How to Teach Gratitude in Your Classroom

Veteran teacher and TeacherVision Advisory Board Member Sara shares her experience in creating a "gratitude practice" in the classroom.

Updated on: November 12, 2019

How to Teach Gratitude in Your Classroom

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, but counting one’s blessings doesn’t need to be limited to just the month of November! Researchers have found that practicing gratitude on a regular basis can have positive physical, psychological and social benefits.

What is Gratitude?

Robert Emmons of the University of California - Davis, one of the leading experts on gratitude, defines gratitude as recognizing the good things in life and the source of this goodness. It can involve the five senses (smell, taste, sight, sound and touch), and tends not to focus on material items. While gratitude focuses on the positive, it is important to acknowledge that negative life events are not to be ignored or minimized.

Ideas for Practicing Gratitude in the Classroom

Throughout the course of my teaching career, I have tried to cultivate a "gratitude practice" in my classroom. Along the way, I've experimented with various approaches and strategies, and watched my students benefit from better relationships, attitudes, and outlooks. Here are some ways to incorporate gratitude in your teaching - try them out for the month of Thanksgiving or keep them going all year long!

Gratitude Journals

Keeping a gratitude journal is perhaps the most popular and well-known method of practicing gratitude and can easily be incorporated into any classroom.

This is a good starting point for your classroom gratitude practice as it allows students to independently reflect on what gratitude means personally to them.

Before asking students to write in a gratitude journal be sure to explain what gratitude is and encourage them to think of non-material things to include. Have students list 3 things in their gratitude journal weekly – this could be done as bell work at the beginning of the class or at the end of class as an exit activity. When introducing the concept of a gratitude journal it may be useful to provide students with writing prompts and ask them to focus on gratitude for their learning, for example, someone who helped them learn in class that day.

Use a Gratitude "Opener"

As students become comfortable reflecting on gratitude in their journals, you may wish to start each class by giving students a few moments to, silently, reflect on something they are grateful for that day. This could be incorporated into your lessons more often than journal writing, perhaps on a daily basis, and help set positive intentions for the upcoming class. This is a quick way to remind and allow students to practice gratitude without taking up a lot of class time. As with the journals, you may wish to provide gratitude prompts on the board to help with student reflection.

Gratitude Jar

A physical reminder of gratitude helps the practice become consistent, which in turn helps it be more effective. Placing a Gratitude Jar in the classroom and inviting students to add to it can create a great gratitude visual. Have a supply of items (i.e., balls, erasers, note cards) that students can add to the jar when they think of something they are grateful for. Ideally, students would be able to anonymously write the gratitude on the item being placed in the jar. On a weekly (or daily) basis, you can randomly select a gratitude from the jar to share with the class.

Gratitude Wall

An important part of incorporating gratitude into your classroom routine is to model gratitude and celebrate it. One way to do this, once students have become comfortable with their self-reflections on gratitude, is to create a Wall of Gratitude using markers on whiteboard or post-it notes on a bulletin board. Gratitudes can be added to the wall informally, whenever a student (or teacher!) is inspired by an event they are grateful for and would like to share they can post it on the wall. Additions to the wall can also be formalized as exit tickets, where students list 3 things they are grateful for and post on the wall as they leave. This method is particularly well suited for when the gratitude is focused on learning. A special space on the wall may be reserved for you to write your own gratitude list -- which can be updated on a daily or weekly basis.

Use Gratitude Language

As mentioned above, modeling gratitude helps gratitude become part of your classroom climate. Using gratitude language promotes and encourages a positive learning environment where students feel welcomed and appreciated. You can model the use of gratitude language by 1) greeting students at the door and thanking them for coming, 2) recognizing a student or colleague for helping someone, or 3) thanking students for their hard work. Gratitude language also complements culturally responsive teaching that acknowledges and celebrates student diversity and contributes to a sense of belonging in the classroom.

Gratitude Notes

The final suggestion for incorporating gratitude in the classroom is to pay it forward. At my school we are encouraged to mail (yes, snail mail!) postcards to guardians or students with a note recognizing positive actions. This could be a gratitude statement you write for an individual student. As a classroom activity, students could write and deliver a gratitude note to an individual that they are thankful for in their personal or school life. Recognizing the good in others is part of practicing gratitude.

To be most effective, it is important to practice gratitude consistently. Implementing one or all of these strategies will help promote a positive and welcoming learning environment and strengthen classroom relationships.

How do you practice gratitude in your classroom? Share with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

TeacherVision Advisory Board Member Sara McCarthy has been teaching middle and high school math and science in Nova Scotia, Canada for the past ten years. She has recently started Escape Ed, which produces educational games for math and science classes. Before becoming a teacher, Sara worked in a molecular biology lab where she honed her mad scientist skills. She spends her winter breaks on ski slopes and her summers at the beach.

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