Every year, it seems like the grumbling grows louder about the next generation’s sense of entitlement. People say they want things handed to them. They’re not appreciative of what adults do for them. They complain when teachers give them things (“Is that all you’ve got?”) and ask “What do we get for doing this?” before completing any task.

We can complain about it and blame these issues on the way kids are being raised in a narcassistic  society, or we can make sure that in OUR classrooms, things are working a little differently.  Being thankful is a trait that we can choose to instill in our students! As the Thanksgiving season approaches (and with the gift-centric Christmas holiday to follow), here are 8 ways to actively foster a sense of gratitude in kids:

How to foster gratitude and teach kids to be thankful (classroom ideas)

1. Draw students’ attention to the positive things that happen.

Children learn by example. The more they hear you express gratitude, the more naturally they will express gratitude themselves. Include gratitude in daily conversations by focusing on the small wins that occur. For example, if it stops raining two minutes before recess begins, say, “Wow, I am so thankful we get to go outside today!” If kids only hear us complain when outdoor recess is cancelled, they’ll be more likely to only comment on the negative, too. But if we make it part of our regular classroom routines to celebrate the little things, children will learn to do the same.

2. Thank students for their efforts, both verbally and with compliment slips.

Another way to model gratitude is to sincerely thank students for their hard work and cooperation. A genuine compliment from a caring teacher is something that a child might never forget. It doesn’t have to be just a verbal affirmation: you can also acknowledge good deeds by giving out compliment slips. These are basically short thank you notes given to students as a token of appreciation for their help in making the classroom run smoothly. 

3. Give kids ownership of and responsibility for the classroom. 

It can be extremely frustrating when you spend hours planning a dynamic lesson only for students to criticize it, play around, and generally show a complete disregard for your work. Believe it or not, students are often oblivious to the effort it takes to run a classroom, and often the problem is not that they are not taking your hard work for granted. They truly don’t understand how much you do! Giving your students classroom jobs and other responsibilities will show them that things don’t magically get done on their own. Students also learn very quickly how hard it is to teach when they are given the opportunity to instruct their peers. I’ve had a number of students tell me they had no idea how hard it was to be a teacher until it was their turn to get in front of the group and try it themselves! Not only are these strategies great learning opportunities for kids, but they will also teach students to empathize and collaborate with you as they participate in all the hard work work behind the scenes. 

4. Build a newfound appreciation for basic necessities by having students create them from scratch.

Nothing makes you more grateful for your food than growing it yourself. Let students experience the hard work that goes into caring for a small garden in a classroom greenhouse or school yard. Or, have students attempt to knit a scarf or follow a clothing pattern to make a shirt. Allowing students to experience the hard work that goes into small items we take for granted will help them experience gratitude for what they’ve been given.

5. Read books about gratitude.

One of the simplest ways to start teaching kids the concept of gratitude is by reading aloud stories with gratitude as their theme. You can integrate these texts right into your ELA curriculum and have students practice summarizing, finding the main idea, uncovering the author’s purpose, and so on. Planning reading response activities as a follow-up is a great way to boost reading comprehension skills AND reinforce the theme of gratitude. Here are some of my favorites for elementary school:


6. Find a creative way to keep a class gratitude journal.

Every week (or everyday, if you prefer,) ask your students to write about one thing they are grateful for. Not only does this give them time to think about the things they should be thankful for, but it provides a meaningful way to practice their writing skills. I’ve also done a shared class gratitude journal where one student is responsible for writing something they’re grateful for each day during dismissal, and we read it together at the end of the month. Another idea is to talk about the school day together during a closing meeting, and have students share something they’re grateful for with a partner. Choose one student’s statement of gratitude to be recorded in the class journal, which serves as a great reflection tool for the end of the year when students look back at all the positive things that happened to them.

7. Perform a gratitude visit (write a letter to someone they’ve never thanked.)

This is a strategy the Greater Good Science Center has written about via their gratitude curriculum. It requires students to write a letter to someone who has helped them, but whom they never previously thanked. According to GGSC’s study, students who participated showed ‘greater positive emotions’ (compared to non-participants) even two months after the exercise.

8. Give students an opportunity to make a difference for the less fortunate.

Children often have no idea about the world outside of their small community, and I’ve found they are deeply touched when given the chance to explore what life is like for other people. Sharing books and internet resources about life in developing nations allows children to see their privilege in a whole new light. Encourage students to find ways to use the skills you’ve taught them to meet a need in the world, from helping kids who live in poverty to making a difference for those affected by natural disasters. Students can practice math, reading, and writing skills through fundraisers and partnerships with charities. You can make these efforts a year-long project that students devote just an hour or two each month.

How do you teach students to have an attitude of gratitude and a heart of thankfulness? Please share your tips (and/or resource links) in the comments. 

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The problem with most behavior management systems is that the kids who are misbehaving get all the attention. It’s hard to remember to pay attention to kids’ GOOD choices when you’re required to track and address their bad choices. And often rewards are built into behavior management plans so that a child who struggles to stay on task gets a reward for 15 minutes of on-task behavior, but a child without that plan who is on-task 99% of the time every single day gets nothing.

