Gratitude: The Virtue the Changed My Life

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” – Cicero

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Happy [Early] Thanksgiving Teacher Friends!

While I understand that Thanksgiving can be a complicated holiday for many reasons–which I don’t at all want to discount–I do absolutely love celebrating the Spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday.

And…I will be totally transparent here: I also really like Thanksgiving food! I love the challenge of planning and preparing an amazing Thanksgiving feast with everything hot (or cold) and ready all at the same time!

I view it as my own personal Great British Baking Challenge.

(And yes, I do recognize the irony in that comparison!)

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Anyway, I wanted to share a little bit about how the virtue of gratitude has played an immense role in my life in recent years.

I’m sharing this story in the hope that in some small, tiny way it might help someone else.

The Slump

Several years ago when my third child was just a few months old and I was juggling post-partum hormones and three young children under the age of four…

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I found myself in a slump! I couldn’t see the positive side of anything. Literally everything–from getting out of bed in the mornings to brushing my teeth to taking care of the little humans in my charge–felt just so incredibly hard. Looking back now, it’s very clear that I had some undiagnosed post-partum depression going on; but for whatever reason, I couldn’t see it back then.

After speaking to a close friend who was struggling in a similar way, I started to recognize how unhappy I was feeling. But, I thought, how could I be unhappy? I have everything I have ever wanted: I’m married to my best friend; I have three [now four] awesome kids; I work at my dream job; I am blessed with a lovely home in a lovely neighborhood.

With so much privilege and so many blessings, what right did I have to be unhappy? What in the world was wrong with me?

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As I was contemplating these questions, inspiration happen to strike at the most unlikely of places: at the movie theater in the middle of a show while on a date with my husband! I don’t remember the movie we had gone to see, but I will always remember the moment when I realized exactly what I needed to do!

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The Solution

The answer? Gratitude!

Somehow, I intuitively knew that I needed to practice being more grateful for what I had. I actually ran out of the movie theater and called my friend and together we made a plan.

We decided that, each night, we would text each other and mention just one thing about our day for which we were grateful.

Truthfully, this was super hard at first! We had been steeped in negativity for so long that we just didn’t have many positive things to say! But, as we practiced looking for the good and retrained our minds to see the good, we experienced a complete shift in our daily experience.

After a few weeks of these nightly texts, we started sending not just one thing, but whole lists of good things about our days. It’s important to note that, fundamentally, nothing had changed. Our lives were still the same. The challenges we faced at home, at work, with our friends and family–they were all still there. What had changed? Our thinking! With this subtle shift in our mindset, we were better equipped to handle those challenges and still find joy!

The Science

It years later that I learned from a different friend about the scientific and medical research that has been done on gratitude. Apparently, numerous studies [I’ve linked a few here & here] have been done on how a regular gratitude regimen improves a person’s physical AND mental health!

When she told me about this, it blew my mind! I had experienced this firsthand and had no idea it was actually “a real thing” that was true beyond my own experience. This knowledge made me want to shout my story from the rooftops!

Important Note on Gratitude

Please understand, that I am not suggesting that making a list of good things will cure any kind of illness. I am not a health professional of any kind. If you have questions or concerns about your physical and mental health, please reach out to your medical provider. It’s okay to need help!

I am simply sharing my story about the incredible impact of gratitude.

Additionally, with my current (albeit limited) knowledge and understanding, if I was ever feeling similarly to the way I was in this story, I would think about increasing my gratitude practice, but I would also definitely talk to my doctor!

FREE Student Article on Gratitude

In my small effort to share this information, I have put together a student-friendly informational article on Gratitude (link below). With this FREE resource, you can help students begin a practice that can improve their own mental health and overall well-being! Please feel free to copy and share this article with all your teacher friends!

If we help one student improve their mental health, then we will have made a huge difference in the world!

All the Best,

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)


My Favorite Thanksgiving Activities for Middle School

Happy November!

I cannot believe that it is already November 2021! Thanksgiving (and the end of the year) will be here before we know it!

If you’ve been around here for a while, you know I love all the things about the autumn season and November is no exception! Even in the classroom, there are so many seasonal lessons and activities that coincide with this month! I’ve linked up a few of my favorite resources that are great ways to engage middle school students in learning ELA curriculum while connecting with what’s happening in the outside world!

The Witch of Blackbird Pond – Complete Novel Study Unit

Elizabeth George Speare’s classic tale, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, is a great story to read with middle school students. Although the story takes place in the 1600s, many of the conflicts and themes are still relevant today! My students have always loved delving into the world of Puritan New England and experiencing it through the eyes of the protagonist, Kit Tyler, who was born and raised on the island of Barbados. My complete unit includes resources for building students’ background knowledge, supplemental readings, creative activities, and more!

