Lately, I’ve been doing some reading on the value of expressing gratitude, and I’ve been wondering if and how it might be applicable to the classroom.

A Kent State professor had students write three “gratitude letters” during a six week period. They had to write them to someone who had a positive impact on their lives, and the letters had to be:

…positively expressive, required some insight and reflection, were nontrivial and contained a high level of appreciation or gratitude.

The study documented that students were substantially “happier” after writing the three letters.

A somewhat similar study was done at a middle school, and had comparable results.

Now, I’m all for my students feeling happier. And the family benefits could be incalculable, such as time earlier this year when a student doing a self-esteem writing exercise we were trying wrote about how grateful he was to his grandmother, who coincidentally came in for a teacher meeting later that day. When she saw what he wrote and started crying, everybody else did, too.

However, if I’m going to try something like this, I feel I need to figure out a direct academic benefit, too.

Neither of the studies I’ve mentioned incorporated any review of if and how these gratitude exercises affected student achievement. However, other studies on expressive writing (though not specifically on writing about gratitude) have shown a positive impact on student grades.

So, I think I’ll try to incorporate students writing short gratitude letters in some of our mainstream ninth-grade English units. For example, when we’re studying Mandela, we can look at the speech he gave when he was released from prison. The first portion could be called a gratitude letter, and students could use it to do some “mimic writing” of their own letter. I’m sure I can find similar examples in our other units, such as Latin Studies.

Developing a personal connection to our curriculum is always a good thing. Helping families feel more connected is, too. Students feeling happier can’t hurt, either. And, if grades go up — all the better!