Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.
When was the last time you received a handwritten thank you note or wrote one? As Thanksgiving approaches, I am reminded of one of my favorite writing activities – writing thank you notes. My classes spend some time discussing the importance of saying thank you. We talk about reasons why you would send someone a thank you note, and of course, the students usually say, “When you get a birthday present.” When I ask how many of them write handwritten thank you notes, very few of them raise their hands. Since the world moved to electronic devices and social media, a handwritten note has become a lost art, but one that is very satisfying when resurrected.
To get started, I have the students brainstorm a list of people in their lives who deserve their thanks but are often taken for granted. The list includes obvious people like parents and grandparents, but as we continue to talk the list grows to include bus drivers, crossing guards, maintenance staff, school secretaries, coaches, neighbors, and even siblings.
Once we have our list compiled, I introduce the activity. Each student will write a handwritten note to someone they need to thank. Some of them still aren’t sure, so I read a few picture books for inspiration. I have included a shortlist below. If you have a favorite, please add it in the comments. I am always looking for more.
Ten Thank You Letters by Daniel Kirk
I Am Thankful by Suzy Capozzi
Thankful by Eileen Spinelli
Being Thankful by Mercer Mayer
Grateful: A Song of Giving Thanks by John Bucchino
Thanks a Million by Nikki Grimes
Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
The Thank You Letter by Jane Cabrera
Next, we talk about what should go into a thank you note, such as: tell your recipient what you are thanking them for; be sure to expand on why you are thankful for the gift or act and add a closing statement that is directed toward the recipient. Students then write their rough drafts.
I provide the note cards. I try to get a variety so that everyone has a chance to choose one that suits their personalities. You can get note cards on sale during the year, purchase them at the dollar store, or use those spare ones hanging around your house. The kids provide the addresses and the stamp.
Lastly, the students write their letters (I take a quick peek to make sure there are no glaring errors), address the envelopes, (which is a lesson in itself), and affix the stamp (another lesson). I am tasked with dropping them off at the post office.
The kids always look and feel satisfied with themselves as they hand me their letters, but that is nothing compared to how they look and feel when they receive feedback from the recipients. They learn that small gestures can make a great impact on someone else.
I can’t tell you what a difference thank you notes made in my life a few weeks ago. After a few rough days at school, I was surprised by a large yellow envelope in my mailbox. Inside were these lovely thank you notes from some teachers in Springfield Delco School District. In early October, I presented in their PAWLP class, and they sent me handwritten thank you notes. The evening I presented they were all so gracious and said thank you which I appreciated, but the fact that they took time to write me a personal note really made me feel special and lifted my spirits at the perfect time.
Who is on your thank you list? Whose life will you or your students brighten with handwritten notes? I look forward to your ideas in the comments, and thank you for reading this post!