How can we as teachers acknowledge kids’ good choices in the classroom simply and easily?

How can we show appreciation to children who are respectful and hardworking on a daily basis?

For me, one of the simplest solutions has been the use of compliment slips. I just typed up a number of tasks that I wanted to thank kids for, printed the compliments out on colored paper, cut them apart, and stored them in a pencil box divided with little cards I made from old file folders.

rewards-with-compliment-strips

Every few weeks, without warning, I chose one of the compliment types and placed them on the desk of my students. I’d notice who hadn’t been tardy that day and left a “thank you for being on time to school” note on their desk when they went to art. Or during the kids’ lunch break, I’d do a random desk check and leave notes that said “Thank you for keeping your desk so neat and clean” for the kids who had followed our clean desk diagram without reminders.

Sometimes I gave the compliment slips only to one or two kids at a time. When I got a new student who didn’t speak English and a Spanish-speaking student took him under her wing, I placed a compliment slip on top of her backpack: “Thank you for being so kind and helpful to your classmates.” When a student had the opportunity to keep a dollar she’d found on the ground but instead chose to turn it in, I gave her a compliment slip that read “Thank you for doing the right thing when no one was watching.”

Although I rarely gave out any kind of tangible rewards to students, I’d amassed a small collection of sparkly pencils, stickers, and bookmarks, and decided to store them in the pencil box with the compliment slips. I thought of these as surprise gifts: something that I wanted to give to my students not out of obligation to a reward system, but as a token of appreciation for their help in making our classroom run smoothly. This is something I like to do on occasion with husband or family or friends who are so supportive and wonderful to me…why not my students? Why not give them an unexpected thank you gift and card?

I really can’t overestimate the impact these compliment slips have had on my students. It didn’t matter whether I gave a surprise gift or not: just saying thank you, and memorializing my appreciation in writing, was incredibly gratifying for the vast majority of students. One student attempted to collect every type of compliment slip I had created. Another tucked them carefully into the clear plastic pocket of her homework binder so she could admire them every time she took the binder out. Even my harder-to-impress kids still smiled and exchanged happy looks with me upon seeing the thank you note on their desks.

Compliment slips and thank you cards: an easy way to acknowledge kids' good choices. FREE until Wed. 11/19!

Because the compliment slips were such a powerful tool for thanking and appreciating kids, I decided to create a more polished version for my TeachersPayTeachers store. I’ve created individual slips in three different sizes (depending on how much paper and ink you can spare, and whether or not you also want to take time to write a personalized message to students on the slip.) There’s also a version of each compliment in black and white so you can save your colored ink and print on colored paper if you prefer. Additionally, I created dividers to help you organize the cards: the two smaller versions of the slips will fit perfectly behind the dividers so you can find them easily. If you want to save time and purchase these ready-to-print compliment slips and thank you notes, I’ve made them available for for just $1.50.

Thank you reading this blog. Thank you for your support in all the ventures I’ve undertaken throughout the years: books, webinars, curriculum resources in TPT, and more.

And thank you for the hard work you do every single day in the classroom. Your work is so, so important. I hope these compliment slips make the job a little easier, and help you pass on this attitude of thanks and gratitude to your hard-working students as you let them know THEY are appreciated, too.

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5 ways to make your classroom fun (but not chaotic)

November 13, 2014
real teachers, real tips on classroom management

Catherine Ross is here today to share practical ways to bring fun into the learning process! Catherine is a former elementary school teacher (now a stay-at-home mom) who believes learning should be enjoyable for young minds. She loves coming up with creative ways through which kids can grasp the seemingly difficult concepts of learning easily, and believes that a […]

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7 steps to avoiding the classroom paper trap

November 9, 2014
7 steps for avoiding the classroom paper trap

The amount of paper that we as teachers collect in the classroom can be staggering! And on top of everything else we have to do, organizing paperwork can feel so overwhelming that we just put it off indefinitely. Though organizing papers in the classroom may seem like an incredibly difficult task, it doesn’t have to be! All you need is […]

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If you agree with this statement, it’s time to quit teaching.

November 4, 2014
If you agree with this statement, it

A teacher recently asked me the following question: How do you know when it’s time to find another career? I’ve been at this for a couple of years and tried switching schools and grade levels to see if that helped, but watching the kids learn and grow just doesn’t do it for me. I feel like the kids are supposed to be […]

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Empowered. Passion. Relationships. Hope.

November 2, 2014
NCAEE2014

The last few weeks of October have been a whirlwind of conferences and meet-ups for me. It’s been a lot of fun and I’m still trying to wrap my head around everything that I’ve learned from the amazing educators I had the privilege of talking with. Here’s a glimpse of what I’ve been up to. […]

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What’s the craziest thing you ever said to your students?

