The tradition of Thanksgiving in America goes back to the winter of 1621 when the Pilgrims were virtually starving. Indians from the Wampanoag tribe came to their rescue providing them with food. We celebrate this event today usually by eating more than we need and giving some thought to the blessings we have had for the past year. However, feasts of Thanksgiving go back even further than that. For example, the Greeks celebrated Thesmophoria. Read more about their holiday here.
The question for educators is how to incorporate this holiday into the classroom. I hope to help with the answer. Below find numerous lesson ideas for each curriculum area. If you have a lesson that you'd like to add to the collection, please submit it here.
- Balloon Making and History - Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is known for its large balloons. Incorporate this event into art classes with these activities.
- Craft Ideas - These simple craft activities could be used for peer tutoring with younger kids.
- Have students use HTML to design a webpage devoted to Thanksgiving activities at their school. They could list whatstudents are studyingor just put up information they have researched.
- Thanksgiving CyberChallenge - Take this interactive quiz and learn about Thanksgiving.
- Meet the Pilgrims Live - Read transcripts of questions and answers asked to 'Pilgrims' by students.
- Eating Etiquette - Teach students etiquette for eating.
- Carving Turkey - Learn all about the best way to carve a turkey.
- No Popcorn! - Read why popcorn was not part of the First Thanksgiving.
- My Family's Turkey and Dressing Recipe - My family recipe.
- What foods were actually eaten at the First Thanksgiving? - Scroll down the page to see what was served according to the historical record.
- Play a game of charades where every option has to have some connection with Thanksgiving.
- Using biographies of Pocahontas and John Smith, have students discuss the poetic license taken by Disney when creating their film Pocahontas.
- Have students write a play about the First Thanksgiving for younger children.
English and Language Arts
- Have students read and then create poems about Thanksgiving.
- Use this Thanksgiving Crossword Puzzle as a nice 'day before the holiday' activity.
- Have students read Longfellow's The Courtship of Miles Standish. (Note: This is not historically accurate.)
- Journal Ideas:
- What have you been thankful for in the past year?
- Describe past Thanksgivings good or bad.
- Does your family celebrate Thanksgiving? What are your traditions?
- What was your best Thanksgiving?
- What was your worst Thanksgiving?
- How do you want to celebrate this holiday when you grow up?
- Pretend you were a Pilgrim or a Wampanoag Indian at the First Thanksgiving. Describe what you ate and did.
- Thanksgiving Music? - Of course!
- Archery - I learned archery in PE. What a great time to set up targets and have kids practice
- Football - What is Thanksgiving known for other than turkey? Football! Teach students about its history, rules, and more!
- Anatomy: The Digestive System - Show students what that turkey will actually be doing in their body.
- Discuss what nutrients make soil fertile tying in with the failure of the Pilgrims to create viable crops their first year.
- Science of Ballooning - Use Macy's balloons to spark interest in history and science of these massive 'sky sculptures'.
- Have students research scientific discoveries that occurred around the year 1621?
- Read how Teaching with Biographies can help aid learning. Here are the biographies of John Smith and Pocahontas.
- Teach About the History of Macy's Day Parade.
- Canadian Thanksgiving Day - Learn how and why Canada celebrates its own Thanksgiving Day.
- Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation - Have students read this 1863 Proclamation and discuss its purpose. Great tie-in with the Civil War.
- Peace Treaty with Massasoit - Read about this 1621 treaty that kept the peace between the Wampanoags and the Pilgrims.
- Primary Sources for the 'First Thanksgiving' - Read about it first hand. Also, discuss the difference between primary and secondary Sources.
- Common Thanksgiving and Mayflower Myths - Discuss how history is fluid and all sources must be verified for historical accuracy.
- Life in 1621 - Have students read about life in 1621. Then have them create journals or letters where they tak on the role of individuals who lived back then.