Building Community & The Thankful Tree Project

Students are part of many communities – family, classroom, sports teams, clubs, etc. – and these communities combine to form who they are.  Thanksgiving is a great time for students to reflect on the opportunities provided for them and why they are thankful for them.  

Throughout the school year, students will likely go through stages of group development as they develop a sense of community:

  • Forming (most team members are positive and excited),

  • Storming (differences arise that can result in conflict and cause people to lose sight of common goals),

  • Norming (people resolve differences, ask each other for help and provide constructive feedback), and

  • Performing (hard work becomes the focus and the team is “bought in” and ready to achieve the goal). 

What is a “sense of community”?

A feeling of belonging and importance to one another, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met.

Project: The Thankful Tree



  • Vase
  • Sticks / small branches
  • Colored paper
  • Markers
  • Ribbon
  • Hole punch
  • Scissors


Students take a piece of colored paper and cut a shape (this could be a leaf shape or any shape they choose).  On it they can write a word(s) or phrase(s) that express why they are thankful for their classroom community.  They punch a hole in their “ornament” and hang it on the tree with ribbon. 


Allow students to share what they wrote. 

Ask some questions about community:

·      How does it make you feel to be part of a strong community? (Responses may include happiness, belonging, comfortable, valued / important).  These are positive words!

·      What makes a strong community?  (Responses may include feeling welcomed and invited to join, having something in common with others, having some rules to follow, having fun). 

If your classroom has not become a strong community yet, ask the following:

·      What does it feel like to not be part of the community?  (Responses may include shy, lonely, sad, discouraged, or out of place).  These words are not very positive.

·      What might cause there to be a lack of community in the group?  (Responses may include not understanding each other, not knowing what they are going to do each day, or not feeling included).

Ask students to brainstorm ways they can continue to make their community stronger, and encourage answers such as:

·      Respect each other’s differences

·      Ask questions to get to know people in the class

·      Follow the rules

·      Thank the people who help you each day

Teachers can reflect back on the thankful tree throughout the year and use it as a tool to reinforce community as the group goes through the stages of group development.     

This is just one way to create a thankful tree.  Instead of using real sticks, make a giant tree on the wall out of cardboard, paper towel roles or construction paper.  Get creative!


Want some other activities and reflections that can build up your classroom team / community this year?

Michelle Cummings, founder of Training Wheels, is a known leader in the teambuilding industry.  Her website offers a host of resources that can be used to build community in your classroom and among your co-teachers.  Check it out here.


Jacobs, Jeff.  “Sense of community:  why it is so important and what you can do about it.”  ACA National Conference.  Orlando, 7, Feb 2014.

Mind Tools (n.d.).  Forming, storming, norming and performing: understanding the stages of team formation.  Retrieved from