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This is an exercise that works well in the weeks just before the winter holiday break.

Start with an anecdote about receiving a gift that is disappointing and not feeling particularly grateful. You can use an example from real life, but it also works to make something up or think of an example from a book. Then, have students think about these two questions quietly at their desks (writing ideas down if they’d like):

1. What does it mean to be grateful for something?
2. Do you have to be grateful if you don’t like the thing you got?

After the students have reflected on these two questions, talk about their answers. You might spend some time determining exactly what gratitude is. At least one person usually suggests that gratitude is pretending to like something you do not like. It’s helpful to ask questions to push the students to think about whether gratitude really is limited to cases like that or whether it has a broader meaning. The discussion around this question is often quite rich. Students generally start with a fairly robotic answer like, “Yes, you should be grateful even if you get rocks as a present,” so try to probe further and get them thinking about whether one really does need to be grateful if someone gives them something awful. Is it really the thought that counts? What if the person gave you something they really wanted for themselves just so they can borrow it? What are the limits of gratitude? Does it count as grateful to express gratitude that you do not genuinely feel?

This lesson plan was contributed by Karen Emmerman.