5 Meaningful Ways to Teach Gratitude in the Art Room


Move over, hand turkey! The art room can be a place to enjoy and recognize holidays while making real content standard connections through authentic art tasks. Here are five ways to teach your students about gratitude and art this month…

1. Typography Lesson
There are tons of quotes on striking an “attitude of gratitude” that are easily searchable online. Ask students to create a work using some typography principles that reflect the meaning of a quote of their choice. Displaying them all together can have a powerful effect on climate and culture in your building.

2. Native American Studies
Don’t perpetuate stereotypes! Create a lesson that truly reflects the art of the Wampanoag people, the tribe at the first Thanksgiving.

3. Nature
This is the one time of year that the outdoors may be more colorful than what is happening inside your art room. No matter where you live or what the weather is like, you can bring some fall bounty into your classroom for a full lesson or a free-time center. Pumpkins, gourds, leaves, and colorful corn are all cheap, easily accessible, and fascinating for students.

4. Food Sculpture
This is a holiday that is truly about food! Add a new twist to a Claes Oldenburg favorite and create a giant thanksgiving feast. Having students collaborate to papier mache a giant turkey leg is a great way to remind them about the underlying holiday theme of cooperation.

5. Okay, fine…do the hand turkey!
But, give it a meaningful, art-centered objective. Have students mix their own brown paint and discuss neutral colors. Maybe create turkeys out of only one shape, or link it to folk art and do some naive paintings with lots of patterns and funkiness. The old faves aren’t necessarily so bad!

Being an art teacher is so rewarding, but even more so when you can help students explore meaningful topics like gratitude through vigorous, engaging art lessons. Happy Thanksgiving!

How do you teach gratitude in your classroom?  

What are your feelings about holiday lesson plans? Do you like to teach them? Are you allowed to? 


Sarah Dougherty

My name is Sarah Dougherty, and I teach elementary art in a large urban district in central Iowa. I love working with our diverse population of K-5 students to bring art to their homes, communities, and everyday lives.


  • Laura Allan

    In first grade we make a clay turkey “candle holder”. I give each kid a votive candle when they take them home, and we talk about what Thanksgiving is really about. I suggest that on Thanksgiving they light the candle with their family and talk about what they are thankful for. As the years go by I ask the kids if they still have their turkey, and we revisit some of those ideas. I love Thanksgiving! http://www.artsonia.com/museum/gallery.asp?exhibit=707124

  • kathleen

    Some times those kitschy crafts can be profound. I had been blessed with a large donation of pinecones and had leftovers when my fifth graders arrived the day before the holiday.So they were excited to do the kinder project as free art and I encouraged them to go beyond just turkeys. One of my refugee kids with a history of violence became interested in actually doing a project and needed help to trace his hand for feathers. I saw him smile for the first time in two years. I realized he never had those crafts in a pre K or with grandma. His excitement about a simple craft gave him the spark to start asking for help and engaging in art work. He is a good artist now and a much happier student. It started with a silly turkey.