Thanksgiving Lessons for Grades PreK-2
Introduce younger students to the Pilgrims' voyage on the Mayflower, how the Pilgrims and Native Americans co-existed, and the first Thanksgiving feast.
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2
- Unit Plan:
The focus of "The First Thanksgiving" for younger students is threefold:
- Understanding the experiences and hardships encountered by the Pilgrims on their voyage to the New World and in establishing a new settlement
- Discovering how two very different groups of people in the New World lived
- Exploring the different aspects of Plymouth colony's first harvest feast.
Throughout the activity, students will practice reading comprehension, creative writing, sequencing, analytical and problem-solving skills.
While participating in "The First Thanksgiving" online activities, students in grades K–2 learn to:
- 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' experiences in moving to 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 timelines
- Create a timeline
- Read for detail
- Participate in 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)
- Basic art supplies (paper, glue, crayons, markers, etc.) will be needed for several activities
- Optional: PowerPoint, 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 and a team reporter.
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, and so on. Details are described further in the Directions sections, below.
You may also want to create a special display of Thanksgiving books in your classroom library. Check out the Thanksgiving books in The Teacher Store for suggested print materials. Include room for the projects that your students will create through the activity.
Voyage on the Mayflower
- Create a class-sized KWL chart labeled "Mayflower."
- Print a copy of the Mayflower interviews for passenger Elizabeth Hopkins and passenger Desire Minter. Highlight the questions and answers directly related to the passengers' travels on the ship.
Display the KWL chart. Explain that the Mayflower was the name of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to America in 1620. Work with students to list what they know about the ship, the voyage, and its passengers. Add what they want to find out about these topics in the appropriate column. As you work through the activities, periodically return to the KWL chart to compare, correct, or add new information.
Tell children that they are going to learn about the Mayflower, its voyage to the New World, and the Pilgrims who sailed on the ship. Using an overhead or LCD projector, have students explore and discuss the "Voyage on the Mayflower," "Tour the Ship," and "Pilgrim Timeline" components for this section.
If you don't have a projector, have students draw their own versions of the Mayflower and Pilgrims sailing to America while you work through the activity with small groups. Later, students can compare their pictures to the images in the activity.
Share and discuss the highlighted portions of the passenger interviews. Then have students imagine they are Pilgrims traveling to America on the Mayflower.
Ask the following questions, as well as adding your own, to help evoke in students the sense of a personal, first-hand experience:
- How do you feel about leaving your friends and belongings to move to the New World?
- Is traveling on the Mayflower fun? Why or why not?
- How do the passengers on the ship treat you and each other?
- What kind of food do you eat? Do you like it?
- How do you spend your time?
- What frightens you about the voyage?
- Have you gotten angry during the voyage? What made you angry?
- Have you had any happy times on the ship? Sad times? What caused these feelings?
- What has been the best thing about your voyage? The worst thing?
- How do you expect to feel when you reach the New World?
Now that students are in a Pilgrim mindset, have them create a giant tagboard postcard picturing themselves on the Mayflower on one side and a message on the other side that describes some of their personal voyage experiences.
Point out that the "Voyage on the Mayflower" plots major events of the trip using pictures and text. Talk about the emotions each of these events might have evoked.
Ask students to again assume the role of Pilgrims to create personal picture timelines of their experiences on the Mayflower, starting and ending with the dates of the actual voyage and filling in plot points in between with their imaginary events. In addition to labeling their timeline with pictures and brief text, have students add a comment about their emotional response to each event.
Extend the Lesson
- Using a calendar, ask students to count the number of days the Pilgrims spent on the Mayflower. Have them start their count on September 6 — the day the ship set sail — and end on November 11, the day they landed at Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Invite them to share the longest trip they've ever taken and to compare their travel experiences with that of the Pilgrims.
- Tell students that after the Pilgrims reached the New World, they wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact. In this document, they agreed to stay and live together peacefully. Discuss with students ways in which they can "live" together in a peaceful classroom community. Work with them to draw up a set of rules to post in the room.
- Create a large two-ring Venn diagram with the rings labeled "Pilgrims" and "Wampanoags," and the overlapping section labeled "Both."
- Print a copy of the Pilgrim interviews included in "First Thanksgiving Reader's Theater Ideas" and the interview about life as a Wampanoag, "Native American Perspective: Fast Turtle, Wampanoag Tribe Member." Highlight the questions and answers related to the daily lifestyles and activities in each of the interviews.
- On the copy of "Life as a Wampanoag," use a different color to highlight the questions and answers related to ways in which the Wampanoags helped the Pilgrims.
Tell children that they are going to learn about the daily lives of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags, the native people who lived in New England before the Pilgrims' arrival.
Using an overhead or LCD projector, have students explore the Compare and Contrast sections of "Daily Life" and the "Pilgrim Timeline" component for this section.
If you don't have a projector, have students explore books in your class library (see Thanksgiving Recommended Books booklist) to discover information about colonial lifestyles while you work through the activity with small groups.
