We All Teach SEL: Gratitude Activities and Tools for Students

Resources to inspire gratitude in every classroom, every day.

November 14, 2016
Danny Wagner Senior Editor, Education Ratings & Reviews
Common Sense Education

CATEGORIES In the Classroom, Technology Integration, Tools

Building SEL (social and emotional learning) skills such as gratitude requires face-to-face interactions, meaningful discussion, and reflection. Edtech is no complete substitute for that, but there are tools that can supplement the development of character in the classroom and at home. According to the Character Lab, gratitude is:

appreciation of the benefits we receive from others and the desire to reciprocate.

While some tools focus specifically on gratitude, the websites and apps you use daily (in all subjects) can be used to promote thankfulness, too. You don't have to stop using the tools you love or toss out your lesson or curricular plans to start developing SEL. Below we have included some tips, tools, and actionable ideas for seamlessly integrating gratitude and life skills-building into your content classroom.  

Why Gratitude?

As teachers, we sometimes forget that little, everyday actions in the classroom have a huge impact on our students' lives. Just a small offering of appreciation can transform relationships and boost student self-worth. Simple tokens of gratitude, such as students voicing their appreciation for a fired teacher, can shift the climate of entire schools and strengthen the bonds among teachers, kids, and the community. But gratitude is not just about recognition -- it's also about supporting and inspiring others. Studies have shown that when someone gets appreciated, they feel more socially valued, and this can lead to prosocial behavior. In other words, when someone receives thanks, they are more likely to pay it forward. The more teachers express and practice gratitude, the more inclined students will be to do the same, leading to a more appreciative, supportive, and equitable world. 

Take Action

  • Challenge students; ask them if they can find ways to be grateful for things they may find unpleasant, such as homework.
  • Have students reflect on the past, such as in this digital journal, expressing gratitude and recognizing changes over time.
  • Plan events with kids to show appreciation for school workers who often go unnoticed, such as aides and custodians.
  • Make sure the technology you use doesn't take the place of, but instead supplements, face-to-face interaction.
  • Using our Digital Citizenship Curriculum? Both our student interactives and lessons already foster key SEL skills.
  • Visit some other excellent SEL resources, including CASEL, Character Lab, Edutopia, and Ashoka.

Think about the digital tools you're already using in the classroom. Can you find a creative way to use them to model gratitude? Check out our suggestions below!

Directly Target Gratitude

Mindprint Learning

mindprint learning website Students take online assessments to measure their strengths and challenges. Use Mindprint's advice to discuss the results with each student, showing them what strengths they can be grateful for, and then make a plan to build on them. 

The Harry Potter Alliance

the harry potter alliance website By starting HPA chapters, students work with supportive, empowering communities to do good work. Kids learn to appreciate each other as well as their own talents and voice, using them to take action on social issues such as equality. 








Practice Gratitude in All Subjects     


Activities and Tools for ELA Classrooms

Make Beliefs Comix

make beliefs comix website This comics-creation site lets kids express themselves through words and pictures. Students can use the site library, or create their own text in a story about a time they were grateful to someone and how they might be able to pay the kindness forward.

This I Believe

this i believe website This site focuses on the writing, sharing, and discussing of people's core beliefs through short essays. Have students listen to or read essays in the Gratitude section and then compose and publish their own self-reflective essay on the site.







Activities and Tools for Math Classrooms

Redbird Mathematics

redbird mathematics website With Redbird's adaptive math dashboard, teachers can see the concepts in which each student excels. Start a mentoring program where students use their strengths to help others in class; set up guidelines for returning gratitude.

Tuva Labs

tuva labs website Kids can lead a project where they collect data on what people in their communities are grateful for. Upload the data to Tuva, and use the platform to experiment with multiple graphical representations and report on statistics and trends.







Activities and Tools for Science Classrooms


DIY website DIY gets kids "making." Whether they're harvesting honey or building a circuit, kids post their creations online, get helpful feedback, and practice expressing thanks. They can further reciprocate kindness by commenting on other posts.


edheads website Edheads' online simulations help students gain an understanding of STEM jobs, such as surgeon or engineer. Have kids play and then write a letter to a local organization, explaining why they are thankful for the science at work.







Activities and Tools for Social Studies Classrooms


metkids website Use the Time Machine to explore art from different time periods. See if kids can find similarities between historical figures they appreciate and themselves, and have them create their own art depicting themselves performing similar great deeds. 


hstry website With HSTRY, students create and share interactive timelines with text, images, video, and quizzes. Have students create a timeline where they highlight historical social justice stories they are most grateful for and add quizzes to get feedback.   







Activities and Tools for All Classrooms


popplet app Popplet is a mind-mapping tool where students can place text, drawings, or video in colorful connected boxes. Kids can create a collage of what they are grateful for in their lives, connect them to show relationships, and share with peers.


celly app Celly is a mobile social network, like a private version of Twitter. A teacher could use the platform to create a positive space of polls and open chats between students where they can ask for help, give advice, and express appreciation for each other.  









Bridge the School-to-Home Connection


Explore More SEL Tips, Tools, and Teaching Strategies

We All Teach SEL