Things Language Teachers Are Grateful for and the Science Behind it

January 2023

We’re starting the new year by reflecting on the previous one. We sent a call for letters of gratitude to our readers, and we received 11 entries for this issue. We also look to our editors to explain the science behind the feeling of gratitude. Let’s begin 2023 with an exercise in gratitude!

This issue of Think Tank marks the 5th anniversary of the publication. Thank you to everyone involved, especially Stephen M. Ryan, Julia Daley, Skye Playsted, Heather Kretschmer, Mohammad Khari, and Curtis Kelly (editors never get thanked enough).

Our cover: “The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.” – William Blake

Cover photo by Nitin Sharma and others from Pixabay & Unsplash

Watch before you read...

This month our readers take center stage by contributing their stories on gratitude. Cultivating gratitude is one way we can savor the good things in our lives and enhance our well-being. In the Deep podcast episode, Andrew Huberman elaborates on the neurobiology of gratitude and an effective gratitude practice. In the More podcast episode, Stephanie Foo explains how she became more grateful after imagining her life without the people and things she treasures. To introduce this issue, Mohammad Khari focuses on the brain science behind gratitude while Marc Helgensen gives us an overview of the psychology of gratitude and some practical tips.

In the Think Tank, our readers offer their experiences and insights. Skye Playsted reminds us of the power of feedback while Richard O’Shea recounts the power of helping others and being helped. Paul Mathieson and Timothy James Byrne each delve into learning activities that inspired gratitude. Ran Fan expresses her appreciation of learning languages, and Meredith Stephens describes the influence two linguists had on her teaching. Jocelyn Wright, Ng Gee Lian, and Bill Acton are each grateful for mentors. Luke Sims is thankful for family members, and in a “must read,” Joël Laurier expresses his heartfelt thanks for the supportive and generous JALT community. The Think Tank editors are thankful to these readers for taking the time to share their stories!

Huberman Lab

The Science of Gratitude and How to Build Gratitude Practice

Greater Good Magazine

How to Practice Gratitude When You’re Not Feeling Thankful

Our Thoughts on Gratitude

Expression of Gratitude from Heather Kretchsmer, Think Tank editor

Since this issue is devoted to gratitude, let us start by looking at what it is. As defined by Robert Emmons, one of the world’s leading scientific experts on gratitude, there are two key components leading to gratitude’s physical, psychological, and social benefits[1]: “It’s an affirmation of goodness. We affirm that there are good things in the world, gifts and benefits we’ve received.” And …

Let’s suppose for the next week, you are going to invest five minutes a day into your own happiness. Only five minutes. No money. No great effort. Just a little time. And, as a result, you get six months of more happiness in your life. Five minutes a day for a week! That is about half an hour. And you get six months of good results. By nearly anyone’s standards, this is a very good ROI (Return On Investment).

Expressions of Gratitude from our readers

Feedback: Food for Thought Skye Playsted

How much of our teaching time is spent giving students feedback on their work? We can read a lot about feedback—how to correct, what to correct, how often, when to give feedback and when not to. As a parent, I rely on teachers’ verbal and written feedback on my children’s schoolwork to guide them in their studies; as a teacher, I spend hours marking students’ work and considering how to write constructive feedback comments that will help students to understand their areas of strength and where they could improve their essays.

Pedagogy of Positivity/Pedagogia da Positividade Jocelyn Wright

Across the globe in diverse educational contexts and settings, there are many English teachers, and many, including myself, invest ourselves in our teaching. But how often do we reflect deeply and critically about the real importance or significance of what we are doing? I spent years searching for the meaning of my work and found it in the inspirational writing of a Brazilian peace linguist, Francisco Gomes de Matos. 

Drawing Inspiration from Inspirational Students Paul Mathieson

All language teachers have faced those seemingly motivational-blackhole scenarios: the first period class in the depths of winter, the class after lunch on a steamy Japanese summer afternoon, or the first day back in class after the happy vibes of the school festival. But I think good teachers rise to such challenges by attempting to make their classes engaging, meaningful, and hopefully fun, whatever the circumstances. I am thankful for those wonderful students …

Time to Re-Experience the Power of Consciousness-Raising Tasks Ng Gee Lian

I would like to convey my deepest gratitude to Dr. Paul Horness, who has not only deepened my knowledge of linguistic philosophies, but also introduced me to another perspective on grammar. Teaching grammar is never easy and grammatical mistakes in students’ work happen all the time, no matter if you are teaching a General English or an EAP/ESP class. Perhaps many of us often find ourselves facing the situation of “This is not right (or they are different), but I just can’t explain why it is so to the students… right away.”

