Thanksgiving Lessons for Grades 6-8
Focus on the relationships between the Pilgrims and Wampanoags, and exploring their experiences, actions, and decisions relating to the settlement of Plimoth colony.
- Grades: 6–8
- Unit Plan:
The focus of "The First Thanksgiving" for students at this level is to explore the Pilgrims' and Wampanoags' experiences, actions, and decisions as they relate to the settlement of Plymouth colony.
Throughout the activity, students will develop an understanding of historical events from different perspectives while practicing research skills, reading comprehension, and various forms of writing.
While participating in "The First Thanksgiving" online activities, students in grades 6–12 become proficient with several of these skills:
- Use technology tools to access, explore, and synthesize information on the Mayflower, Pilgrims, Plymouth colony, Wampanoags, and the first Thanksgiving
- Develop an understanding of the Pilgrims' motives in establishing a settlement in the New World
- Develop an understanding of the colonial and Wampanoag cultures of the early 1600s
- Compare and contrast lifestyles of the Pilgrims and Wampanoags
- Interpret information from and create timelines
- Understand and identify cultural differences between colonial times and the present
- Read for detail
- Participate in a variety of active writing activities
- Demonstrate comprehension through experiential response
- Reflect on what has been learned after reading by formulating ideas, opinions, and personal responses
- "The First Thanksgiving online activity"
- Venn diagram (PDF)
- KWL chart (PDF)
- Timeline (PDF)
- Basic art supplies (paper, glue, crayons, markers, etc.) will be needed for several activities
- Optional: Power Point, LCD projector, overhead projector
Transparency paper: If you don't have access to a computer in the classroom, print out selected Web pages and make transparency copies to post on the overhead.
Set Up and Prepare
Depending on the grade level and maturity level of each class, activities can be facilitated as independent work, collaborative group work, or whole class instruction.
If a computer is available for each student, guide students to the activities through printed URLs on handouts or on the board.
If there are fewer computers than students, group the students by reading level. Assign each student a role: a "driver" who navigates the Web, a timer who keeps the group on task, and a note taker. If there are more than three students per computer, you can add roles like a team leader, a team reporter, etc.
If you are working in a learning station in your classroom, break your class into different groups. Have rotating groups working on the computer(s), reading printed background information, holding smaller group discussions, etc. Details are described further in the Teaching sections.
You may also want to create a special display of Thanksgiving books in your classroom library. Check out our Recommended Booklist for suggested print materials. Include room for the projects that your students will create through the activity.
Voyage on the Mayflower
Before discussing the voyage of the Mayflower, hand out the KWL graphic organizer and have students fill in any information they know about the ship, its voyage, and its crew and passengers. Then ask volunteers to share their knowledge with the class. As students work through the activities, have them periodically return to their KWL charts to compare, correct, or add new information.
Invite students to explore the "Voyage on the Mayflower," "Tour the Ship," and "Pilgrim Timeline" components for this section. Then direct them to the Mayflower Interviews. Provide time for them to read — either individually or in small groups — the interviews of the passengers and crews. (If computers aren't available for all students, you may want to print out copies of the interviews for individual reading.)
To learn more about the travelers' experiences during the voyage, have students search and refer to additional online resources (see More Resources), as well as books in your class library (see Related Booklist).
Ask students to imagine they are Pilgrims traveling on the Mayflower. Using information gathered from the activity and other sources, have them create a diary. Explain that they will write a diary entry for each week the Pilgrims were at sea (the voyage lasted nearly 10 weeks).
To help plan for their entries, pass out the timeline graphic organizer and have students create a timeline plotting the dates of actual events that happened during the journey. They can refer to "Voyage on the Mayflower," the "Pilgrim Timeline," and other research sources to find dates of particular events. Have them fill in additional dates with events that could realistically have occurred, making sure each of the 10 weeks are represented on the timeline.
For 10 consecutive days, have students add a weekly entry to their diary, recording events for that week along with an account of their own activities, observations, opinions, and feelings.
While students are in a Pilgrim mindset, take a poll to find out which, if any, of the Pilgrims in class would have chosen to turn back to England when the voyage became perilous. Invite students to discuss the reasons for their choices.
After hearing others' opinions, ask students to take a firm stand on the issue: to continue the voyage, or to return to England. Then have them research the settlers' motivations and preparations for going to the New World (see Research Starters). Using the information they gather, have students compose a letter to try to persuade others to agree with their position on the issue.
Extend the Lesson
- Invite students to use information from their letters and their powers of persuasion in a class debate over whether to continue the voyage or turn back. Additional topics students might research and debate include: whether or not the trip should be made given the problems with the Speedwell, the resulting delays, and the impossibility of taking along all the original passengers; whether or not the settlers should remain united once they left the Mayflower to build their settlement; and whether or not the settlers should return to England when the Mayflower set out for its return trip.
- Have students research the Massachusetts Bay Company, the joint-stock company that funded the Pilgrims' voyage to America (see Research Starters). Invite them to discuss what they discover about the company and its leaders, motives, and agreement with the settlers. Have students create promotional or protest posters to show their support or opposition to the company and its objectives.
