By Scott Sterling
Thanksgiving might be the best holiday to harvest for learning opportunities (no pun intended), but many teachers default to having the students draw turkeys using their hands or making pilgrim hats out of construction paper. That’s a waste.
The theme of Thanksgiving is, of course, gratitude. That falls clearly within character education and is worth spending some time on in the classroom. Here are some activity ideas to try this week that not only get students to exercise their academic muscles, but also get them thinking more deeply about the holiday.
Journals are often the primary tool when it comes to having students reflect on their learning and lives, so thinking about gratitude is no different. Of course, journals always work better when they are used consistently rather than as a one-off activity.
The best model is usually taking a short time each day to have the students do a quick write-up about something they are grateful for. Instruct them to be as descriptive as possible. “I’m thankful for my mom” isn’t the same as “I’m thankful for my mom making my lunch every day.”
If you don’t feel like having students write out their reflections on the day, perhaps you can make some time at the end of class for a gratitude circle, where students share something specific about the day for which they are thankful. After some modeling, the circle should become a routine part of the day and be able to operate with very little input from you.
Trace the sourcing
Children tend to have the mindset that things just “appear” in front of them. New shoes come into their lives when they need them. They don’t know that those shoes are the product of a long line of efforts from various people.
To show students that everything is interconnected, have them research an object of their choice, tracing how it gets to them. In the shoe example, that would include a process that starts with a designer, manufacturing, and distribution to the mall before their parents can purchase the shoes.
Every day, assign students to closely observe each other (while not being creepy and still getting their work done). Have observers look for things the other student does during the day that are worth being thankful for. Things like helping another student or helping to clean up all qualify. At the end of the day, the spy reports about a specific example as a model for other students.
Gratitude photo hunt
Send students on a photo hunt at the beginning of the week. Using their tablets, have them capture objects or moments for which they are thankful. At the end of the week, have them share their work in a presentation or via a shared Pinterest board.
Thank you notes
Would you like to be the support staff’s favorite faculty member? Have your students write a thank-you note to a school staff member who might otherwise go unrecognized. That might include a custodian, cafeteria workers, landscaper, etc. This exercise will get them thinking about people (other than teachers and administrators) who are needed to keep a school running.