Grateful for a Positive Work Environment Richard O'Shea

The Benjamin Franklin Effect is a cognitive bias that causes people to like someone more after they do that person a favor, especially if they previously disliked that person or felt neutral toward them. Most people want to appear competent at work, so there is the temptation to never ask for help and to pretend you know more than you really do. But, actually, asking for help may not only improve your work performance, it may help build a positive relationship with your coworkers.

I am fairly new to teaching at a university…

I’m Grateful for… Luke Sims

…many things, but at this moment I’m most grateful for the time I have to collect my thoughts. Today is another test day for the students, the second in a row, and I arrive at my desk fifteen minutes before the other teachers. Looking at the schedule I realize that I will be grading papers in the afternoon, but I can set aside some time in the morning for a writing project. This year has been eventful. My daughter turned a year old in October, and free time is a limited resource. It’s not that I can’t study or write at home, just that I’d rather give that time to her.

As a new parent I have plenty of things …

Something I’m Grateful for Ran Fan

In my English speaking class, one student sighed and asked me, “Why is English so difficult to learn?” “Maybe that is life. It has many tortures, challenges, but happiness,” I said. However, this dialogue is always on my mind. I feel a sense of complexity in foreign language study.

Recalling my journey, I am grateful for experiencing different foreign language learning methods, which makes me more complete. I am a language teacher from…

Quick Ideas to Help Youtube Grateful Compiled by Marc Helgesen has lots of videos on gratitude. Here are a few short ones.

    • A Moving Story about Gratitude
    • Challenges to Gratitude
    • Gratitude brings Happiness
    • Gratitude Experiment
    • The Amazing Effects of Gratitude


Japan and Love of Shodō (愛の書道) Bill Acton

My time in Japan gave me a unique, East/West perspective on embodied learning and teaching that has gradually become the heart of my approach to teaching pronunciation and language in general.

I had studied Japanese in college thirty years earlier when we arrived in Japan. In no small measure because I am the great grandnephew of Lafcadio Hearn, I was invited into places and relationships that …

Showing Gratitude to a Student after a CLIL’ed Service-Learning Activity Timothy James Byrne

An example of how we showed gratitude in one of my classes is the following Service-Learning activity I did with third-year bachelor’s students in a CLIL’ed Political Science ESP course.

To start the activity, I shared a picture I had found on social media of African students from Sumy State University, in north-eastern Ukraine, close to the Russian border. Forced to flee the fighting, they joined the flow of migrants moving slowly from Sumy to Kiev, then to L’viv …

Using Song to Teach Intonation, Rhythm, and Grammar Meredith Stephens

I spent years pondering why my learners had such difficulty acquiring English. I knew that one reason was their assumption that a language is strictly represented by the written word. I impressed upon them the importance of listening, and in my early days of teaching would carry a CD player to all of my classes so I could play them recordings of various samples of English.

I knew listening skills underpinned reading (Walter, 2008), but I was not sure which listening skills were involved…

How JALT Saved my Life Joël Laurier

I am simply grateful to be alive. A simple thought, but one for me that carries a heavy sentiment, all because of the amazing community of JALT (the Japan Association for Language Teaching). The years 2021 and 2022 saw great pain for us all with the COVID pandemic. For me, it brought what some would consider a nightmare. For me, those years were the most awesome ride ever. In desperate need of a kidney, I lost my first kidney donor. I lost four jobs in a day because of an upcoming transplant. I even divorced my wife of twenty years. But through this all, I found the deepest love of all through a community I joined several years ago…

Think Tank Plus

Call for Contributions: Ideas and Articles Think Tank Staff

Become a Think Tank star! Here are some of the future issue topics we are thinking about. Would you, or anyone you know, like to write about any of these? Or is there another topic you’d like to recommend? Do you have any suggestions for lead-in, or just plain interesting, videos? How about writing a book review? Or sending us a story about your experiences? Contact us.

Class Activity: Gratitude Journal (here)

2 Mins Short Gratitude Story for Kids: Help Others Value Humanity and Time

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The MindBrained Think Tanks+

is produced by the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) Mind, Brain, and Education Special Interest Group (BRAIN SIG). Kyoto, Japan. (ISSN 2434-1002)

Editorial Staff

Stephen M. Ryan                Julia Daley                   Marc Helgesen

             Heather Kretschmer          Curtis H. Kelly            Skye Playsted               

    Jason Walters                               Mohammad Khari




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