A Look at Lifestyles
Share excerpts about the daily lives of Pilgrims and Wampanoags from "Pilgrim Interviews" and "Life as a Wampanoag." Display the Venn diagram. Using what they learned from the "Daily Life" component, the interviews, and other resources, have children identify and discuss the kinds of homes, clothing, food, chores, etc. that characterized the Pilgrims and Wampanoags.
Working together as a class, fill out the Venn diagram. Write the things that are specific to only one of the groups in the corresponding ring. If an item is characteristic of both groups, such as growing corn and carrying water, write it in the overlapping section.
Review the information in each section of the diagram and then post it for students to refer to in future discussions and activities related to daily life.
A Day in Plymouth
Discuss with students the kinds of activities that most likely filled a Pilgrim's day and how their routines were very much the same from day to day. Then invite them to imagine they are Pilgrims in the newly established Plimoth colony.
Have students create a schedule of six to eight daily activities, including dressing, eating, chores, entertainment, and preparing for bed. Ask them to illustrate separate half-sheets of paper with pictures of them doing each of their scheduled activities.
When finished, help them tape the pages together to create a long strip and then tape the ends of the strip together to form a loop. Explain that the looped picture schedule represents how the routine is repeated from day to day.
Tell students that the Wampanoags befriended the Pilgrims and taught them ways to survive in the New World. Share and discuss with them the highlighted sections of the "Life as a Wampanoag" interview that tell how the natives helped the Pilgrims.
Talk about how, without this help, the Pilgrims might never have survived that first winter. Invite students to tell what they are most thankful for about the help the Wampanoags gave the Pilgrims.
Then have them create cards to express their thanks. Ask them to decorate the front of their cards with something that symbolizes a way in which the Wampanoags were helpful, such as a few ears of corn. On the inside, have them address a thank-you message to Fast Turtle, the Wampanoag featured in the interview.
Extend the Lesson
- Use the Venn diagram (from "A Look at Lifestyles," above) to discuss how the Wampanoags lived in the 1600s. Invite students to write about different aspects of their lifestyles on plain index cards. Ask them to draw a picture on the back of each card to illustrate the text. Then have students use craft materials to create a Wampanoag pouch to hold their lifestyle cards.
- Ask students to find Plymouth, England, and Plymouth, Massachusetts, on a large world map. Have them use yarn to measure the distance between the two points. Then help them use the map scale to calculate the distance between the two places. Point out that since the establishment of Plimoth colony, development has spread from the east to the west coast of America. Display a large map of the United States, and have students find the distance between Plymouth, Massachusetts, and their own hometown. Ask them to compare the distance the Pilgrims traveled to the distance they would travel to reach Plymouth.
The Thanksgiving Feast
- Create a class-sized KWL chart labeled "The Thanksgiving Feast."
- Print a copy of "Pilgrim Interviews" and "Life as a Wampanoag." Highlight the questions and answers related to the first Thanksgiving in each of the interviews.
Display the KWL chart. Explain that the feast held in 1621, a year after the Pilgrims moved to the New World, is known as the first Thanksgiving. Work with students to list what they know about the people, food, and activities involved in that first Thanksgiving. Add what they want to find out about these topics in the appropriate column. As you work through the activities, periodically return to the KWL chart to compare, correct, or add new information.
Tell children that they are going to learn about how the first Thanksgiving came about, how long it lasted, who was there, what foods were served, and what activities were part of the celebration.
Using an overhead or LCD projector, have students explore and discuss the "Thanksgiving Feast" slideshow and "Thanksgiving Timeline" components for this section.
If you don't have a projector, have students explore books in your class library (see the Thanksgiving Recommended Books booklist) to discover information about the first Thanksgiving while you work through the activity with small groups.
First Feast Collages
Provide students with more information about the First Thanksgiving by sharing the highlighted sections of "Pilgrim Interviews" and "Life as a Wampanoag."
Work with students to create a list of foods and activities, such as hunting, singing, and playing games, that were a part of the celebration. Then invite them to create a collage made up of pictures and symbols representing the first Thanksgiving.
Students can use a combination of sources for their collage images: their own drawings, magazine cutouts, online printouts, etc. Ask them to explain why they included each image in their collages.
From Harvest Feast to Holiday
Explain that the event we refer to as the first Thanksgiving was not a holiday in 1621 — it was a Harvest Feast celebration.
Review the "Thanksgiving Timeline" to discover and discuss the evolution of Thanksgiving Day into a national holiday and the roles that different presidents and Sarah Hale played to make this happen.
Point out that President Lincoln officially declared Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday in 1863. Invite students to create mini-posters announcing this special declaration to the entire nation.
Extend the Lesson
- The first Thanksgiving was attended by 50 Pilgrims and 90 Wampanoags. Discuss with students why there were more Wampanoags than Pilgrims. Ask them to think about what they might have felt if they had been one of the Pilgrim children at that feast. Have them write a description and draw a picture to show their feelings.
- Tell students that many of the foods served at the first Thanksgiving were different from those found on today's holiday table. Discuss some of the foods served at the 1621 feast. Have children fold a large sheet of paper in half and then unfold it. Ask them to write "First Foods" on the left side of the paper. Have them draw and label foods served at the first Thanksgiving in this section. On the right side, ask them to write "Future Foods" and then draw and label foods served during a present day Thanksgiving celebration.