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The History of Thanksgiving – Informational Article

This History of Thanksgiving PDF is the perfect reading to help your Language Arts students understand the facts of the complicated history of the Thanksgiving Holiday. The best part? There is NO-PREP required for teachers! Included in this resource is a four-page informational article, “A Brief History of Thanksgiving,” that is based on facts from primary sources. Students will learn the full picture of historical events surrounding the famous feast of 1621. This resource also includes multiple student assignments with answer keys! Comprehension questions as well as a crossword puzzle that can be completed with details from the article.

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Thanksgiving Writing Assignment: Gratitude Personal Essay

I love finding authentic writing assignments for my students to complete, and this one is definitely among my favorites! This resource asks students to write an essay that discusses one person in their life for whom they are grateful. As you can imagine, these are really fun to read! I love hearing from my students about an individual who has impacted their lives. They are often very sweet and touching essays! Student instructions, a pre-writing graphic organizer, writing paper, an example/model essay, and a grading rubric are all included!

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Procedural Writing – Thanksgiving Style!

In some of the states where I have taught, procedural texts or instructional texts have been a significant part of the state learning standards for ELA. It makes sense–it’s helpful to know how to read step-by-step instructions when you’re learning how to do something new! This festive take on procedural texts is both informative and fun! This mini unit begins with a fun (for you) hook activity where students are asked to fold an origami turkey. The catch? The first set of instructions are terribly written! I love using this activity to show students the importance of writing clear and detailed instructions when teaching someone how to do something. This resource includes an Instructional Slides Presentation, multiple fun student activities, student writing assignment, grading rubrics and more–all with a Thanksgiving theme!

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How to Write a Thank You Note

Around Thanksgiving is the perfect time to revive the lost art of writing thank-you notes with your students! This resource includes an informational article on how to write a thank you note and some templates for students to write their own notes! Bonus points for them if they actually deliver them! This is a great activity for those awkward two-day school weeks!

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Bundle and Save 20%

Can’t decide? I never can either! That’s why I’ve bundled all the Thanksgiving-themed resources together and set them at a discount. Get all four Thanksgiving Units at 20% off!

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Whether you like to include Thanksgiving-related activities in your lesson planning or not, I hope you have a lovely November with your students! It can be such a fun time of year!

All the Best!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)


Halloween Activities for Middle School Language Arts

I LOVE Autumn! It’s my favorite time of the year! Football, Halloween, cooler weather, fall family activities, beautiful trees changing colors–I am here for all of it!

If you’ve been around here for a while, you know I love to incorporate holiday-themed lessons that both teach ELA content and bring in a bit of festive fun! Halloween is no different!

This year, I’ve put together a series of Scary Short Story lessons that engage students in standards-based activities, and are also a way of enjoying the seasons! I chose three short stories to incorporate into my curriculum:

  1. “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving
  2. “A Ghost Story” by Mark Twain
  3. “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe

All three of the short story lessons are jam-packed with ELA content instruction and review. Text annotation, characterization, reading informational texts, satire, suspense, and so much are presented in engaging ways to students! Slides Presentations and multiple student assignments accompany each–and, answer keys are, of course, included!

In my TpT Store, these resources are all available separately OR buy the Bundle and save 20%!

Happy Haunting–err, I mean, Teaching!

Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)

P.S. If you haven’t already, be sure to snag your FREE Halloween Vocabulary Activities HERE!


Surviving the Holidays as a Teacher (With Your Sanity Intact)

Use these tips and tricks to keep your classroom (and your mind) organized and structured throughout the holiday season! Do you struggle to keep your students engaged as Winter Break and the Holidays loom in the near future? You're not alone! Keeping the learning going and maintaining students' focus during the holiday season is a difficult task even for veteran teachers! But it doesn't mean we have descend into chaos! Check out how I keep my students learning all month long!

Please don’t throw rocks at me. I know it’s September. You’ve just barely finished setting up your classroom and teaching is just underway. You’re still getting to know your students and set up routines and procedures for the year. The last thing on your mind is the Holiday Season which is still months away.

I am a huge believer of celebrating each season as it comes and not letting certain holidays dwarf others. Autumn is actually my favorite time of the year! Watching a football game on a Saturday afternoon is a highlight of the fall! Picking apples and pumpkins with my family is pure joy! I adore apple cider donuts! I tolerate Halloween. 🙂 Thanksgiving is especially one of my favorite parts of the season-any excuse to make a chocolate pecan pie!


But, let’s face it, Christmas tends to get the spotlight when it comes to the last quarter of the year. Despite the holiday ads beginning in October, it somehow often manages to sneak up on us and the month is so full of shopping and baking and wrapping and holiday parties that Christmas comes and goes in a hectic rush and we’ve barely managed to enjoy any of it!