October 29, 2014
Huge list of crazy things teachers say

Kids say the darndest things. But teachers do, too!  Between bathroom conversations, weird smells, bizarre use of school supplies, and suspicious animal noises coming from backpacks, how could you not? I posted the above image on my Facebook page and asked teachers to share the craziest thing they’ve ever heard come out of their own […]

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15 easy book character costumes for teachers

October 25, 2014
15 easy book character costumes for teachers

What better Halloween costume for a teacher than one which promotes a love of books? I got really into the idea when I taught in a district that didn’t allow Halloween costumes and instead encouraged kids and teachers to dress as characters from children’s literature. We held a Book Character Parade around the school to show off our […]

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Yes, the October Blues are a real thing.

October 22, 2014
Yes, the October Blues are a real thing. If you’re feeling completely discouraged right now and don’t know how you can possibly make it until June, that is completely NORMAL.

If you’re feeling completely discouraged right now and don’t know how you can possibly make it until June, that is completely NORMAL. In October, the optimism that comes from having a fresh start at back to school has faded, the holiday breaks are still weeks away, and the rest of the school year looms ahead […]

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How working memory games can improve kids’ executive function in 5 minutes a day

October 19, 2014
working memory games that improve kids

Are there kids in your class that struggle with multi-step directions and need frequent reminders about what to do? Or students who lose their place in texts, struggle to copy information and take notes, and forget what they were just taught? If so, there’s a strong possibility that the issue might be something that you […]

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Don’t discount your ideas: YOU have practices worth sharing

October 15, 2014
Don’t discount your ideas: YOU have practices worth sharing!

My post on discovering the 2×10 strategy has gotten over 200,000 page views in the past week and 35,000 shares on Facebook and incredibly, is still going strong. Literally thousands of teachers were just as impressed as me by the simplicity of the idea. We all know we need to build relationships with kids, but we […]

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Overcoming the 3 biggest obstacles in relationship building with kids

October 12, 2014
How to make time for relationship building, establish a rapport with students who don't like you, and more

So the 2×10 “miraculous” behavior management strategy really resonated with a lot of teachers. It’s a simple method for making the nebulous goal of relationship building much more concrete and achievable—simply spend 2 minutes a day for 10 consecutive days talking with a challenging student about anything she or he would like. Though many people indicated […]

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Share how your school is innovating and win 200K in prizes

October 9, 2014
Britten Follett

Britten Follett, Director of Social Media and Web Content at Follett School Solutions, is here today to share information about this year’s Follett Challenge. It’s a great opportunity to share the good stuff that’s happening in your school and reward teachers and students for their hard work! Follett is a longtime supporter of The Cornerstone […]

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The 2×10 strategy: a miraculous solution for behavior issues?

October 6, 2014
This is as close as it gets to a miracle solution for students

In the eleven years that I’ve been writing on this site, I don’t think I’ve ever, ever used the term “miracle” in relation to behavior management. But lately I’ve been hearing a lot of teachers talk about a strategy that might be as close as it gets. If you have a student for whom no other solutions […]

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The top 4 excuses for not being a connected educator

October 2, 2014
If this article doesn

I’m not usually the type of person who tells other teachers what they MUST and MUST NOT do. This post is pushier than usual, because I’m more passionate about this topic than usual. Being a connected educator has transformed my teaching and added so much joy to my life that I want every discouraged and […]

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Unshakeable: Coming to 2 conferences this October

September 29, 2014
Hear the Unshakeable presentation at 2 conferences this October

Have you ever had a message that you felt compelled to share with the world? Something that you felt passionately that EVERYONE needs to know, a burst of insight and new understanding that changed your life and now you want it to change the lives of all the people around you? I’m sure it’s no surprise […]

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A fun FREE app for National Fire Prevention Month

September 26, 2014
Free app Sparky and the Case of the Missing Smoke Alarms

October was always my favorite month when teaching PreK: a trip to the pumpkin patch, a walk in the neighborhood to collect leaves and other signs of fall, and of course, a visit from the local fire station to show off the fire truck. Though the kids were having fun checking out the truck and […]

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Need support? Join “Encouraging Teachers” on Facebook!

September 23, 2014
Encouraging Teachers on Facebook: accepting new members until Oct. 8. Nearly 10,000 strong!

UPDATE OCTOBER 9th: Our fall enrollment period is now over. The group will re-open to new members for another two weeks in the spring. Want to be notified when the next enrollment period begins? Subscribe to the blog via RSS or email, or subscribe for occasional site updates and newsletters. Just over a year ago, I created the Encouraging […]

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A bright idea for building school morale through compliments

September 20, 2014
school morale

Most teachers don’t get nearly enough recognition and appreciation–so why not celebrate each other? Start by selecting the fastest and easiest method that faculty currently use to communicate with each other. If all staff members are required to access and use a social media account or learning management system(LMS), utilize that! Otherwise, a simple email […]

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My journey in educational publishing: how to write books for teachers

September 18, 2014
writing and publishing books for teachers: video plus more resources for anyone interested in education book publishing

If you have been thinking about writing a book for teachers but have no idea how to begin or break into educational publishing, I’d love to share my story with you. Dr. Will Deyamport III interviewed me about educational publishing for his podcast, The Dr. Will Show. In the video below, you’ll hear me speak about: How […]

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