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10 Thanksgiving Teaching Tips

Some holiday teaching advice from News-O-Matic's child psychologist, Dr. Phyllis Ohr.

Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday to teach students about GRATITUDE. In fact, child development experts have found that classroom teaching of gratitude has some wonderful benefits: Children enjoy school more and teachers experience less “burn out.”


According to research done by Dr. Jeffrey Froh, a psychologist and expert on gratitude and forgiveness, grateful kids are more generous and connected to their neighborhoods and communities, have more satisfying relationships with their family and friends, and have more self-discipline.

Experiencing and expressing gratitude shouldn’t come around only once a year, on Thanksgiving. Dr. Froh writes that “feeling grateful” is an emotion or state of mind that should be present at all times and can help when upsetting things happen. So, as Dr. Froh suggests, when you clean up after your Thanksgiving meal, remember to leave gratitude on the table!!!

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has a Gratitude Works program that teaches children to reflect on gratitude by considering 1) Why a good thing happened 2) What this good thing means to you 3) What you can do tomorrow to enable more of this good thing 3) What you learned from taking the time to name this good thing and 4) What ways you or others contribute to this good thing.

Here are some ideas on how to bring gratitude into the classroom. Just about all these activities are fun, easy-to-do, and can be adapted to fit any grade level.


  1. Have students keep a journal of what they are grateful for.

  2. Teachers can model gratitude by noticing and acknowledging both big and little things in the classroom that their students do. For example, you can have a big teacher gratitude jar. Every time a child does something you are grateful for, tell that child you are grateful and put a jellybean in the jar. When the jar is filled do something special with the class. Or, have individual student gratitude jars. At the end of the day ask children to tell the class about one thing that happened during the day that they were grateful for. If a child shares with the classroom, put a jellybean in their jar. Make a list of special things students can trade their full jar for, such as extra time with News-O-Matic or a turn at a special classroom job.

  3. There are many things we now take for granted. Do a group activity every week that researches what life was like before certain things we now take for granted existed. Such as being driven place to place by parents instead of walking, instant entertainment, or going to a store to get clothes instead of making them yourself. I bet parents and students would also be grateful for refrigerators, dish washers, and vacuum cleaners. Airplanes allow us to visit people we love who might live far away. What else can you think of?

  4. Every day have your class spend five minutes “living in the moment.” Practice mindfulness exercises with your class. For example, have your students sit in a relaxing position and have them pay attention to how their body feels when they breathe. Or, if parents agree, give out a Hershey kiss and have your students give it their full attention first visually, then by smelling it, and then by tasting it. Teach your students to concentrate on what they are doing in the moment. If they find they are thinking of something else encourage them to “let the thought go.”

  5. Have your students write gratitude letters to people they care about.

  6. Help your students find out what’s meaningful to them by creating a “personal meaningfulness collage.” You can have a class discussion on the many ways children and adults can find meaning and purpose in their lives, stressing diversity and acceptance of differences. Bring in magazines and have your students cut out examples of what they themselves find meaningful and make a collage.

  7. Have your class design and then construct a box for someone they care about and put “notes of gratitude” in the box

  8. Have each student write down on slips of paper what they are grateful for and why they are grateful. Then put the slips of paper in a box. If you notice that a student is having a hard day suggest that they read some of the slips from their “gratitude box.” It may remind them that there are meaningful things in their life.

  9. Cut construction paper into strips that could form the links of a chain. Start a “gratitude chain” by writing on separate strips one thing you are grateful for regarding each child. Put all of the strips together to start the chain and invite students to add their own strips whenever they want. When the chain reaches across the room, do something special for the class

  10. Finally, here’s a great Thanksgiving gratitude activity: Have your students create small turkeys by having them trace their hands, turn them into turkeys. On each finger write down something for which they are grateful and on the thumb have them put a picture of themselves holding a sign that says “thank you.” Or, to make it bigger, have them construct a turkey and write on the feathers of the turkey’s tail.

Thank you for reading my GRATITUDE post. I wish you all a meaningful Thanksgiving!

By Dr. Phyllis Ohr


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