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The Antidote to December Stress: Teach Students to Write about Gratitude

Gratitude Chart

I have been thinking a lot about gratitude lately. Kate and Maggie’s lovely recent post on Indent, “The Grateful Teacher,” says all I wished I could have said, all I want to say, and more about gratitude. (In lieu of reading the rest of my introduction, you might just want to read their post.) While reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown with my #NFBookClub this past summer, one part that really struck me was about gratitude. Brown suggests that one way to combat the anxiety and fear that come with the quest for perfection and that threaten to destroy our happiness is to consciously focus more on gratitude. This suggestion has helped me tremendously. As I stand over my son’s crib at night, watching him sleep and (thank goodness) breathe, instead of letting the panic that I sometimes feel about his well-being and my ability as a parent set in, I reflect on the heart-achingly beautiful gratitude I feel to have him.

I have come to believe that gratitude is the antidote for all that is difficult, painful, or frustrating. I might even go so far as to say that gratitude can fight evil, cure sickness, and perhaps can possibly even make us feel better about standing in long lines during holiday season.

But thinking about gratitude does not always come easily. At this time of year, some negativity can enter into our classrooms as fatigue and pressure to finish a million things set in. One way to send students off with joy this break is to channel them write about gratitude.

Here are a few entry points you could teach students to help them to write their gratitude.

1. Use simple sentence frames.

I am grateful for_________because…

Even though…, I feel grateful because…

I am very lucky because…

2. Study your writer’s notebook with the lens of gratitude. Search past stories, essay entries, even informational notes. Let those entries spark ideas for gratitude.

Examples:

  • A personal narrative entry about a time you had a wild adventure with your cousin might remind you that  you are grateful for close family relationships.
  • An essay entry where you were trying out ideas for an essay on why people should have pets might remind you that you are grateful for your beloved cat.
  • Notes you took about an ancient civilization might remind you that you are grateful for modern comforts, like heat and running water.

3. Use narrative writing strategies to spark ideas.

  • Think of a person or place that really matters to you. Think of a moment that shows why you are grateful for this person or place. After you write the story, you might right a reflection telling why you are grateful.

4. Make a quick list! As fast as you can, list the first twenty things that pop into your head for which you are grateful.

5. Write a letter to whose to whom you are grateful expressing your gratitude.

6. Consider using gratitude as a way to feel better about sad or mad feelings. Think of something that has made you angry or sad. Write about what it is, and then write about something for which you are thankful in connection with the bad experience.

Recently, on a certain social media site, I came across the following image.

holiday grateful list

I will carry this list with me as I enter in to what can be a stressful and overwhelming season. I wish you, your families, and your students a holiday filled with love, peace, and gratitude.

Your turn!

Please share your ideas to help students to write their gratitude.

Anna Gratz Cockerille View All

Anna is a staff developer, literacy coach, and writer, based in New York City. She taught internationally in places such as Sydney, Australia; San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and Auckland, New Zealand in addition to New York before becoming a staff developer for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University (TCRWP). She has been an adjunct instructor in the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College, and teaches at TCRWP where she helps participants bring strong literacy instruction into their classrooms. Anna recently co-wrote Bringing History to Life with Lucy Calkins, part of the 2013 series Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing (Heinemann). She has been a researcher for Lucy Calkins, contributing especially to Pathways to the Common Core (Heinemann, 2012) and Navigating Nonfiction (Heinemann, 2010).

17 thoughts on “The Antidote to December Stress: Teach Students to Write about Gratitude Leave a comment

  1. Thanks so much! Though ive recwntly retired from teaching im still involved with students and -this year in particular-with practicing gratitude. It is wonderful to see how you help students seek it in their own work and lives. I followed the 365 Grateful tenet (look for the 365 Grateful documentary) of photographing and writing about my gratitude on the blog this year. I didn’t try to make it every single day, but looking for small (and large!) things which make me grateful has become habit. It has become a very powerful tool for me in beating stress and in setting goals, too. Thank you again for sharing with your students.

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  2. Anna,
    This is so important during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Stopping to reflect and / or share gratitude will be helpful for maintaining a less-stressed mindset!

    Thanks for the tips. . . They will even be a great way to start the New Year!

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  3. Anna,
    I love this idea. I am finishing up opinion writing withy second graders. For our prompt last week, I had students generate lists of the three things they wanted most. Then, after each chose just one, we began the writing process! I think it would be very fitting to now have them write about why they would be thankful for the item they chose. Being that I realized that it was Sunday halfway through my shower this morning, it may do me some good to combat my own anxieties about next week with a list of things that I am greatful for as well.

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