Thanksgiving Lessons for Grades 6-8
With Common Core-aligned lesson plans, your students will explore the relationships between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag, including 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 Plimoth 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.
The lessons here address 18 Common Core State Standards. See how they are aligned in this listing of each lesson and its standards.
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, Plimoth 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
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 Book List for suggested print materials. Include room for the projects that your students will create through the activity.
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, including Tour the Ship and the Pilgrim timeline. 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, as well as books in your class library (here is one list of recommended books).
Lesson One: Of Plymouth Plantation Close Read
Have students read excerpts from William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation, a primary source text about the first Thanksgiving. Teachers may want to read excerpts aloud with students to help them with difficult phrasing and vocabulary.
For the first reading, have students read portions of the text that have to do with the Pilgrims lives in Europe and setting sail for America. At each subsequent reading, have them consider the text in the context of what they learning about the lives of the Pilgrims in the New Word.
Lesson Two: Notices and Wonders
Have students examine the Voyage on the Mayflower area of The First Thanksgiving. Ask the students to record what they notice about the journey and the questions that they have as they study the information. Have students make a list of their notices and wonders. You can also prompt them to use question words: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How?
Lesson Three: Research Component
Ask students to imagine they are writing an online encyclopedia entry. Students should research the Pilgrims' experience using the information from Voyage on the Mayflower. Their encyclopedia entries should cover the major events of the voyage across the Atlantic, the experience of sailing on a ship, and the layout of the ship.
Lesson Four: Persuasive Letters
While students are in a Pilgrim mindset, take a poll to find out which of them, if any, would have chosen to turn back to England when the voyage became perilous. Invite students to discuss the reasons for their choices.
Ask students to take a firm stand on the issue—to continue the voyage or return to England—after they've heard others' opinions. Then have them research the settlers' motivations and preparations for going to the New World (see Research Starters). Have students, using the information they've gathered, compose a letter to try to persuade others to agree with their position on the issue.
Lesson Five: Mayflower Memories
Give your students this writing prompt. After they have had time to write and prepare, have them share their account with the class.
Imagine that the Pilgrims could have told other people in Europe who were planning to come to the New World what the journey across the Atlantic was like. What information should the Pilgrims share to encourage the travelers? What hardships should they be honest about? Write your account as if you were a Pilgrim talking to another traveler from Europe.
Extend the Lessons
- Invite students to use the information from their letters and their powers of persuasion in a class debate about 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)
Lesson One: Lifestyle Comparisons
Provide small groups with two Pilgrim Interviews and the text of Life as a Wampanoag. Have the groups read the text closely and then create graphic organizers that depic the similarities and differences in the way the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag lived.
Once students have completed the graphic organizers, have the groups create visuals that represent their work.
Lesson Two: 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 Plimoth 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 Lessons
- Have students explore your class library (see this related book list) and additional resources (see Research Starters) to learn more about Plimoth 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 Plimoth 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.
- 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, including the slideshow and the Thanksgiving timeline. 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 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 this related book list).
Lesson One: Special Scrapbooks
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.
Lesson Two: Personal Perspectives
Ask students to quietly reflect on what they've learned about the origins of Thanksgiving and its evolution into a national holiday. 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, students can write personal perspectives about how they (or our nation in general) observe Thanksgiving, 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.
Lesson Three: Passenger Interviews
Which statement from the interviews best describes how most of the passengers feel about the Native Americans?
A. “They are very different than what I had expected.”
B. “They have taught us many useful things, of planting, fishing, and hunting.”
C. “We are afeared that some might attack our town.”
D. “The first guest that stayed in the house of my husband was one of the Indians, named Samoset.”
Which event relayed from the interviews best shows that the journey from Europe did not go as expected?
A. The weather has been bad.
B. The Speedwell and its passengers had to be left behind.
C. The weevils attacked the bread.
D. There were no bathrooms on the ship.
What do the Pilgrims anticipate America to be like?
