reasons why they are thankful for that talent.
Writing Prompt #4: Write a thank you letter to nature.
Just as important as showing gratitude to yourself and others is showing gratitude towards nature. In our high-tech world, we can easily become disconnected from nature and take its beauty and everything it has given us for granted.
From small animals and bugs to the warm sun and huge trees, it is important to remind your students while they are young to appreciate all of the amazing things nature has given us.
Take your students outside - or if it is chilly have them look out the window - and think about all of the things in nature they are thankful for. You can have them write about these things in their journals or simply write their thoughts on a piece of notebook paper. Consider this a freewriting exercise to explore their feelings towards nature and how important nature is to our existence. For younger students, who may still have a limited vocabulary, have them supplement their notes with pictures.
After your students feel that they have expressed their gratitude towards nature and have their notes together, have them start drafting a thank you letter to nature. This is a great opportunity to introduce your students to writing informal letters.
Writing Prompt #5: Which of your 5 senses are you most thankful for? Why did you choose that sense?
This writing prompt will help remind your students how lucky they are to have a working body and mind - something all of us take for granted from time to time.
This prompt does double duty in classrooms with younger students who haven’t learned about the 5 senses yet. In 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classrooms, students will get an opportunity to reflect on how important their 5 senses are to experiencing the world around them - something they may not have thought about before.
There are a variety of activities you can do to kick this writing prompt off. One of the best is setting up different stations in the classroom where your students’ senses are inhibited. For example:
- Sight: Blindfold students and have them try to figure out what a variety of items are on a table.
- Smell: Have students clothespin their noses and try to smell a variety of items.
- Sound: If you have access to a pair of noise-canceling headphones, have students wear them and watch a video. You can also use disposable earplugs or pretend to teach a short lesson by only mouthing the words and having everyone remain silent.
- Taste: This one takes some imagination. Have students think about their favorite food and imagine if they couldn’t taste that food.
- Touch: Have students put on a thick pair of gloves and touch different surfaces.
Now, of course, you can just give the students the prompt and they likely will be able to write something down, but having a hands-on activity will help enhance their writing and remind them how important each sense really is.
After the activity is completed it is time for your students to sit down and write about which sense they are most thankful for and why. Encourage them to go further than just saying, “I am most thankful for sight because I can see things.” Have them write about what specific things they are thankful to see. Have them complete the prompt by giving you a reason or two why they are thankful for their chosen sense.
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