Thanksgiving is a great time to teach and reinforce social and emotional learning (SEL).      Consider how your classroom activities can promote deeper social and emotional skill development, and start new traditions that teach students to celebrate different cultures, that increase social engagement and awareness, and that strengthen relationship skills.

Below are four Thanksgiving activities that promote SEL. Have fun implementing them in your classroom! 

  1. Give Your Food Drive an SEL Boost

Organizing a food drive is a common way to teach students about helping others. However, charity work can sometimes reinforce negative stereotypes if the service project doesn’t connect students in meaningful ways to the people they are trying to help.

This year, make your food drive more meaningful by talking to students about the root causes of poverty. Increase students’ connectedness to the families they are helping by taking a field trip to pass out the collected items at a local food bank. Plan a class project that explores ways the community can help families in need, not only during Thanksgiving, but throughout the year.

  1. Create a Classroom “Book of Gratitudes”

Have your students create a “Book of Gratitudes” using a simple binder and three-hole punched paper. Send the binder home with a different student each week, and have them complete a page about what they are grateful for. Have each student present about what they wrote about, and then facilitate a class discussion around all the different answers.

Promote deeper SEL with our free “Gratitude and Celebration Jar” Growth Strategy. This activity reinforces students’ optimistic thinking and increases their awareness of positive events and interactions during the school day. It also contributes to building a trusting and supportive group climate. Repeat this activity throughout the school year for continued growth!

  1. Introduce a Culturally-Appropriate First Thanksgiving

The historical imagery and depictions of Native Americans and the Thanksgiving holiday many of us remember from our school days are problematic and largely inaccurate. For example, re-enactments of the First Thanksgiving featuring headdresses and war paint      promote negative stereotypes of Native Americans.

Instead, help students learn about a more accurate historical depiction of the First Thanksgiving while developing their perspective-taking skills and cultural awareness. This free poster is a great resource, and it includes classroom activities for multiple grade levels.

  1. Plan a Potluck that Celebrates Diversity

During Thanksgiving, we reflect on our country’s multicultural background. Plan a potluck      that celebrates diversity! Instead of the traditional turkey dinner,      consider asking students to bring dishes that represent their culture or family heritage. The dishes can be a recipe from the country their family originated from or a treasured family recipe. Check out this blog for a good example of how this party can take shape; included is a free parent letter you can print off and share.  

Thanksgiving can be more than a time of simply giving thanks. When students learn about different cultures, traditions, and beliefs, they learn to appreciate diversity, have respect for others, and be more socially engaged. These social and emotional skills will help them build strong and rewarding relationships with others and become more culturally aware.