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.
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.
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.