A. Beautiful beaches with plentiful food from the sea
B. Snowy mountains and cold weather
C. Desert land with hot weather
D. Wild forests with many animals
According to the interview with John Rowland, Pilgrims were most thankful to God for:
A. the food on the Mayflower
B. not having to celebrate Christmas
C. the Native Americans who spoke English
D. clothing to keep them warm
Read this line from passenger Elizabeth Hopkins’ interview:
“I am just glad to be in sight of land, even though it is a wilderness.”
What does this statement say about life on the Mayflower for the Pilgrims?
A. The voyage on the Mayflower has been difficult and tiring.
B. The people on the ship have been waiting with excitement for landing.
C. The people on the ship probably do not get along with one another.
D. The voyage has left people frightened of what is to come after landing.
Lesson Four: Wampanoag Ways
Multiple-Choice and Short-Answer Questions
“The English had been told that the inhabitants of the New World were savages, so they were afraid of the Wampanoag.”
In the sentence above (from the interview with Fast Turtle), savages probably means
A. an unkempt people
B. a friendly group
C. a group with many skills
D. an uncivilized people
Fast Turtle references Squanto and says he died “a premature and mysterious death.” What was Fast Turtle implying with this statement?
A. Squanto died at the hands of his own tribesmen.
B. He died of old age.
C. He died of disease.
A statement that best shows the differences between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag is:
A. “The Wampanoag had no such weapons and were deathly afraid of the white man’s musket.”
B. “When the Wampanoag helped the Pilgrims bring in their first crop, there was a great feast during that harvest time.”
C. “At first the Pilgrims were friendly with the Wampanoag, because they helped them learn the environment and how to survive on the land.”
D. “The Wampanoag were here thousands of years before the Pilgrims arrived in Plimoth.”
Select all that apply.
At one point in his interview, Fast Turtle says, “Life was good before the English came.”
This statement most likely refers to the idea that Wampanoag:
[ ] were living alone before the English came
[ ] had to give up their lands and religion
[ ] were afraid of the Pilgrims
[ ] didn’t have as much food
[ ] came down with diseases from the Pilgrims
[ ] were forced to learn English
The Pilgrims were grateful to the Native Americans for showing them survival skills, but they also had several other feelings toward them. What were these feelings? Use at least two details from the interviews to support your answer.
Extend the Lessons
- Have students research and identify problems that contributed to the deteriorating relationship between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag, such as their language, cultural, and religious differences. For information, have them read Life as a Wampanoag and access other resources in Research Starters. Have students use what they learn to 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.
Imagine you have a pen pal in another country who is a student your age. The student knows little about U.S. culture. In a friendly letter, tell the student the story of the first Thanksgiving. Share with the student the ways in which your family’s Thanksgiving traditions are similar to and different from the first Thanksgiving feast.
- Tell the story of the first Thanksgiving while remaining faithful to the true events
- Provide similarities and differences in the first Thanksgiving and how your family celebrates it today
- Use details from the texts you have read to support your story
The Pilgrims and the Wampanoag had different lifestyles. In a short essay, explain the similarities and the differences between the two groups and their daily lives. Then explain how the skills that the Pilgrims and Wampanoag had contributed to the first Thanksgiving feast.
- Explain the similarities and the differences between the daily lives of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag.
- Explain how the skills they used in their daily lives contributed to the feast
- Use details from the texts you have read to support your answer
Imagine that your state declares that schools will be open on Thanksgiving. The state also says, however, that a school district can decide to close for the day if it wants. Appeal to your district’s superintendent and ask her to close the school, so you and your classmates can celebrate Thanksgiving. Write an argument that clearly outlines why your school should close for the celebration of Thanksgiving.
- Present a claim for why your school should be closed on Thanksgiving
- Provide several reasons for why Thanksgiving should be recognized as a holiday by your school district
- Use details from the texts you have read to support your answer
Alternately, write an argument supporting the superintendent’s decision to keep schools open on Thanksgiving. You still should present a claim with reasons to support it.