Gratitude Activity for Students

Learning to express gratitude is a gateway to happiness and student success. That’s why this EduGuide student activity is so rewarding, you may want to try it yourself.

You can see an experiment illustrating this experience in this video:

This video used to contain a partially-bleeped curse word, but we’re happy to report that the word has now been removed, making the video appropriate for all audiences.

Use EduGuide’s printable handout and teacher’s guide:

Download the Gratitude Letter Activity (pdf)

EduGuide Gratitude Letter Activity Guide (pdf)

With this activity, you’ll give your students an opportunity to take time out to be grateful, which can help them process and experience other positive emotions and, with further reinforcement, increase their ability to be successful.

The activity was researched by Dr. Martin Seligman, sometimes called the founding father of Positive Psychology — a field that refocused psychology from curing mental illnesses to promoting human flourishing. Seligman’s research on happiness demonstrated a strong link between expressions of gratitude and our level of contentedness in our day-to-day lives. He also demonstrated how these positive emotions contribute to students’ ability to be more motivated and less affected by depression.

In one experiment, Seligman and his colleagues compared different activities designed to cultivate happiness with people from all walks of life. Those who wrote and hand-delivered a letter of gratitude to someone who had been especially helpful in their lives showed the largest gains in happiness and reductions in depressive feelings. Importantly, the participants maintained these boosts a full month after completing the exercise.

You can also use the activity to help address common core writing objectives, identified in the teacher’s guide:

  1. Students will increase positive self-motivation and learn experientially that, by practicing gratitude, they can decrease the influence of negative events and emotions in their lives. The research of psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman has established a clear relationship between the practice of gratitude and increases in student optimism. Optimism helps shield students from depression and makes them more self-motivated to take on new learning and experiences, raising achievement.
  2. Students will be introduced to a social norm of gratitude by doing the activity as a group, which can contribute to long-term improvements in climate and culture. In one of Dr. Seligman’s studies, participants who completed and delivered the gratitude letter, showed the largest boosts – that is, they were much happier and less depressed – compared to those who had done other exercises. And these boosts were maintained even one month later.
  3. Students will address common core requirements for planning and writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to the task, purpose, and audience. They’ll accomplish this by practicing the art of letter writing, preparing them for writing cover letters for job applications, scholarships or other professional communications that differ from the email and texts to which they may be accustomed.

If you use the activity, we’d love to hear about how it goes. Please help us all by sharing your thoughts in the comments!


27 responses to ‘Gratitude Activity for Students

  1. I was so excited to have received a free lesson plan and particularly excited about the subject matter of gratitude. I plan to utilize this lesson next week for a summer leadership program that I am running. That being said, I was extremely disappointed that I cannot show the accompanying video due to the language that is used.


  2. I love the activity and thought it would be great for a faculty meeting.

    I have 2 questions: What was Scott referring to when he spoke about the language? I didn’t hear anything inappropriate but maybe I wasn’t listening close enough. And you have the happiness questionnaires of which was discussed as a before and after activity


  3. I loved the idea of this and was looking forward to using this activity with my students. Thankfully, I previewed the video because I realized that I could not show this due to the language. It was so disappointing to watch this touching video only to have it ruined for classroom use due to a couple of very inappropriate words…even two inappropriate words is too many. I may use the letter writing activity without the video.


  4. I too was dismayed at the language in the video. I am grateful that i did not take it at face value and watched the video. I was excited about using it. I only read the language disclaimer after viewing. It is difficult to find material that makes a moral point for our students; too bad this one was marred and the bad choice of language too away the good intent.


  5. I was sent this as a possibility as an activity in our HS building. I didn’t realize it was not sent to the entire staff so I only skimmed it. Today when I got home, my 15 year old daughter read me her letter about why she appreciated me…… It was so moving and special. I will now be going back to look at the entire activity. (she attends a different HS than the one I work at)


  6. I shared the video and activity with my students. At first, they weren’t into the letter writing and balked at calling the recipient of their letters; however, they enjoyed being able to share what they wrote. After one person made a call, others followed. Thank you for an awesome activity!


  7. I am excited to use this with my National Junior Honor Society students in a few weeks. I watched the video and did not hear any bad words. Did I miss them, or have they been edited out?


  8. I used this with my students in a class designed for students who have to repeat English 1 in high school. After the video, they were still skeptical about the writing portion. I promised them that I would not make them call the person and that I would not share the content of their letters with the class. Once they finished, they found that it was a valuable lesson (not in those words, of course). One student, who spent part of his childhood in an orphanage, said that he never thought about thanking his sister for being his “mother.”
    Only one student did not complete the assignment. He came up to my desk and asked if he could write it at home because “someone might cry.”
    He didn’t mean me.


  9. I used this last year and had amazing success with it. The students seemed to really enjoy it and I am excited to use this over the next two days. Thank you again for sending this, such an amazing activity.


  10. Although I was unable to use the activity prior to Thanksgiving, I felt the lesson was powerful and something the students would enjoy. I am using it today and, as expected, the students were excited to try it and really seem to be excited about delivering their letters!


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