Children around the country will be asked the same question several times this week: What are you thankful for? While some children will take the time to pause and give a thoughtful answer, many will just answer the question quickly (“I’m thankful for my family and friends”) without taking the time to consider the meaning of what they’re saying. In fact, many adults will do the same thing.

Before you release your students for the Thanksgiving holiday, encourage them to think about gratitude in a different way this year. True gratitude is not expressed by simply saying what we’re thankful for. True gratitude comes with action. It is the feeling of being thankful, plus the action of reaching out and finding a way to thank the source of that feeling. This a good practice to foster in your students, and there are ways to make it a literacy-boosting activity. Win, win!

If you’d like to give this a try with your students, here is a simple idea. Before Thanksgiving break, have your students write down what they’re thankful for. Then, have them take action over the break with a related reading or writing activity. For example, if a student says he is thankful for his parents, have him write them a note expressing this gratitude. If a student says she is thankful for the earth, point her toward some reading material that celebrates the earth. Have her channel her thanks into a deeper understanding of some of the issues our planet faces.

Here are a few more examples:

“I’m thankful for food.” = Who prepared that food for you? Write that person a note to tell them why you’re thankful for it.

“I’m thankful for my pet.” = Pets love to hear their owners’ voices. Pick a favorite book and read it aloud to your pet as a way of letting him know you appreciate him.

“I’m thankful for recess.” = Who do you play with at recess? Write that person a note. OR: Why does it feel good to play outside? Read an outdoor magazine or nature book and make a list of outdoor activities you enjoy.

“I’m thankful for my iPad.” = Technology helps us learn amazing things in exciting new ways. Use your favorite reading tool or reading game over the break, and then write down how the iPad made learning more enjoyable for you.

This assignment can be merely a suggestion to your students, or you can require them to show proof of their work. Regardless, encouraging them to not just say thank you, but to also act on that feeling, will help them think more deeply about real gratitude.

We at Read Naturally are thankful for YOU, our wonderful teacher partners, for all that you do to help your students. We hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.