Thanksgiving: A Time for Everyone to Give Thanks

By Nancy Barile on November 22, 2010
  • Grades: 9–12

High school students today are tremendously overscheduled. They go from school to clubs, sports, and work. They take Advanced Placement classes, SAT prep courses, and they volunteer and do community service. And once they leave middle school, the Thanksgiving-themed assignments and activities completely disappear, and with them, the opportunity to reflect and take stock.

 

 High school students today are tremendously overscheduled. They go from school to clubs, sports, and work. They take Advanced Placement classes, SAT prep courses, and they volunteer and do community service. And once they leave middle school, the Thanksgiving-themed assignments and activities completely disappear, and with them, the opportunity to reflect and take stock.

 

Of course, there are plenty of Thanksgiving activities on the Scholastic Web site, but most are geared towards the younger grades. I wanted to bring Thanksgiving back into the high school classroom.

On the train to Philadelphia to see my father this past Veterans Day, I was reading Woman's World magazine, and I came across an article that stated that when students wrote thank you letters, researchers found that their happiness soared an impressive 20%. Writing just one letter was said to have a positive effect. I thought that this was the perfect time of year for students to step back and reflect on what they were truly thankful for. In the spirit of the season, everyone would benefit.

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I knew my students would be surprised, and maybe even a little miffed, when I first presented this assignment. "Is this a test grade?" "Who gets to read this?" "Do we HAVE to do this? I don't have ANYONE I'm thankful for." I encouraged the students to choose from family, friends, lunch ladies, bus drivers, teachers, and neighbors. After a few minutes, all the students quickly thought of a person for whom they were grateful.

Letter writing is a lost art. Since my students have absolutely NO IDEA how to write a "real" letter, I used the Letter-Writing Skills printable to help them get started. And since my students also have no idea how to address an envelope, I thought this would be a great time to teach them how to actually use "snail mail." There is nothing quite like receiving a handwritten thank you letter in the U.S. mail; no email or text message can equal it.

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Within minutes, the students were completely engaged in writing their letters. In fact, they were quite "psyched," to use their word, at being afforded an opportunity to take part in an assignment that reflected the spirit of the season. Even though my students come from forty-six different countries, they all understood the central themes of the Thanksgiving holiday.

My students had a great deal of fun writing their thank you letters, and it gave them an opportunity to practice writing skills that go beyond the "standardized test" form of writing. After their recipients receive their thank you letters, I think the students will also understand the impact that expressions of gratitude have on people. It's a small but powerful gesture. I truly feel it's important that — as we get older — we do not to forget the reason we have holidays. I hope I've created a tradition that my students will continue into their adult lives.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

~ Nancy

 

 

 

Comments

Thanks Ciara and Candace. I hope you were able to squeeze the assignment in before Thanksgiving, but really - saying thanks can be done ANYTIME!

This is such a good tip. I am a high school teacher myself, and after reading and thinking about this article, I realized everything the students used to celebrate has disappeared. Thank you for the exercise - I am going to start using in my class every Thanksgiving!

Nancy, when I came across this article, I was absolutely delighted. I am a high school teacher, and I have always been really into being able to use a holiday or special event, and turn it into a fun and even maybe an exciting assignment that most students would enjoy. The only problem is I could never find a way to incorporate all my ideas into an assignment that would interest a high school level student. Now with this information that you have provided me with, I have an assignment that my students will find, eventful, exciting, festive, rewarding, and informative. Thank you very much! You inspire people all over; I'm glad there are still teachers out there who care for their students' in this way.

Alas, it's true, Mike - They don't even know how to address an envelope! Maybe with the U.S. Post Office going under they won't need to know this, but I'm with you in believing that all things can't be solved electronically!

I was surprised to learn that many of your current students aren't familiar with how to letter write and address an envelope. I'm pretty sure they covered it in elementary, if not middle, but perhaps it's been too long. Once they get out in the 'real world', they're going to need these skills in order to survive! Not every major occurrence in their life can be handled electronically, unfortunately. Thank God they have Ms. Barile to bring them back to basics. At an age where it's often difficult, it's nice to see these kids thank their parents, despite the teenage obstacles.

Thank you, Jusmira! It's always fun to get in the spirit of the holidays - even when you're in high school!

WOW! This is a great idea and it's also a great way to show holiday spirit! Keep up with the great job Nancy. I'm going to try this in my classroom, thumbs up!

Thanks, Carol! I agree with you about SMS and Text Messaging!

This is a wonderful exercise. It enables students to write complete sentences rather than abbreviated SMS and Text Messaging. I will try this with my class of 10th graders.

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