As you transition out of the Halloween season into the season of giving and gratitude, you can change up your themes in your classroom assignments as well. I usually move out of my scary or suspenseful short stories unit into one that revolves around gratitude. Reflecting on what we have and expressing gratitude is an important part of education and it’s especially crucial for middle school students. Because poetry is such a wonderful form of expression, I prefer to use poems as a basis for a short expression of gratitude unit with my middle schoolers. Here are some poems I like to read with my students during the month of November.
For a list of Christmas-themed readings, check out this post!
1. When Giving Is All We Have by Alberto Rios
This is a lovely little poem about why we give. I especially love the lines You gave me blue and I gave you yellow./ Together we are simple green. as an illustration for why giving is important. Below is a link to the full poem on poets.org with some teaching ideas included!
2. The Thanksgivings by Harriet Maxwell Converse
This poem is actually a transcribed Iroquois prayer. I like to have students read it and make a list of everything the speaker is thankful for. It’s worth noting that the Iroquois were not the Native Americans present at what is considered to be the “first Thanksgiving” in the United States. It was the Wampanoag who were present at the event that is the basis for our modern day Thanksgiving celebration. Introducing this poem is a great way to bring a bit of American history into your English classroom.
3. Sonnet: I Thank You by Henry Timrod
I love teaching sonnets because middle school students like the identifiable structure of this type of poem. I have a nice introductory sonnet lesson available for sale here if you’re interested. This particular sonnet focuses on friendship, and it is easy to get middle schoolers to draw personal connections to this topic. The final line is a lovely description of friendship:
I designate as love, without love’s flame.
Have your students reflect on this final line and ask them if they would describe their relationship with their best friends this way. Find a copy of the poem below.
4. Red Brocade by Naomi Shihab Nye
When I begin teaching my gratitude unit, I like to discuss ways in which gratitude can be shown. I hold an informal discussion about all the different ways we can express gratitude without simply saying “Thank You.” I steer the students towards thinking about actions vs. words. How can we show gratitude? I use this discussion (which you could do as a think-pair-share very easily as well) as a bit of a warm-up prior to reading Red Brocade. This poem focuses on kindness towards complete strangers. I like to think of showing kindness to those you don’t know as a form of gratitude for all the kindness a person has received. It’s a wonderful message to incorporate into your classroom and it lends itself to a wealth of activities surrounding kindness. Find a copy of the poem below with some further teaching ideas from poets.org.
Looking for more Thanksgiving teaching resources for middle school ELA? Click the image to take a look at an activity pack that includes a sensory details Thanksgiving menu project, a writing prompt/poetry response, and some fun doodle sheets to use for those hectic last days before the break.