Classroom Thanksgiving Activities

Nothing was easy for the Pilgrims when they arrived in the New World on the Mayflower in the early 17th century. Luckily, they were able to befriend the natives who inhabited the land now known as Plymouth, Massachusetts. With the help of the people called the Wampanoag, their first harvest was bountiful. As part of a celebration for this, the Pilgrims and Wampanoag feasted together. What we think of as the first Thanksgiving took place in 1621. Now, it is a tradition celebrated by Americans since Abraham Lincoln proclaimed it to be a national holiday in 1863. Researching the first Thanksgiving through interactive websites like that hosted by the living history museum Plimoth Plantation is one way that you can teach your elementary students to appreciate the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Read on to discover some other ways that you can use the theme of Thanksgiving to educate your children.

What’s on the Menu?

When we think of Thanksgiving, food is often the first thing that comes to one’s mind. While the Pilgrims and Wampanoag may not have had turkey on their menu for the Thanksgiving feast, it is a staple at homes across the United States today. Most children are familiar with what a menu is, but have they practiced reading for information using one? Collect a variety of carry-out menus from your area. Dispense them to your class and have students first note the similarities they share in the way that the menus have been organized. Students can then read the descriptions about the appetizers, main courses, and desserts. On chart paper, the class can record words that stimulate the senses. Students can pick out the sensory details that influence diners to choose one menu item over another. Next, students can pretend that they are the chefs at their own restaurant and are in charge of creating their own Thanksgiving menu for patrons. Have students include the dishes that their own families have featured during their Thanksgiving Day feasts. Students should practice writing descriptions of each menu item that appeal to the senses of sight, taste, and smell.

Helping the Needy

Not everyone will be able to feast on Thanksgiving Day. This holiday brings a perfect chance for you to discuss social problems like poverty with your students. You can show them that they are never too young to help others in need. Prove it by challenging them to help in a school-wide food drive. Encourage students to collect nonperishable food from their family, friends, and neighbors. During the few weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, have students bring these items into your classroom; keep a running tally outside your classroom to show others how well your students are doing. Once you reach the end of the food drive, your principal can announce which class has collected the most items to be donated to the local food pantry. Students in the winning class can be awarded with a special prize or they may be able to go on a class field trip to help serve the needy at a local soup kitchen. Participating in a food drive is a great topic for kids to reflect on in their journals for writing. They can share what they learned as well as how they felt about helping others.

Food for Thought

As a class, read poems that fit in with the theme of Thanksgiving. Students can observe how poets include images of autumn, feelings of family, and descriptions of being grateful. Depending on how much experience your students have had with poetry, they may be able to write their own poems with little difficulty or they may try text tapping the poems you have read in class to get started. When students text tap a poem, they use it as a model for writing their own. This can help them to spark ideas for writing as well as organize their thoughts into lines and stanzas that can include rhyme. Students can also create an illustration to accompany their poems. Encourage them to share their work with their families during the Thanksgiving vacation.

A Parade of Creativity

Parades have become a longstanding tradition for the Thanksgiving holiday. Most notable is the Macy’s Parade which first took place in 1924. Families enjoy seeing their favorite characters and holiday decorations in the march, but are they aware of how the spectacle is created? Take your class on a virtual tour of the parade studio to learn how the costumes, floats, and inflatables are made. Have your students then sketch a design for their own contribution to the parade. Assign them to write about the details of their creation. Why is theirs an appealing piece to include in the parade? Will it have special effects like confetti or candy cannons? Who are some of the workers and helpers that will be needed to make the idea a reality? You can also have students write about whether they would like to work at a place like the parade studio and why.