Additional Gratitude Activities
Mental subtraction is an exercise in which students consider the ways their lives would be different if they didn’t have the positive things they have now. Practicing mental subtraction is one way to help students counteract the tendency to take things for granted.
Before the activity, the teacher creates subtraction cards. Each card represents one common asset or person that students rely on (for example: parents, siblings, a home, a family car, clothes, a bedroom, adequate food ….). To begin the exercise, students draw a card from the pile. Teachers can group students with the same items together, or this can be an individual activity. Students are asked to brainstorm how their lives would be different without that asset in their lives. Once students have brainstormed, ask them to create a journal entry on how grateful they are for the asset and explain how it positively impacts their life.
We all want to be grateful and think we are grateful but practicing the act of gratefulness on a daily basis can be looked over in the busyness of life. Ask students to create a “grateful token” to remind them to be grateful. Students are encouraged to put the token in a special place on their desk, book bag, purse, or pocket, or by their beds, to serve as a touchstone to remind them to be grateful. Whenever students feel the token, they are reminded to stop, take a breath, and think of what they are most grateful for at that moment. Sometimes it just helps to have something concrete to help remember to practice the act of being grateful daily.
Ideas for tokens:
The Thank-You Letter Delivered
Writing a thank-you letter is the gratitude activity that has yielded the most positive impact on people to date. Students write a letter of gratitude to someone who made a significant contribution to their lives. Martin Seligman asks students to go beyond just writing letters. Students are invited to deliver the letters rather than mail them if possible. Seligman reports that students’ happiness levels remained elevated for up to six months after participating in this activity (Breines, 2015).
Larry Ferlazzo (2015) has done this activity in his classroom. He asks students to write a short paragraph or essay to or about a person they appreciate. He puts his students in partner groups to share what they have written. He then asks for volunteers to call the person they wrote about from the classroom and read what they have written. He says it sometimes takes more than one class period to accommodate everyone who wants to participate, but the impact is substantial.
Using both of these ideas, teachers can use this open-ended activity anytime during the year or specifically ask students to write a letter for a teacher or coach during, for example, teacher appreciation week. Ask students to think about one teacher or coach from elementary, middle, or high school whom they would like to thank. Teach the art of writing a thank-you note (use specific examples, be sincere, tell how what the person did made you feel, etc.). Have students create a handwritten note to let the selected teachers or coaches know how much their efforts make a difference. Challenge students to deliver the letter personally, if possible, or call the person during class and read the letter over the phone. Alternatively, give students the option of filming themselves reading the letter and then send the video electronically. Close the lesson by having students journal about the experience.
Thank Outside the Box
We love the idea from Jeremy Smith (2013) that calls for students to “thank outside the box.” Along with the usual fund-raisers, volunteer efforts, and Thanksgiving Day-related activities, challenge students to think of ways to show gratitude. In the movie, Pay It Forward,
Mr. Simonet challenges his students to come up with a personal plan to make this world a better place, or at least to improve their small part of it. Likewise, teachers can encourage students to “thank outside the box” and devise their own ways to express appreciation for and to this world. Students can use their cross-curricular skills (reading, writing, art, music, design, engineering, drama, technology, math, social studies, foreign language, cooking, building, drafting, sewing, etc.) to make a contribution to their community and beyond.
Your Three Words on Gratitude
Good Morning America features a segment called “Your 3 Words” where viewers send in short video clips describing what is important to them in three words. Ask students to create a gratitude video using just three words.
Here are a few video examples of Your 3 Words on different topics so you get the idea:
Grade 6 students in Calgary, Alberta, Canada create clips of 3 words for Remembrance Day.
During an edtech training, Teachers created a video description of the Modern Classroom in 3 words.
Grateful Gorilla Buddy
Students end their day sitting in a circle taking turns holding the Grateful Gorilla (stuffed animal) and sharing one thing that he or she is grateful for and why. Note: This activity requires modeling and examples so that students can do it successfully.
Draw a Quote
After studying the science behind gratitude, explain to students how easy it is to forget to be grateful. Ask students to find an online quote about gratitude that they identify with and that will help remind them to show appreciation. Students then create a sign on a mini poster board featuring the quote. End by asking students to reflect and free write what their quote means to them.
Community Letter Writing
Teachers can combine the skill of letter writing and gratitude to recognize people in the community who deserve gratitude but often get overlooked (e.g., janitors, food staff, bus drivers). Ask students to write a letter to someone to thank them and show their gratitude. The letters can be delivered, or the class can host a special “thank you” event in the classroom where students invite people in and give them the letters in person (maybe with snacks!).
Giving Thanks for My Family
Students bring pictures of each of their family members from home. They then create a list of reasons they are grateful for each member. This is a superb time to practice or teach mind-mapping skills. Students then write a Giving Thanks for My Family book. They can handwrite the books or use a digital program such as PowerPoint or a site/app like Little Bird Tales. Little Bird Tales allows students to create a digital story with pictures, art, and voice recordings. Once students create the stories, parents can buy the story for 99 cents.