Thanksgiving Lessons for Grades PreK-2
Common Core-aligned lessons and activities introduce your students to the Pilgrims' voyage on the Mayflower, the interaction between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, 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 Plimoth colony's first harvest feast.
Throughout the activity, students will practice reading comprehension, creative writing, sequencing, and analytical and problem-solving skills.
The lessons here address 12 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 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
- If You Were at the First Thanksgiving by Anne Kamma
- Venn diagram (PDF)
- Thanksgiving T-Chart (PDF)
- Grading Rubric for Grades K-2 (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 there are fewer computers than students, group the students by reading level. Assign each student a role: a driver who navigates the activity, 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.
- 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.
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. Either project the online activity from your computer or have students explore on their own. The Journey on the Mayflower, Tour the Ship, and Pilgrim timeline components of the activity are included in 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.
Write the word “Thanksgiving” on the board. Give each student a sheet of paper. Ask them to draw a picture of what they know about Thanksgiving. Then have students provide a one-sentence summary about what they know about Thanksgiving. They can share their answer aloud or write it underneath their drawing.
Lesson Two: If You Were at the First Thanksgiving Read-Aloud
Read aloud from If You Were at the First Thanksgiving, by Anne Kamma. Focus on the portions entitled "How It All Began" and "Why Did the Pilgrims Come to America?"
Point out the four core vocabulary words for this section of the book: Mayflower, Puritan, survive, worship. Ask students to use the core vocabulary words in sentences with a partner.
Ask students to discuss and answer the following questions. Students can answer the questions in a whole group or as a think-pair-share dialogue.
- Why did the Pilgrims go to America?
- What was the name of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to America?
- In which season did the Pilgrims arrive in America?
- How would you describe life for the Pilgrims when they first arrived?
Take out a calendar. Tell students that Thanksgiving is always on the last Thursday of November. Have them find the last Thursday in November on the calendar for this year. Or give students the monthly calendar for November for the past few years with Thanksgiving labeled on it. Ask them to figure out the pattern or when Thanksgiving occurs.
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?
Ask the students to keep imagining themselves as Pilgrims. Have them make a drawing of their experience on the Mayflower. On the other side of the paper, have students write a message that describes some of their personal experiences on the voyage. For younger students, have them describe their drawing aloud.
Point out that the Journey 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 Lessons
- 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 "Wampanoag," 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 Wampanoag helped the Pilgrims.
Tell children that they are going to learn about the daily lives of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, the native people who lived in New England before the Pilgrims' arrival.
Either project the online activity from your computer or have students explore on their own. The Compare and Contrast sections of Daily Life and the Pilgrim timeline component of the activity are included in this section.
If you don't have a projector, have students explore books in your class library (see Thanksgiving Recommended Books book list) to discover information about colonial lifestyles while you work through the activity with small groups.
Write the word “routine” on the board. Give each student a sheet of paper. Ask them to draw a picture in response to the word. Then, ask the students to define the word “routine.” Have them write down or speak aloud what they know about routines.
Inform students that they will be studying the routines of both the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag in their lives in and near Plimoth. Explain that they should be thinking about the two groups to see how their routines are similar and different.
Read aloud from If You Were at the First Thanksgiving, by Anne Kamma. Focus on the following portions:
- What Would Your House Be Like?
- Would You Go to School?
- What Happened When the Pilgrims and the Indians Met?
- Did Chief Massasoit Want Peace?
- Were You Safe After the Treaty?
- Who Was Squanto?
- Was There a Special Way to Grow Corn?
Point out the four core vocabulary words for this section of the book: treaty, trundle, translator, instrument. Ask students to use the core vocabulary words in sentences.
After the read aloud, ask students to discuss and answer the following questions. Students can answer the questions in a whole group or as a think-pair-share dialogue.
- Describe the houses of Pilgrims.
They were crowded. They only had one room. People moved the furniture around to make uses of the limited space. They often smelled of the cooking that was going on in the house.
- Why didn’t the Pilgrim children go to school regularly?
Parents felt their children would learn all they needed to at home. Parents thought children only needed to be able to read Scripture (the Bible).
- What surprised the Pilgrims when they first met the Wampanoag?
