Practicing gratitude means taking time to notice and appreciate what we already have. This is a meaningful activity kids and teens can do anytime of year, not just during Thanksgiving or fall! Besides being a fun way to talk about the positive things in our lives, practicing gratitude actually has some big benefits. When kids and teens actively practice gratitude on a regular basis, they create more happiness and joy, feel calmer and more relaxed, and develop stronger connections with others around them.
Gratitude is also a healthy coping strategy kids and teens can use to manage stress and tough emotions. Just like all coping strategies, a big key to this is practicing it before we are upset so that it becomes second nature. Luckily, there are many different ways to practice with your learners.
Something important to first teach kids and teens about gratitude is that we can have gratitude for all things big and small. You might feel grateful for your family and friends who are there to support you in your life. You might also feel grateful for the feel of sunshine on a warm spring morning, or the smell of bacon in the morning when you wake up and know breakfast is on the way. There are so many things to be grateful for, and the more you practice it, the more you notice them.
Here are activities to practice gratitude with kids and teens:
1. Make a gratitude list.
Have students keep a simple gratitude list. On the list, they can write just one thing a day they feel grateful for. Again, these things can be small or big; the idea is just to choose one thing a day you feel grateful for in that moment. After students list theirs, you can opt to give time to share gratitude lists and even make a larger master list for the whole class to see.
2. Write in a gratitude journal.
Make it a daily practice to write in a gratitude journal. The best strategy here is to provide gratitude prompts and allow students to respond on their own. After, kids and teens can share about their gratitude writing if they feel comfortable. This is not only a way to build gratitude and social-emotional skills, but also integrate writing at the very same time. Some simple prompts to try include:
- What is something you are grateful for today? It can be something big or small.
- What positive qualities are you grateful to possess and share with the world?
- What is one of the best inventions? Why are you grateful for that invention?
3. Use a gratitude jar.
To reflect on gratitude, have students write on note cards or small slips of paper. For example, students might write, “I’m grateful my partner loaned me a pencil when I didn’t have one,” and “I’m grateful for the read aloud today.”
Put these into a gratitude jar. When your class needs a brain break, take time to open the gratitude jar and read a couple from it. This can help cultivate an attitude of gratitude and joy among the entire class as a community.
4. Practice gratitude with ABCs.
Use an ABC gratitude worksheet create your own gratitude list. Each day, focus on a new letter. Ask students to share some things they are grateful for that start with each letter. For example, you might ask, “What are you grateful for that starts with A?” Students might share with responses such as airplanes, asking questions, apple juice, animals, or art. You can use this as simple discussion time or make an actual list on the board to remember your gratitude ideas.
A simple extension of this would be to have students choose one item from the list and write about it.
5. Share gratitude shout outs.
Have students share (in writing or aloud) when they feel grateful for someone else in the classroom. For example, a student might write or say, “I am grateful Alicia was a great partner.” You can even post these on a bulletin board or somewhere in the classroom for all to see.
6. Create a gratitude bulletin board.
Plan and design a gratitude bulletin board with your class. For this, have students write out something they feel grateful for. They can write and/or draw pictures. Then, post these on the bulletin board as a way to share what you are grateful for as a group.
7. Practice reframing thoughts.
Gratitude means appreciating what we have. Sometimes, in order to do that, we need to reframe negative thoughts that might pop in our heads using positive self-talk. A simple adult example is the phrase, “I have to go grocery shopping; I hate going there.” With gratitude reframing, we can instead think, “I’m grateful to have fresh food for myself and my family.” It’s important to help kids and teens do this too!
If a student says, “I hate gym, it’s so stupid!” You can help them turn it around to something like, “I’m get to exercise and build my strength,” or “I’m learning new ways to exercise and help my body feel calm.”
This strategy doesn’t change our initial feelings; it’s important we still validate how we feel. However, it helps kids and teens (and yes, even adults) see a different perspective. In turn, this can help us cope with challenges and difficulties along the way.
8. Model gratitude.
Just like any skill, gratitude must be modeled and practiced together. Model gratitude by letting your classroom of students know what you feel grateful for that day. Remember to choose things small and big in your life. This also becomes an important relationship-building exercise at the same time.
9. Gratitude group discussions.
Use gratitude discussion questions to lead some meaningful conversations with kids and teens. As kids share and discuss, these conversations can help build self-awareness, cultivate empathy, and strengthen relationships. Some questions to try include:
- Who is a person you are grateful for?
- What qualities in a friend are you grateful for?
- What animal are you grateful for?
- What is an accomplishment you are grateful for achieving?
10. Gratitude circle share.
First, sit or stand in a circle. Have students choose one thing they are grateful for that day. Go around in a circle and have each student share their “one thing.” This is a simple, meaningful, and quick way to integrate gratitude while also giving everyone a voice.
11. Create a shout out board.
A “shout out” board is a bulletin board focused on positive acts kids have seen or experienced. Leave note cards or slips of paper out for students to write on. On this slip, students should give someone a “shout out,” such as, “Omar was an awesome partner during reading time.” Students can post these up on the bulletin board, giving a constant visual reminder of all the ways students show kindness and other positive qualities.
