5 Ways to Teach Gratitude with Magnitude in 2020

In a year characterized (or plagued) by magnitude, TeacherVision's Head of Content and Curriculum proposes 5 ways of teaching gratitude to your students. The key is to make it unique and fun to garner kids' participation and they will turn material whims into immaterial wishes.

Celebrating gratitude with magnitude

As we find ourselves thrust into November and the onset of the holiday season, I have been thinking about the example I can set for my family members and the others that surround me. While it’s easy to lose sight of our blessings in the year of the pandemic, I find myself drawn to the idea of gratitude more than ever. 

Practicing gratitude on a regular basis can have positive physical, psychological, and social benefits and teaches resilience. In fact, one of the leading national experts on gratitude, Robert Emmons, defines it as recognizing the good things in life and their source. This feeling is often triggered during an interaction with the 5 senses, and tends not to focus on the material. While we find ourselves entrenched and all-consumed by negatives this year, it’s important to remember the little things and impart this advice onto our students!

Putting a “Gratitude Practice” into Practice

Planting the seeds while kids are young is essential in cultivating a gratitude practice throughout life. While there are myriad ways to explain gratitude to your students, it really cannot be taught—however, it can be modeled by providing situations that demonstrate gratitude in action. Here are some gratitude activities to try with your students:

1.  Gratitude Journals: We are always trying to teach reading and writing stamina, but often find our students pushing back. Journal writing has become an essential part in ELA curriculum or a Writer’s Workshop model, and a creative way to get your students to write freely without the threat of scrutiny or criticism. One way to incorporate the theme of gratitude into journal writing is to have students reflect on what it means to them personally. For example, as a warm-up or bellringer activity, have students write a paragraph about a specific time they put gratitude into action, or for younger students have them draw a picture of something they’re grateful for with a detailed sentence explaining why. Tip: Be sure to explain to students that gratitude is more meaningful than mere platitudes! Provide examples like “Forgive and forget”, but admonish that real gratitude is not just uttering empty words.

2.  Gratitude Wall: As Thanksgiving approaches, students are used to being asked what they are grateful for, whether by their teachers or their parents. After conducting a self-reflection on gratitude in their writing journals, an extension of this activity could be creating a more public Wall of Gratitude—on a wall or whiteboard in your physical classroom, in a virtual classroom that you are using for your remote teaching, or on a shared app like Padlet. Students can add to the wall either informally when they are inspired by an action or expression or it can be done as a more exercise as an exit ticket, where students post 3 things they’re grateful for to the wall before they leave class.

3.  Gratitude Chain: This “crafty” idea is a variation on the wall, but is still good for in-person learning with a general teacher or an art teacher. Set up a station with construction paper pre-cut into chain links, markers or crayons, and glue. Each student jots down things or people they are grateful for [if preferred, anonymously] and adds a link to the chain. Teachers then hang up the chain and closer to Thanksgiving, share out the written sentiments during a “New Attitude of Gratitude” session.

4.  Gratitude Notes: We all know the expression “pay it forward”. Encourage students to either “snail mail” or email a card or note to a classmate or teacher recognizing an action he/she undertook that they noticed or appreciated. In the spirit of discretion, this can be done anonymously; in fact, you could encourage your students to leave their names off the note or card and make a game of it where students can discreetly guess who sent it to them. If students do want to identify themselves they can sign, or they can even use apps like Flipgrid to record videos of gratitude “in person”.

5.  Gratitude Rocks: An offshoot of an idea that became wildly popular during quarantine, have students find rocks and paint them with messages of gratitude. The assignment is for each student to find a good rock that has a flat surface to be painted on. Have them write a message and/or paint an image that inspires gratitude, whether directed towards a family member, neighbor, teacher, or just toward the general public. Then have them place the rock in a visible location —in their yard, in the center of town, or even displayed during virtual classes to spruce up their home desks.

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