- Venn diagram (PDF)
Invite students to view and take notes on the Compare and Contrast sections of "Daily Life" and "Pilgrim Timeline." Divide the class into small groups, and assign one of the "Pilgrim Interviews" or "Life as a Wampanoag" to each group. (If computers aren't available for students to share, pass out printed out copies of the interviews.)
Provide time for students to read their interviews and take notes. Allow additional time for them to learn more about different aspects of each group's lifestyles by searching other online resources (see More Resources), as well as books in your class library (see Related Booklist).
Have students share what they learned about daily life in Plymouth colony. Discuss the similarities and differences in the lifestyles of the Pilgrims and Wampanoags.
Pass out several Venn diagram graphic organizers to each student. Ask them to label each diagram with a category — such as housing, clothes, or food — and then organize their information for each category on the corresponding diagram. Have students use this information to write an essay comparing the Pilgrim and Wampanoag lifestyles.
Voyage to the Future
Tell students they will imagine being teenage Pilgrims who have taken a voyage to the future. After exploring "Daily Life," the "Pilgrim Interviews," and other resources to learn about the lifestyle of Plymouth Pilgrims, have students create a list of questions that they — as Pilgrim teenagers — would like to ask a 21st century teenager. Encourage them to include questions about homes, fashion, school, responsibilities and chores, communication, transportation, and entertainment.
Pair up students, asking one student to take the Pilgrim role and the other student being himself or herself — a modern-day teenager. Have the Pilgrims use their list of questions to interview their partners and take notes on the responses.
When the first round of interviews are completed, ask students to switch roles and then switch partners, making sure each Pilgrim is paired with a modern-day teenager who has not yet been interviewed.
After the interviews, have students prepare a presentation — from their Pilgrims' perspectives — about what the future holds for their colonial community.
Extend the Lesson
- Have students explore your class library (see Related Booklist) and additional resources (see Research Starters) to learn more about Plymouth colony and a Wampanoag village. Invite pairs of students to use the information they gather to create a side-by-side replica of the two communities from art and craft materials. Ask them to include labels and text cards describing the different elements of each community.
- Tell students that three key Wampanoag figures during the Pilgrim's settlement in Plymouth were Samoset, Tisquantum, and Massasoit. Ask them to research one of these three to learn more about him and the role he played in helping the Pilgrims establish and strengthen their settlement (see Research Starters). Have students prepare a creative way to present their findings to the class, such as by performing a first-person narrative, composing a poem or song, or posing as a descendent to tell the Wampanoag's story.
The Thanksgiving Feast
- KWL Graphic Organizer (PDF)
Before discussing the 1621 harvest feast known as the first Thanksgiving, hand out the KWL graphic organizer and have students fill in any information they know about the people, foods, and activities involved in the feast, as well as how the celebration originated. Then ask volunteers to share their knowledge with the class. As students work through the activities, have them periodically return to their KWL charts to compare, correct, or add new information.
Invite students to explore the "Thanksgiving Feast" slideshow and the "Thanksgiving Timeline" components for this section. Then direct them to the "Pilgrim Interviews" and "Life as a Wampanoag." Ask them to find and read the parts of the interviews that address the 1621 Thanksgiving feast. (If computers aren't available for students to share, pass out printed out copies of the interviews.)
Provide time for students to read their interviews and take notes. Allow additional time for them to learn more by exploring other online resources (see More Resources), as well as books in your class library (see Related Booklist).
Discuss with students what they learned about the people, food, and activities that were a part of the 1621 celebration. Talk about how the Pilgrim and Wampanoag cultures and customs influenced each group's interactions with the other, their "table manners," what foods they brought to the table, and the activities they engaged in.
Then invite students to imagine that they were participants in that historical event. Have them make a scrapbook of their memoirs. Students can use a combination of sources for their scrapbook: their own drawings, magazine cutouts, online printouts, homemade artifacts, etc. Ask them to include a description or explanation with each item in their scrapbooks.
Ask students to quietly reflect on what they've learned about the origins of Thanksgiving and its evolution into a national holiday (see "Thanksgiving Timeline"). Have them compare how Thanksgiving Day is observed today versus the 1621 feast. Encourage them to also consider what kind of observation the proponents envisioned as they campaigned to set aside a special day of thanksgiving.
Taking all these things into account, have students write personal perspectives about how they (or our nation in general) observe the Thanksgiving Day celebration, addressing things such as: its similarities to early thanksgiving observations, ways it reflects a time of thanksgiving, what they like or dislike about it, what they would change and why, etc.
Invite volunteers to share their perspectives with the class.
Extend the Lesson
- Have students research and identify problems that contributed to the deteriorating relationship between the Pilgrims and Wampanoags, such as their language, cultural, and religious differences. For information, have them read "Life as a Wampanoag" and access other resources in Research Starters. Using what they learn, have students discuss ways in which the two groups might have resolved their differences and learned to live peacefully as neighbors.
- Ask students to define pilgrim. Invite them to tell about any modern-day pilgrims they know of. Discuss reasons why people from other countries choose to move to America even today. Then ask students to share their opinions on how today's pilgrims might view the significance of the first Thanksgiving in their lives and how their views might be similar or different from that of lifelong American citizens.
Have students take this Web Quest quiz to test their Thanksgiving knowledge. Each question is self-checking and links students to a Web site where they can discover the correct answer and more.