How to Teach Thank You With a Shoebox

Thank You with a Shoebox?

Yes, you can use a shoebox to teach kids to respond, “Thank you!” ”  How to teach it? Read on for easy directions and why you should try it.

Can you envision your student opening a present and responding, “But this isn’t what I wanted!” If so, this shoebox therapy activity is just for you. The photos show a Christmas theme, but responding ‘thank you’  is a year-long social skill that needs practice.

Use shoebox play to teach social skills: responding thank you, autism, speech therapy

Shoebox therapy for autism

Shoeboxes can be a fun, functional way to teach play and language skills. What better activity at any time of year than to work on language for opening presents and saying “thank you?”  Who doesn’t love to get a present at any time?

Children need to practice language in routines a lot before it becomes routine for them to use. Young children love to keep practicing with shoebox play! When they practice it enough, it becomes automatic. And isn’t it lovely when a child remembers to respond ‘Thank you’ without a prompt?

Use shoebox play to teach social skills: responding thank you, autism, speech therapy

Don’t worry if your students with autism are nonverbal. Symbol support is easily built into the shoebox play so that all students can respond, “Thank you!” Or, if your child has an AAC device, be sure to program in ‘thank you’ and use it during  play.


  • An old shoebox
  • Some small toys that will fit inside- start with only toys that your student will like.
  • Later, add some disliked toys to practice saying ‘thank you’ when you really didn’t want it.
  • 4 pictures of gifts to fit the size of the openings.
  • Paper to decorate the shoebox, if you wish. I used this without ever decorating it and my students couldn’t care less. They had a great time anyway!

How to make a 'thank you' shoebox


  1. Cut a file folder in strips that are as wide as the box is tall to use as a separator.
  2. Cut one strip to the length of the box. Tape it on both sides inside the center of the box.
  3. Fold the additional strips in half, place them inside the box and tape them together like crazy until you have dividers that will stay stiff.

I promise you, the kids won’t care what it looks like inside as long as you have something fun for them to play with! You just need four compartments with a divider that is sturdy.

Make the Box Top

  1. Draw 4 squares on the top of the box. Leave enough space in between that the top has some support while the little ones are opening and closing the presents. I left about 1.5-2 inches between mine.
  2. Decide which way is the top, then cut out three sides of each square, being consistent. Razor cutters are great for this, but you can use scissors. Just punch a hole with one of the blades first to get you started.
  3. Glue a different gift picture on each flap.
  4. Glue on symbols for the language you will be modeling inside the flap.
  5. Make the ‘thank you’ symbol removable if you have nonverbal children using picture exchange.

politeness, shoebox play for speech therapy, autism

Have fun!

Students can request to open the color present, respond with ‘thank you’ after receiving the toy inside, and have fun playing! This was such a fun activity for my students, we played it almost every session all December long.

You can use this activity all year long by just changing out the toys. If you wrap the box, be sure to use a plain color.

Use it for your students’ birthdays, too!  They just love the excitement of opening up the box and seeing what is inside. It makes a great review of basic politeness skills.

All kids can use practice saying thank you. But, if you have a mixed group, here are some ideas for differentiated instruction.

  • Place toys inside that include the sounds that your articulation kids are working on.
  • Use a variety of sentence types in your play: I want to open the color gift. I’d like the color one. I wonder what is in the color present? I opened the color gift and got a ___.
  • Practice sharing the toy after someone has opened a gift.
  • Get your students asking each other questions. Have them hide the toy they got and ask what the others got.
  • Work on simple perspective-taking by showing all of the toys before hiding them in the box. Then have each student guess what one of the other students would like to play with. If your student thinks everyone wants to play with their favorite, stat teaching that everyone has different likes and dislikes.
  • Start adding in toys your student dislikes. Or put in common items that aren’t fun for your student, like a paper clip, and still work on saying, “Thank you.”

Read some more tips for saying ‘thank you’ when you don’t really mean it!

If you’d like to add some literacy skills to the activity, check out this interactive book!

I say, “Thank you for stopping by!”

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I’m Linda, an SLP who loves helping you build effective communication skills for your students using strategies and visuals. Pictures are time consuming, so let me make your life easier!

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