In last week’s En la Clase I talked about using Round is a Tortilla and Green is a Chile Pepper as the basis for a poetry activity based on gratitude, gratefulness, and awareness. This week I’m highlighting Gracias ~ Thanks, another beautiful book illustrated by John Parra and written by Pat Mora. As the title suggests, thankfulness is the main theme of the book, making it the perfect book for this time of year. The publisher’s description writes, “There are so many things to be thankful for. . .Straight from the heart of a child flows this lighthearted bilingual celebration of family, friendship, and fun. Come share the joy, and think about all the things for which you can say, ¡Gracias! Thanks!” Like last week’s books, Gracias ~ Thanks is a book written with young children in mind, so it’s great for your pre-school or early elementary students. But, with such an important and universal theme, it’s great for encouraging a mindfulness of the everyday things for which we can be thankful in older and younger students alike. Plus, each page is written in English and Spanish, so it’s great for English, Spanish, or bilingual classrooms.
In all of our busyness, it’s easy to take for granted the people or things that make our lives so special. Mora’s poetic words and Parra’s beautiful illustrations turn the very commonplace things in our lives into reasons to celebrate. They highlight the ways in which the ordinary actions of family and friends can make our lives such lovely experiences. Not only is it a fun book to read, but it easily lends itself to writing activities.
I’d start by reading the book to students. As you read, encourage them to listen for Mora’s sentence pattern. She starts each sentence with “For + the thing or person to be thankful for.” Then, she follows with the connecting word “that or who + a description of the reason for the thankfulness. She ends each sentence with the word “thanks.” Here’s an example from one of my favorite pages:
“For the sun that wakes me up so I don’t sleep for years and grow a long, white beard, thanks.”
Once you finish the book, ask students to discuss it. Are they thankful for any of the same things? Were they surprised by any of the things that the main character was thankful for? Then, ask students to brainstorm things they are thankful for. Have them think about the questions, “What kinds of things are you thankful for?” and “Why are you thankful for these things?” Guide them to be very specific in answering the “Why?” Draw their attention to the author’s examples. Mora doesn’t just write “For Mom I’m thankful because she helps me, thanks.” Instead, she writes, “For Mom, who found my homework in the trash, thanks.” Also, highlight the things Mora writes about that we probably don’t think about very often, like the bees, our pajamas, or worms. Students can complete this brainstorm on their own, or it can be done as a class, creating a list or ‘bank’ of ideas that students can use when they write their own poem or book.
Once students have completed the brainstorm, have them write their own Gracias ~ Thanks poem or book. If you have more time, a book could be a fun activity that would allow students to illustrate each of the things they are thankful for the way Parra did. For a less time consuming activity, students can write a poem with just one illustration (if time allows). You could also collect each student’s poem and illustration and compile it into a class book.
Mora’s and Parra’s book provides a way to talk about thankfulness without having to base the conversation in the stereotypical Pilgrims, Indians, and First Thanksgiving November activities. It’s also a fun way to teach the difference between why we use “who” and “that,” something that always caused my students some confusion. This activity really enforces the idea that “who” goes with people and “that” goes with things. One of my favorite aspects of this activity is that it brings students’ everyday lives into the classroom. We’ve talked before about how important it is that students’ lives outside the classroom are represented inside the classroom. Here, the very basis for the poem are students’ everyday lives inside and outside the classroom. To me, this is a great way to show that every part of their lives is valuable and relevant to what we do in the classroom.
As always, I’d love to hear any ideas or suggestions you may have!
Until next week,