Managing the chaos is even more challenging for teachers! On top of our aforementioned congested personal lives, we are still tasked with teaching our excited and sometimes unruly students! The tinsel and twinkly lights mesmerize the young ones and you can nearly feel the anticipation in the air. Classroom management is a struggle and attention spans are shorter than normal.

It’s enough to drive anyone mad. I don’t know about you, but I would rather have fond memories of the holiday season instead of a blur of stress and anxiety.

Over the years I have learned a few tricks and practices that help make the holiday season more enjoyable.

Mrs. Nelson’s Top Tips for Maintaining Your Sanity through the Holiday Season

  1. Maintain Your Regular Schedule: Do you begin class with a journal writing! Keep starting class the same way! Do you usually have vocabulary tests on Fridays? Keep having vocabulary tests on Fridays! Do you have a handstand competition every Wednesday? Keep doing it! Maintaining your classroom schedule will help create a sense of normalcy for your students and reduce some of the anxiety that arises when things feel out of the ordinary.
  2. Continue to Keep Students Accountable: Don’t let your kids slack off just because a holiday is around the corner! Continue to ask them to turn in assignments (even if some of them go straight into the recycling bin the minute students leave the room). For graded assignments, find a way to quickly provide feedback so they know you’re still engaged and expect them to be as well. Maintain those high expectations for their work AND their behavior.
  3. Focus on Curriculum: Keep the learning going! Maybe this feels like a no-brainer, but don’t be afraid to keep teaching and introducing new content to students. Sure, they may forget some things over the long winter break, but you can always review with them later! At the very least, they will have something on which you can build when you reteach in the new year.
  4. Plan Ahead and Be Organized: Being prepared and organized for the month of December is vital to maintaining your sanity! Know ahead of time (like WAY ahead of time) what you plan to teach in December. Map out your daily lessons and then prep! Anything that you can do ahead of time, do ahead of time! Make copies; gather resources; schedule the library; schedule the computer lab; check out materials; etc. Bottom line: be ready. This way, you can stay up way to late at your partner’s company holiday party on a Wednesday night and still roll into class Thursday morning with everything ready to go smoothly!
  5. Be Flexible: Even after spending large amounts of time preparing your lessons, be prepared to change things up when circumstances change (as they invariable will). Maybe your principal schedules a last-minute assembly (okay-probably not in 2020, but maybe in another year?). Maybe there’s a blizzard and your district calls several snow days in a row. Maybe the district asks you to administer a test on which you hadn’t planned. Whatever happens, know that your schedule will be disrupted. Understanding this beforehand will help you handle the changes when they arise.
  6. Have Fun! Embrace the chaos! Managing your own expectations will help you find joy in this festive season. It won’t be perfect; it may be messy; you will make mistakes. That’s okay! Take time to enjoy the busy, crazy holidays
  7. Leverage the Holidays to Your Advantage: One thing I love about Language Arts is that we can teach skills applied to such a wide-range of content. This allows us to tailor our curriculum to our students’ interests. If the students are focused on the Holidays, let’s let use that to teach required skills! Below are a few of my favorite ways to teach ELA with a holiday twist.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens – Guided Reading Activities
What better way to keep students focused that with a quick novel study? Many students will be familiar with the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, but few have actually read the short novel. Many middle school literature books even have a dramatized version of the story which is fun to read aloud as a class. I have use this unit with both the novel and the drama–both worked very well! This unit requires very little prep; simply print, copy and go! As a bonus, after reading the story with your class, you can pop some popcorn, make some hot cocoa and end the calendar year watching a film adaptation-which is still part of the curriculum!

How to Write a Business Letter (to Santa)
Writing a proper letter is a skill that students will want to have when they enter the real world! The number of circumstances in which a person may want to write a business letter are endless: as a cover letter for a resume, a scholarship application, a business proposal, to request assistance, contacting government representatives, etc. Arm your students with these skills AND have fun at the same time! Teach students the format of a block business letter and then ask them to write a proper business letter to Santa Claus telling him what they’d like for holiday gifts.

Celebrating Diversity: Comparing Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas
Create an inclusive classroom by exploring diverse winter holidays with your students. Practice reading informational texts with students with articles on Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas and then ask them to compare / contrast the holidays. Students can also practice their writing skills by writing and reflecting upon what they’ve learned. It’s great to help broaden students’ awareness and understanding of people different from themselves!



I wish you all the luck in the world as you strive to maintain rigor and relevance (and maintain your sanity) throughout the Holiday Season!

Use these tips and tricks to keep your classroom (and your mind) organized and structured throughout December! Do you struggle to keep your students engaged as Winter Break and the Holidays loom in the near future? You're not alone! Keeping the learning going and maintaining students' focus during the holiday season is a difficult task even for veteran teachers! But it doesn't mean we have descend into chaos! Check out how I keep my students learning all month long!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Brenna (Mrs. Nelson)