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!” But how? Read on for easy directions and why you should try it. Hint: This fun activity can work on more than just social skills!

opening a present picture

Can you envision your student opening a present and responding, “But this isn’t what I wanted!” If so, this shoebox play activity is just right for you. It is fun to do during the holiday season. But responding ‘thank you’  is a year-long social skill that needs practice, so pull this fun activity out at birthdays and anytime that presents are given. It even lets you build other speech/language skills in your mixed groups.

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 skills 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?

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.


  • A shoebox or 3-4 small boxes.
  • 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

 “Thank you!” Shoebox Play Directions

  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.

Adapt the Activity to Meet Varied Goals

Students request to open the color present, respond with “thank you” after receiving the toy inside and have fun playing with the item while others take their turns. This was so fun for my students, they requested it daily!

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.

  1. Place toys inside that include the sounds that your articulation kids are working on.
  2. 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 ___.”
  3. Practice sharing the toy after someone has opened a gift.
  4. Get your students interacting with each other. Have them put the toy they got behind them and ask questions to find out what the others got.
  5. 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, start teaching that everyone has different likes and dislikes.
  6. Begin to add 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.”

Adapting for Early Intervention

boy opening a present in speech therapy

Yes, even very little ones can enjoy this activity with a little adaptation!

  • Use 2 or 3 small tissue boxes, making sure that the hole on top is big enough to fit their small hands through. Students with sensory issues may need to look inside the box before they will put their hand inside.
  • Work on joint attention by pointing at one of the boxes and waiting for the student to look where you are pointing.
  • Build nonverbal requesting skills by having your student point at the desired box.
  • Work on sound localization skills by placing a noisemaker in one of two boxes. Shake both with your hands far apart and see if they look at the box with the toy.
  • Cut around 3 sides of the box to model or elicit “open” after the student points.
  • Choose toys related to simple vocalizations to place in the box. Think in terms of farm animal sounds, a train for “choochoo”, a plane for “up”, a monkey for “ee-ee”, an owl for “hoo-hoo”, etc. Or drop any toy as it is coming out of the box to model “uh-oh!”

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!”

You might also enjoy...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

seventeen − 14 =

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!

Find it Fast

Let's Connect