Activities for National Thank You Month in January

Thank You MonthThere’s a lot to be thankful for around our school. We’re thankful for our classrooms and for access to technology. We’re thankful for a library full of books that students and staff visit and use as often as they’d like. We’re thankful for our teachers, our administration and our parents for creating a safe environment that promotes creativity, equity and attainment of new knowledge. We’re thankful for the hands that prepare our food each day, whether at home or at school. We’re thankful for a building where all can learn and all can feel welcome.

This January, I’m challenging everyone in our school to share notes of thanks with one another and with those who help to make our school a wonderful place. Slowing down to give thanks is not something we do enough. But it’s something worth our time and our sincerity.

So what do you say? Want to join us for Thank You Month throughout January?

Here’s the plan:

The Five Love Languages of Giving Thanks

There are lots and lots of ways to give thanks. Let’s think in terms of the five love languages, first expressed in author Gary Chapman’s 1995 book, The Five Love Languages and explored further in his subsequent books, including The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell. Chapman identifies five ways used to communicate our love to others: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch.

While “physical touch” may have alarm bells going off in your head, it doesn’t need to. Physical touch can come in the form of holding hands in a circle group, giving hugs or even giving high fives. I assure you the ideas here will maximize your students’ ability to give thanks to others in their own unique ways while still demonstrating respect for one another.

Let’s break down ideas for giving thanks into the five languages outlined by Chapman in relation to celebrating Thank You Month in January. You’ll find ideas and resources under each in order to best help you and your students express thanks and gratitude toward others in myriad ways throughout the month.

Words of Affirmation

One of the easiest and most obvious ways to give thanks is to say it. Whether that means saying it aloud, in writing or in a song, getting those words out counts. Here are 3 out-of-the-box ways of giving thanks through words that can be done with students of any age.

  1. Blackout Poetry Thanks: Create blackout poetry-inspired thank-you notes using  discarded newspapers, magazines or books. Follow these instructions to select just the right words from a passage of text. Then, use a black permanent marker to cover up the rest, leaving an eye-catching special message of gratitude.
  2. A Jar of Thanks: Have each student complete the sentence “I am thankful for…” on a small strip of paper. Then, students should fold their paper strips and put them in a large glass jar or container in the classroom. Read aloud 3–4 sentences from the jar every day, and have students continue to add new sentences. The thank-you jar will fill up more and more each day.
  3. Thank You Quota: Today and every day this month, your assignment is to give a predetermined number of thank yous, either written or verbal, to students. Roll a die to determine the number of thank yous are in your quota for the day, and then get started giving authentic and meaningful thanks to the students. Thank yous can be given at any point during the day, but should always be delivered earnestly and while looking the student in the eyes.

Quality Time

Sometimes the best way to let someone know you’re thankful for them is by giving them your time. Stopping what you are doing to spend time with someone else can communicate that you are valuing them above the other tasks you’ve got lined up for the day. It can also give you a chance to get to know someone better. Here are 3 ways to give thanks through the gift of time.

  1. Lunch or Recess Bunch: Invite a group of students to join you for lunch or recess. Spend time getting to know their interests outside of school, play a board game together or do a special activity, such as helping with a book order or testing out the library’s new programmable robots. My students like to join me over recess to peel crayons for a special gift we make for others (see “Receiving Gifts” below).
  2. Duty-free Time On Us: Give thanks to a staff colleague by offering a gift of time. Bring a class of grade 4 or grade 5 students to visit a primary classroom and read aloud to the students. Each upperclassman can bring a favorite picture book or two and read one-on-one with a younger child. The homeroom teacher can have 15-20 minutes to do with as they please while the combined classes read in partners and build connections with students in other grades in the building.
  3. Drop Everything and Read: Sometimes you just need to forget your plans and spend some time being grateful for one another. When you do, here are some books that might be perfect for the occasion:
    1. The Thank You Book by Mo Willems
    2. Thank You, Bees by Tony Yuli
    3. Thank You, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony
    4. The Wish Tree by Kyo Maclear
    5. Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp
    6. Thankful by Eileen Spinelli
    7. The Thankful Book by Todd Parr
    8. Gracias/Thanks by Pat Mora

Receiving Gifts

You might be the type of person who likes to receive gifts, or give them as thanks. If that’s the case, here is an awesome gift of thanks that you’ll want to remember:

Crayons-ish: Take inspiration from Ish, a picture book by Peter Reynolds in which a boy learns that thinking “ish’ly” is far more wonderful than “getting it right.” Gather up broken crayons, peel off the paper, and break them into pieces of approximately a half inch long. Gather 20 – 25 pieces of various colors and place them in an old muffin tin, filling each compartment. Heat the oven to 100 degrees and bake the crayons for approximately 15 – 20 minutes. After the “new” crayons have cooled, name them based on how they make you feel. (Think happy-ish, daring-ish, and excited-ish). Give the crayon to someone as thanks, letting them know you are grateful for all the ways they inspired you throughout your life.

Acts of Service

Helping others is an often-overlooked way of saying thanks. Yet what you do for others can leave a lasting impression. Here are 10 fast and meaningful ways to offer thanks to others in your school through your actions.

  1. Sharpen all of the pencils in the classroom.
  2. Organize the class library.
  3. Pick up pieces of scraps from the floor or hallways.
  4. Push in all of the chairs.
  5. Offer to throw away lunch trash for a friend or two throughout the week.
  6. Volunteer to be in charge of opening or closing the classroom blinds for the month.
  7. Help a teacher of younger children at dismissal.
  8. Escort a younger child who appears lost to where he/she needs to go.
  9. Check to make sure the marker caps or gluestick lids are on tight.
  10. Help to empty the recycling each week.

Physical Touch

If you teach children, you know already that kids like to give hugs. At all hours of the day. Regardless of timing or circumstances. Of course, not all children like to be hugged. And not all children know boundaries well enough to not overstep. Here’s a simple way to give thanks through touch while still respecting others:

A Hug, A Handshake and a High 5: Select a different student each day as your “Triple H Thanker.” He or she selects three classmates to thank, each for a different reason and each in a different way. One person is thanked with a HUG for doing something the Triple H Thanker loved. One person is thanked with a HANDSHAKE for doing something the Triple H Thanker was proud to see. And one person is thanked with a HIGH 5 for doing something awesome. This daily act will help students become more aware of their classmates and more observant to the things that go on throughout the school day. Plus, it’s awesome to give hugs, handshakes and high 5s!

There are so many ways to say “thank you” throughout the month of January! Be sure to let us know what ways you and your students will say thanks in the comments below or by connecting with us on Twitter at @MatthewWinner and @demco. We’d love to cheer you on as you support your students in building their identities as writers!


Matthew Winner

Matthew Winner

Library Media Specialist and Host of The Children’s Book Podcast
Matthew Winner is an elementary school librarian in Howard County, Maryland. He is the host of The Children's Book Podcast (formerly All The Wonders), a weekly podcast featuring insightful and sincere interviews with authors, illustrators and everyone involved in taking a book from drawing board to bookshelf. He is the author of Asha Went Walking, a webcomic for young readers illustrated by Lorian Tu-Dean, about a girl, her arctic fox companion and her magic bag. In 2013, Matthew was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker and was invited to the White House as part of the Champions of Change program. Visit Matthew online at or on Twitter at @MatthewWinner.