Some of the Wampanoag already spoke English.
- What did the Pilgrims and Native Americans agree to in the peace treaty?
They agreed not to attack one another; to return anything that was stolen; not to hurt people from either group and to punish anyone who did so; and to help each other if other groups attacked them.
- Why did the Puritans call Squanto their “special instrument sent of God”?
Squanto could speak English. He served as their translator. He taught them how to fish. He taught them how to plant food and to gather food.
Share excerpts about the daily lives of Pilgrims and Wampanoag 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 Wampanoag.
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.
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 Wampanoag 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 Wampanoag 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 Wampanoag 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 Lessons
- Use the Venn diagram (from A Look at Lifestyles, above) to discuss how the Wampanoag 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.
- Create a class-sized T-chart labeled "Thanksgiving Then and Thanksgiving Today" or print a class set of the Thanksgiving T-Chart (PDF).
- 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.
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.
Either project the online activity from your computer or have students explore on their own. The Thanksgiving Feast slideshow and the Thanksgiving Timeline components of the activity are included in this section.
If you don't have a projector, have students explore books in your class library (see the Thanksgiving Recommended Books book list) to discover information about the first Thanksgiving while you work through the activity with small groups.
Talk about the word “tradition.” Ask students what traditions their families have at Thanksgiving. Now display or pass out the Thanksgiving Then and Thanksgiving Today T-chart. Ask the students to list what they know about the way Thanksgiving is celebrated today. You can also combine all their answers into a class list of knowledge.
Tell students they are going to learn about the first Thanksgiving feast. Read aloud from If You Were at the First Thanksgiving, by Anne Kamma. Focus on the following portions:
- Was the First Harvest a Success?
- Why Did the Pilgrims Want to Celebrate?
- Who Made Thanksgiving a National Holiday?
- What was the First Thing the Pilgrims Did to Get Ready for a Harvest Festival?
- Who Were the Surprise Guests?
- Who Was in Charge of Cooking?
- Was the Food Cooked Outdoors?
- What Other Foods Did They Have at the First Thanksgiving?
Point out the three core vocabulary words for this section of the book: tradition, harvest, and festival. Ask students to use the core vocabulary words in sentences with a partner.
After the read aloud, ask students to discuss and answer the following questions. Students can answer the questions in a whole group or as a think-pair-share dialogue.
- The Pilgrims lived before the invention of refrigerators, freezers, or electricity. How did they store their food?
The Pilgrims had many ways of preserving food. Some food was packed in salt, some was smoked, some was dried, and some was pickled!
- How did the Pilgrims feel about Thanksgiving?
They were excited to celebrate their first harvest. But of course they didn’t know that their celebration would become the holiday we know today! In fact, it wasn’t called Thanksgiving until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday.
- What problem faced the Pilgrims when the Wampanoag showed up for the harvest festival? How was the problem solved?
They were worried about having enough food for everyone. But, Chief Massasoit sent out hunters. Five deer made enough food for all.
- How was the food for the harvest festival cooked?
Women prepared the food inside the Pilgrim homes, the English way.
Ask students to complete the Thanksgiving Then and Thanksgiving Today T-chart with information they learned about what the first Thanksgiving was like for the Pilgrims and Wampanoag. Prompt them to notice similarities and differences between how the first Thanksgiving was celebrated and how the holiday commemorating that feast is celebrated today. Are there any traditions that remain? What parts of today’s celebration were not part of the first Thanksgiving?
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.
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 Lessons
- The first Thanksgiving was attended by 50 Pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag. Discuss with students why there were more Wampanoag 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.
These writing-based tasks incorporate the three types of writing required by the Common Core Standards. Use one or more as a culminating assessment for your students. For young students, the focus is on beginning narrative and expository writing.
Traditions are part of holidays. In the lessons about Thanksgiving, we learned about different traditions for Thanksgiving. Draw a picture of a one of your family’s traditions at Thanksgiving. Tell why you think this is a good tradition to have. Why do you think so? Share your reasons.
The Pilgrims and the Wampanoag had many routines that helped them survive in the wilderness of America. Write about the routines that both the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians had. Write at least three things that each group did.