A Thanks Giving Circle

This circle activity invites students to share their feelings about gratitude and to express  gratitude for things large and small. 

Introduction to the teacher: 

This activity uses a circle process. We've found that carefully facilitated circles help build community among students. See our introduction to circles.

Before introducing your Thanks Giving Circle, consider saying something about the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday by touching on some of the ideas from our earlier TeachableMoment lesson plans on Thanksgiving and the holiday season in general.

November is Native American Heritage Month, a time to recognize the many contributions the first Americans have made to this country.  It’s also a good time to take a critical look at some popular myths about the first interactions between the European pilgrims and the Native American peoples they found living in the "new world." Our lesson Thanksgiving: Exploring Perspectives explores historical facts, myths and perspectives about Thanksgiving Day, including both the happiness and the sorrow associated with this tradition. 

As the holidays approach, many people are looking forward to spending time with family and friends and sharing in the joys of the season. It is easy to take for granted that everyone is in this happy frame of mind and that all our students are excited to be getting time off from school. This is, after all, is the joyous image that the media and advertisers bombard us with from all directions. Yet, for many people, the holidays can be accompanied by grief, stress or loneliness. It's important to take this into consideration as we talk about the holidays in school. Here is a brief classroom activity aimed at helping students recognize the less joyous side of the holiday season and providing some encouragement for those who will be facing hardship this holiday season.

Recognizing some of the more challenging aspects and feelings associated with the holidays can provide a natural segue into today’s circle, which focuses on gratitude as a powerful tool to change how we look at challenges and how we deal with difficult feelings. 

Keep in mind that you want to spread the wealth of gratitude around and that you don’t want to leave students out at a time that they might already find challenging. 


Opening ceremony

Noting the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, invite students to share something in their lives they are grateful for. Explain that it can be something big or something small.  Consider modeling something big and something small in your own life to set the tone of this go round. 

Reflections on Gratitude Go Round

Print or write up a selection of the quotes at the bottom of this activity on index cards and place them around the center piece of your circle.  Invite students to get up out of their seats to read the various quotes. Then, when students are seated again, send the talking piece around, inviting students to pick one of the quotes that most resonates with them.  Ask them to read it out loud and then explain why this particular quote speaks to them. 

Giving Thanks Go Round

Share William Arthur Ward’s statement that: "feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it."  Send the talking piece around, inviting students to share something they’ve appreciated about others in the circle, or to thank others for things large and small.

This can include thanks for things like:  making me laugh; challenging me; putting up with me when I’m in a bad mood; pushing me to do better; not giving up on me; being a good friend; showing me how to do something; making me realize things about myself; being patient with me, etc.   

During a second go round with the talking piece, invite students to challenge themselves and express gratitude to someone who isn’t an obvious friend or someone they’d usually hang out with. Invite them to spread the wealth. 

During a third go round, send the talking piece around inviting students to reflect on which role they liked more: giving thanks or receiving thanks. Why?  Build on this go round to discuss how thanks giving and receiving thanks can help change people’s outlook and create a stronger sense of connection and community among people. 


Closing Ceremony and Go Round

Invite each student to share two words: one about how they felt at the start of the circle and one about how they feel now, i.e. "when I came in I felt tired, now I feel grateful"; "busy, happy"; "stressed and relaxed"; "tired and bored"  etc. 



"The miracle of gratitude is that it shifts your perception to such an extent that it changes the world you see."

Dr. Robert Holden


"We think we have to do something to be grateful or something has to be done in order for us to be grateful, when gratitude is a state of being."

Iyanla Vanzant


"For me, every hour is grace.  And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile."

Elie Wiesel


"Gratitude is the single most important ingredient to living a successful and fulfilled life."

Jack Canfield


"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.  It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend."   

Melody Beattie

"Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other."

Randy Pausch


"When you practice gratefulness, there is a sense of respect towards others."

The Dalai Lama


"At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough.  You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it.  It is enough."

Toni Morrison


"Each day I am thankful for nights that turned into mornings, friends that turned into family, dreams that turned into reality and likes that turned into love."


"It is not happy people who are thankful.  It is thankful people who are happy."



"We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude."

Cynthia Ozick


"How we think is what we get, and gratitude is the key."

Randi G. Fine


"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom."

Marcel Proust


"It doesn’t matter if the glass is half empty or half full ... Be grateful that you have a glass and there is something in it ..."



"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it."

William Arthur Ward


"We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have."