Looking for a way to build some positivity into your classroom? Ever considered using gratitude journals for kids to focus on the good things that happen in their day?
A couple of years ago a colleague of mine mentioned that she kept a gratitude journal to remind her of all the great things that were happening even when she was in a rough patch.
While I thought nothing of it at the time, I recently began to think about how great it would be to help my students foster the same type of mindset toward their challenges. It fit in perfectly with the idea of growth mindset, and since November is already a month filled with opportunities to give thanks, I figured it was worth a try.
That is actually how I began intentionally teaching gratitude in my classroom.
What you'll find on this page:
Benefits of teaching gratitude in the classroom
Before embarking on this journey, I decided to dig a little deeper into the benefits of teaching gratitude. I figured if this was something that was going to be taking up instructional time, I needed to have a few things in my back pocket if an administrator or parent popped by and had questions.
The more I read, the more excited I got about bringing gratitude journals into my classroom. In fact, the research actually shows that teaching gratitude results in:
- improvements in grades
- increased participation in class
- better relationships with families and peers
- students taking ownership and care for one another
- a shift from the focus on material possessions to relationships and non-tangibles
Since all of these things seemed like a great fit for my students, I decided to implement gratitude journals into my classroom routine.
I figured this was an easy way to tie in some writing, and it would be a good opportunity to get students to share all the great things happening in their lives…and to find the sunshine in the clouds when things weren't so great.
Why gratitude journals?
Like I mentioned above, I knew my kiddos needed some more time with pen on paper…or in this case, pencil.
I also knew that my administrators would be a lot more open to the idea if there was some academic work tied to it. Our district has been trained in Capturing Kids Hearts, and this seemed like a logical extension of that work for my group.
When I looked into gratitude journals more specifically, I also discovered that there were actually many identified benefits to keeping one. I hoped that these same benefits would pass on to my students, but I decided it might just be worthwhile to keep a one for myself…especially after a faculty meeting that ran until 5 PM one night.
Here were a few of the benefits of gratitude journals I discovered and hoped to replicate in my classroom.
- Increased self-esteem
- Better sleep
- Easier to form new friendships
- Improved mental and physical well-being
- Greater resilience…we're all about building grit, right?
- Less aggression and greater empathy
Seems pretty awesome, right? Not going to lie, the point on sleep (along with the aggression I felt after sitting in that 2 hour meeting) was enough to get me on board.
Getting started with gratitude journals in your classroom
As mentioned above, I didn't immediately start presenting these gratitude journals for kids to use. Instead, I started by creating one myself. I spent a few weeks writing in it to get a feel for what I thought would and wouldn't work.
I found an adorable little notebook in the Target Dollar Spot. Then I started tracking three things I was thankful for each night before bed. Some days were easy. Others, not so much.
However, it quickly became an exercise I loved, and I discovered myself savoring the small pleasures so much more.
Getting started in the classroom is pretty easy. All it takes is a notebook or a place where students can record lists of things they are thankful for.
I created a fun printable journal for my class to use each day.
Since it only required them to record three things, the kids didn't feel overwhelmed by the writing. I started by reading a few examples from my journal. This helped show them that it didn't have to focus on a big, life-altering event.
Our daily gratitude journal routine
Each day, after the students had packed up. They would pull out their journals and write down three things they were thankful for that day.
Some would decorate the border with any spare time they had. Others spent 5-7 minutes thinking about and recording their things. We would tuck them away before heading out the door.
When we began school the next day, we started with our typical “Good Things.” However, we incorporated our journals into the mix. These journals were a switch from our typical morning community circle questions for the month of November. This made it extra fun.
Students could volunteer to read something they were thankful for from the prior day during this time.
Typically, 2-3 kids would share before we moved into the rest of our morning meeting.
This was perfect because many times their classmates would end up with more ideas and it really helped create a classroom community that centered around caring and positivity.
Troubleshooting gratitude journal issues
What if your kids don't want to write or only focus on things?
So for starters, not every kid is going to immediately fall in love with gratitude journals. (I'm sure you're totally shocked, right?) It can take some time for everyone to warm up to the idea…and many students begin by writing lists of things they are thankful for, like their X-Box.
Even though these material objects aren't the focus of the project, I found that over time the students' answers began to shift toward a more intangible focus.
I also found that seeing the positive responses from peers was a huge encouragement for my kiddos.
What if I have some slow writers?
The benefit to this structure is that it is only three things.
The kids can write full sentences, draw a picture, or even type their answers if that is what you prefer.
You can adjust to meet the needs of all learners and still get the great benefits of a gratitude journal just with some minor adjustments to the format.
We don't have morning meetings…what else can I do?
One option would be to take 5 minutes on Friday to review journals for the week and share.
This would give your students the same advantages for creating their own lists without having the daily requirement for time.
Of course, you can also find a few minutes to do this before lunch or after recess to help calm and refocus your students on their work.
What if they don't write anything?
To get my kiddos started (before I made the template I am going to share with you), I had them write the sentence stem, ” I am thankful for…” three times. Then they completed the prompts.
Another strategy would be to dig into some gratitude journal prompts.
Here's a great blog post I found with some awesome ideas that were helpful when we needed to shake things up.
Moving beyond gratitude journals
Of course, teaching gratitude goes far beyond just the words in a journal.
Getting your students to practice using “please” and “thank you” with their peers and teachers is a good first step.
Noticing characters and situations where gratitude is a key component can also help.
With regular conversation and recognition, these things can help your classroom develop an attitude of gratitude.
Teaching gratitude doesn't have to be a long, detailed lesson. In fact, it doesn't even have to be in the lesson plans.
No matter how you decide to do it, building gratitude into your classroom routine will reap huge benefits.
Free Gratitude Journal for Kids
You don't need fancy notebooks or special writing time to get started with gratitude journals in the classroom.
In fact, the last few minutes of the day are the perfect time to get started.
If you decide to try out gratitude journals, you can click the button below to access my template for free!
This template includes an introductory page for introducing students to gratitude and gratitude journals, weekly prompts, and is available in color and black line. I've included two covers, as well.
Grab it now!