Thanksgiving, gratitude and appreciation: activities with a high-school ESL class

October 26, 2011

Sarah Eaton and Farida Garrett at James Fowler High School: Collaborators on a Lesson in Gratitude

Recently I was invited to speak at James Fowler High School in Calgary to a group of English as a Second Language (ESL) students from the Philippines, Afghanistan, Palestine, Kenya and other countries. The theme was gratitude and appreciation.

My invitation was to visit the class two times. The first time was two weeks ago, during which we incorporated the theme of Canadian Thanksgiving, which had just passed. Today was my second visit to the school. I got to work with the students on their gratitude journals, which they started earlier in the project.

Here’s how we structured the session:


  • Learn about Thanksgiving as a celebration
  • Learn new vocabulary around giving thanks
  • Increase students’ awareness of what it means to give thanks and be grateful
  • Develop an understanding of gratitude as a personal, social and cultural practice.

Artifacts, realia and props

  • A pumpkin
  • A banana bread made by the students’ teacher, Mrs. Farida Garrett (It was her idea to share the cake to symbolize “breaking bread” together)
  • Letter blocks that spelled out “Give Thanks”


  • markers
  • coloured pencils
  • glue sticks
  • glue gun
  • stickers
  • flip chart paper

Session #1: Activities

Saying thanks – Students shared how they say “thank you” in their native languages. Then, they wrote out the word(s) on a flip chart paper.

Vocabulary building – The words “thanksgiving”, “gratitude”, “gratefulness” and “appreciate” were written out on flip chart paper. Mrs. Garrett drilled students on how to pronounce the words. We worked with students to help them use the words in sentences.

Brief on Thanksgiving – We talked about the celebration of Canadian Thanksgiving, how it originated and what it means.

Making a thank you card – Students made their own thank you cards and thought about who they’d like to give their card to.

In between my first visit and second visit to the school, the students started a gratitude journal.

Session #2 Activities

Review the new vocabulary.

Review what the celebration of Thanksgiving is about.

Students developed their gratitude journals, contributing writing and drawings about what they were grateful for. We asked them to express their appreciation for their family, teacher, school, community and country. Students generated their own ideas about what they appreciated.

What an amazing group of resilient, bright young students Mrs. Fowler has. At the beginning of the first session, students were hesitant to talk and seemed baffled when they were asked to think about people in their lives that they appreciated and why they were grateful to them. By the end of our second session, the students were talking openly about who makes a difference in their lives and why they are grateful to them. In two weeks, they grew leaps and bounds in their personal development, as they learned that recognizing others  and appreciating them is a significant part of cultivating meaningful relationships.

Who deserves your thanks today?


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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