12. Color gratitude pages.
Coloring is always a great way to build skills; it’s calming, engaging, and memorable for kids. Use gratitude coloring pages to relax and reflect about what we are grateful for.
13. Draw gratitude pictures.
Have students choose something they are grateful for. Then, draw it. This can be anything; kids might draw their favorite hobby or a picture of their family on a special trip they took.
14. Read gratitude affirmations.
Positive affirmations are helpful and encourage words we say to ourselves. Practice reading self-talk statements focused on gratitude. You can read a phrase and have students repeat it back and then discuss what it means to you. Here are a few to try:
- I have so much to feel grateful for.
- I am grateful for my friends.
- I am grateful for learning new ideas.
- I have gratitude in my heart.
15. Give compliments to each other.
Practice gratitude for each other by giving compliments. For example, a student might say, “You are an awesome soccer player. I really admire that.” It’s important that these compliments are authentic and not forced, so it helps to give the option to share when students are comfortable.
16. Take a nature walk.
There is so much to be grateful for in nature. There are so many social-emotional skills to target in nature at the very same time! Take a quick nature walk together. Use your senses and begin to appreciate what you appreciate around you. What sounds, smells, sights, and feels do you have gratitude for? Best of all, this is an activity you can do again and again as a way to strengthen gratitude and mindfulness.
17. Design a gratitude collage.
Gather up old magazines. Then, have students cut out pictures and words to help them create their own individualized gratitude collage.
18. Create gratitude posters.
Have student work with partners or groups to create and design their own gratitude posters. Each group should focus on gratitude for a new topic. For example, one group might create a poster about feeling grateful for good food. Once students are finished, you can post these on a bulletin board or in the hallway to share your designs.
19. Draw a gratitude spiral.
For this art activity, have students come up with a list of several things they are grateful for. Then, list these in a spiral. Students can then paint or color in their spiral.
20. Write on a pumpkin.
This activity works best when you can get one pumpkin for each kid or teen. Using a sharpie, have students write out different things they are grateful for on their pumpkin. This is a great activity because students can then bring their pumpkins home to share with families.
As an alternative to having many different pumpkins, you can opt for one large pumpkin for a whole class. Each day, write one thing you are grateful for as a group.
21. Create a gratitude book.
Have kids choose three people, places, or things they are grateful for. Then, create and design a gratitude book to explain each of those. Students can draw and write about each as they make their gratitude book.
22. Create a daily gratitude share.
Each day, start with a simple daily gratitude share. This is an excellent activity to start off your morning meeting. During this time, give time and space for students to share something they are grateful for.
23. Write thank you notes to others.
Have students choose one person to write a thank you letter to. This activity allows students to practice their writing and editing skills while building a culture of kindness. When writing pieces are finished, encourage students to give their letter to that person.
24. Create gratitude bookmarks.
Use gratitude bookmarks to read, write, and color with a focus on different gratitude topics. Students can delve deeper into their gratitude for friends, family, learning, hobbies, and more. What is great about this activity is that afterwards, students can keep their bookmark to remind them what they are grateful for.
25. Read gratitude quotes.
Read gratitude quotes and discuss. Some of my favorite quotes include:
- Gratitude is a gift we give ourselves.
- Gratitude makes what we have enough.
- The more you practice gratitude, the more grateful you become.
Have students find their own gratitude quotes to share too.
26. Give gratitude free write time.
Allow 5-10 minutes for students to write independently about something they feel grateful for. Writing for longer periods of time on one gratitude topic encourages kids and teens to dig deep and think about why they are grateful for that thing or person.
27. Provide time for show and tell.
Show and tell is an excellent time for kids and teens to share something important to them. Kids might talk about a special trip they took with family or bring in their biking helmet to talk about the activity and what it means to them. Ultimately, this is an exercise in gratitude and relationship-building.
28. Create a gratitude chain.
Cut a piece of paper lengthwise into 4 slips. On each slip, have students write something they are grateful for. Loop these into a circle and create a gratitude chain. Keep your gratitude chain in the classroom as a reminder (and you can keep adding to it whenever you want!).
29. Practice gratitude with colors.
Choose a color of the day to practice gratitude with. For example, have students think of things that are green that they are grateful for. Students might share things like frogs, grass, leaves, broccoli, snakes, and soccer fields. Each day, you can pick a new color to experiment with.
30. Gratitude mindful breathing.
Use mindful breathing exercises to practice gratitude. Have students slowly breathe in as they picture something in their heads that they are grateful for. Then, slowly exhale. You can continue this a few times before discussing what each student pictured.
31. Use end of the day reflections.
Spend time positively reflecting on what went well for the day. Use simple SEL reflection questions to make a meaningful impact. A few to try include:
- What are you proud of yourself for today?
- What inspired you?
- What strengths did you use?
32. Gratitude presentations.
Allow students to create a way to present something they are grateful for to the class. This is an excellent way to strengthen gratitude while also building public speaking skills. Students can create a presentation any way they choose, with pictures, stories, written responses, or multimedia.
More to Read:
- Fall and Autumn Activities to Build Social-Emotional Learning Skills
- The 9 Most Simple and Effective Ways to Integrate Social-Emotional Learning