Unlike the other holidays that arise during the fall and winter months of the school year, the Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated by the majority of students. However, making handprint turkeys does not usually fill out a lesson plan. There are several creative and fun ways that help your class appreciate the holiday of Thanksgiving.
1. Turn negatives into positives: Thanksgiving is often about being thankful, but many students have trouble thinking of things for which they are thankful. Have them write down ten things that they dislike, leaving a line or two of space between each one. Then, have them go back and add "but I am thankful because…" followed by a way to make that negative a positive. For instance, if a child writes "I hate doing the dishes," they could add, "but I am thankful because it means that I have food to eat."
2. The menu of the first Thanksgiving: Many students will be eating turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes for their Thanksgiving dinner. However, they may be surprised at the foods that the Pilgrims actually may have eaten. Older students can research the menu the Pilgrims might have eaten, and younger children will enjoy designing restaurant-like menus of the unusual dishes the Pilgrims might have served.
3. Study the Native Americans: The Native Americans have a rich and colorful history all of their own. You can have students study the different tribes that were in the area the Pilgrims landed, or have students study the culture and traditions of one particular tribe. Tell the Thanksgiving story from the other side!
4. Art of the 17th century: You can use the Pilgrims as a way to introduce students to 17th century art forms. Have them look at how portraits were painted and explain what the portraits tell about the people in them. You can compare the culture of the Pilgrims to your students' cultures, or have them paint their own portraits of a partner.
5. A look at President Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation: Older students can look at the famous Thanksgiving Proclamation and how it relates to the civil war at the time. This can also be used as an introduction to Lincoln's other great speeches, such as the Gettysburg Address.
6. Get creative with Thanksgiving compliments: Have students write a report on their favorite Thanksgiving foods. Encourage rich adjective use that describes the food so that it is good enough to eat! You can also have them describe a food without actually telling the reader what it is. See if their partner can guess what your favorite dish is by the description alone.
7. Thanksgiving Arts and Crafts: Of course, there are always the traditional handprint turkeys. You can also have students weave placemats for their family dinner out of paper, decorate cornucopias, or make Native American headbands and Pilgrim hats.
8. History of the Pilgrims: The life of the Pilgrims included much more than the first Thanksgiving dinner. Older students can review the religious persecutions and the reasons why the Pilgrims made the trip to North America. Younger students will enjoy hearing about what life was like for the average Pilgrim child and creating their own stories about this time.
9. The cost of Thanksgiving: Have students bring in ads from local grocery stores. Alone or in groups, ask students to plan out a menu for the big day, and then compare prices at the stores to see where it is most cost effective to buy groceries that week. Include bonus points for using coupons.
10. Cook your own feast: For younger students, this will require some adult participation. Prepare your own Thanksgiving "feast" in the traditional style with every student bringing in their own dish to share. Have students share why they picked the particular dish to bring.
Thanksgiving is not only a time to be thankful for the things that you have, but also an interesting historical event. Help to bring it alive to your students with a few of these fun activities.