Thanksgiving Lessons with Deeper Meaning
Małgorzata Bukowska-Ulatowska works as a teacher trainer and educational consultant for In-Service Teachers’ Training Center (Centrum Edukacji Nauczycieli) in Gdańsk. She is also the editor of “Edukacja Pomorska” bimonthly as well as Vice-President and Gdańsk Region Representative of IATEFL Poland (http://iatefl.org.pl). Her current professional interests include empowering teachers and students. E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanksgiving is celebrated every year on the fourth Thursday of November. Around this day, during English lessons, you usually discuss the origin of Thanksgiving and the traditions associated with this special day, practice vocabulary, colour the turkey... Maybe
it is worth using this opportunity to discuss with our students a more difficult, yet important topic: gratitude? This article presents some teaching ideas for English classes. Please, note that it is not a ready-made scenario. Feel free to choose some of the tasks and modify activities to suit the language needs and capabilities of your students including their age, class size, the number of hours available etc.
How to start the lesson? We can introduce the subject by asking our students how many
languages they can say “thank you” in (you will find some hints in the following recording:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKQjfxFeaFQ). A good start for the lesson is also inviting students to work in pairs or small groups and share the associations that the word “Thanksgiving” evokes for them. If we have computers, tablets or smartphones with internet access, why not create a class wordcloud, using a simple tool such as e.g. AnswerGarden (https://answergarden.ch)? We can also start classes with questions such as: “What does it mean to be grateful/thankful?” or “What are people grateful/thankful for?” In introducing the topic of gratitude you can also try using graphics with quotations or proverbs (examples: www.tckpublishing.com/33-inspiring-quotes-about-gratitude). We can also place a few graphics on the walls of the classroom and ask students to indicate the ones that interest them the most and justify their opinions. Another option: students receive cards with fragments of quotes and are supposed to find a person who has the other parts of the sentence.
We can discuss the topic of gratitude even with students at A1 or A2 language level. First, let's introduce or revise the names of some basic emotions. It can be easily done with the use of emojis (some useful pictures are available here: https://emojipedia.org/people). Then you can work with the short film "The Lunchbox" (www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=2y6bfiv7beE). I suggest you give the main character a name – e.g. Tom – and ask students to watch the movie to find the answers to the following questions: 1. How does Tom feel at the beginning of the movie? Why? 2. How does he feel at the end? Why? After discussing the answers together, retelling the story and reflecting on it, students can prepare a thank-you card for a selected person, e.g. a family member or friend. It is worth asking them to design the card is such a way that it goes along with the recipient's preferences (favourite colour, elements referring to the hobby etc.). As far as language is concerned, you can use a simple structure: “..............., thank you for ............... .”
To broaden the perspective and refer to the global context in class, for students at A2+/B1 or higher level I suggest reaching for materials from such projects as "The Bedrooms Of Children Around The World” (available at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJx4SkDhh7I and www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/08/where-children-sleep-a-round-theworld-tour-of-bedrooms/243303) or “Toy Stories” (www.gabrielegalimberti.com/toy-stories). An example of a task for students may be to work in groups and discuss and list both some similarities and differences between their lives and the lives of children depicted in the selected photo.
During the class discussion about gratitude, apart from the visual materials mentioned above, you can also use some of the questions or tasks from the following set:
1. What made you smile today?
2. What makes you happy?
3. What is a/an ability/skill/hobby you are glad you have?
4. What is something in our classroom you are grateful for?
5. What is extremally helpful in your everyday life?
6. Name three places that you feel especially thankful for.
7. Tell us about something nice someone did for you last week.
8. How do different people help us every day? What do they do for us?
9. Who are you the most thankful for and why?
10. What relationships are you grateful for?
11. How can we show our gratitude to others?
12. What is an experience you are glad you had?
13. What is one thing that happened today and made you feel smart?
14. What makes you feel proud?
15. If you could change something about yesterday, what would it be?
16. What do we have that some other people do not have?
17. What do we often take for granted?
18. Why do people celebrate Thanksgiving?
19. Should we celebrate Thanksgiving Day in Poland / in our school / in our class? Why
(not)? If so, how?
20. What is most important in life?
Instead of asking questions, especially in case of lower language level groups, we can provide students with some sentences to complete. As an additional source of inspiration, it is worth preparing a set of pictures (e.g. https://pixabay.com/pl/family-sport-rower-deskorolka-2535059; https://pixabay.com/pl/m%C4%99%C5%BCczyzn-kobiety-odzie%C5%BCy-kobieta-2425121; https://pixabay.com/pl/dziewczyna-ogr%C3%B3d-s%C5%82o%C5%84ce-dom-gry-1863906; https://pixabay.com/pl/ksi%C4%85%C5%BCek-czytanie-dziewczyna-ludzie-1605416; https://pixabay.com/pl/swoboda-podr%C3%B3%C5%BCy-piesze-wycieczki-2218616).
What material effect, prepared individually and/or collectively, can our students sum up the conversations in the classroom with? Here are some ideas:
- they create a class poster: "Our Thankful Alphabet" or "Our Gratitude Tree / Our Gratitude Basket" (example: https://blissfulkids.com/playful-mindfulness-for-children-gratitude-tree)
- we shoot a short film with students’ statements (e.g. completing the sentence: “Today I'm
- younger students draw what they are grateful for; it is good to refer to the topic also in the form of the work – e.g. "My Grateful Plate" (instead of a sheet of paper we use paper plates), “My Grateful Ball” or "My Grateful Placemat" (we can laminate pads prepared by students); it's worth having a sample piece to show children (e.g. www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Thanksgiving-Place-Setting-Placemat-422236 or http://www.createinthechaos.com/thanksgiving-printable-2015)
- older students can prepare individual posters "I’m thankful for ..." with a few categories mentioned, e.g. people, things, places, events, moments
- students (in small groups or individually) prepare lapbooks – an example of the individual "Thankful Lapbook" can be found at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=7gZQ6-1UHmE
- a pair of students draw names of two other people from the class and prepare for them
cards with positive inscriptions, such as "Tomek, we are grateful for your smile!",
"Magda, thank you for helping us with maths!" ("magic cards" work well here, I mean pieces of paper with a black top scratching layer and a colourful one hidden underneath).
I encourage you to perceive Thanksgiving season lessons not just as time for developing general language competences and introducing elements of cultural knowledge to students. Let's take this opportunity to talk – even using very simple language – about life values. Let's take the challenge of shaping life attitudes of young people while working on subject content. As EFL teachers we have the choice of concentrating on language content exclusively or discussing important issues together with developing students’ command of English. I know it may a big challenge, but it's worth trying. I wish you all really inspirational Thanksgiving classes!
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