It’s Not What You Got, It’s What You Give


A low cost strategy to help students (and adults) feel happier and less depressed is the practice of gratitude. Negativity rewires the brain to seek out the negative in situations. Finding things we are thankful for and reflecting upon them is a great way to help students focus on the good things in their lives and promotes a mental state in which students are ready and able to learn. In a 2011 TEDxBloomington talk, Shawn Achor explores positivity and performance in his talk “The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance.”

It Ain’t The Life You Choose, It’s The Life You Live

The holiday season is especially tough for some students and adults, so taking time out to focus on gratitude can really have a positive impact on students and adults in your building or even district. If you’re thinking about doing it, here are some ways you can utilize it with students at every grade level or for yourself.

It’s Only What You Give

How This Looks At Each Grade Level:


Students in the lower grades can decorate cards that depict what they are thankful for, make posters, do an oral presentation or video that counts their blessings. This could be as easy and quick in the class as just going around the room and sharing one thing each student is grateful or thankful for at the beginning of class, or during a morning meeting. Students could call, write, or visit (if local) community members and discuss with them what they are thankful for and then inquire what the the community member they are paired with is thankful for too.

It’s Not What You Got

Middle/High School

Some activities include: visual gratitude creations (cards, posters, thank you projects, etc.), sharing out one thing we are grateful or thankful for in class or to begin morning meetings. This activity can be expanded and adapted to fit the needs of your classroom. Writing down our blessings has been proven to increase the effects that reflecting on gratitude has for our mental health. Fun ways to incorporate this include: have students combine pictures that they take with descriptive captions, sentences, or paragraphs about why they are thankful for that particular thing. I introduce the effects of negativity on our brains before I begin working with gratitude. I want my students to become aware of the effects those negative words and thoughts have on us. You can incorporate formats like Snapchat or Instagram, using tools like Google Slides or Adobe Spark to create visual gratitude projects. 

But The Life You Live


This one is ripe with ways for teachers to practice gratitude. The easiest and most obvious first step is to show our gratitude toward our colleagues, staff, administration by writing them kind uplifting notes, cards, treats, drinks like coffee, tea, soda, and the list goes on, but you get the idea. Besides showing gratitude to your colleagues in general, now focus specifically on one or two that you feel the most grateful for, and send them a card, a letter, or a note that contains at least one very specific detail. And last, but maybe the most important of all, show gratitude to that one person who gets under your skin. Maybe it’s a PLC (Professional Learning Community) member that you struggle with, or just don’t know well. The gratitude you show, regardless of the manner, will enrich you more than you know.

It’s The Life You Live

Why This Works

At the very basic level, practicing gratitude, even within the context of an assignment, takes the student’s focus away from any negatives they may feel overwhelmed or consumed by and redirects their focus to the good things in their lives. The power of positive thinking really has impactful benefits on our mental health if we focus on using fewer negative words when we do gratitude writing, so encourage students to focus on that as they write.

Headings are from partial lyrics of the song What You Give by Tesla

5 thoughts on “4 WAYS TO SNEAK IN SEL AT EVERY GRADE LEVEL: PART 2 Gratitude

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