Tracing Our Own Family Pilgrimages
Students track their ancestors' voyages to America in this Thanksgiving lesson plan that celebrates diverse cultural heritages.
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2
- Unit Plan:
Exploring the meaning of Thanksgiving, this unit introduces the ways our ancestors emigrated to America, the diversity of our origins and how to locate them on a map, and helps students gain historical empathy.
The students will:
- Interview their families
- Locate, with assistance, the country of their ancestors on a map
- Compare and contrast different ways of travel
- Color and cut out a paper suitcase
- Compare and contrast distances and amounts
- An oral Thanksgiving story or a book about the holiday, such as Thanksgiving by David F. Marx
- Large world map
- Teacher's paper suitcase
- Pilgrim's paper suitcase
- Chart paper
- Tracing Our Own Family Pilgrimages Family Interview (PDF)
- Suitcase (PDF)
- White card stock
- Small photos of each student
- Red and yellow yarn
- Colored push pins
- Store advertisements, fliers, or catalogs
- Teacher scissors
- Student scissors
Set Up and Prepare
- Attach the world map to a bulletin board or wall where you can use push pins. Allow room for a border around the map to post student work.
- Copy two Suitcase printables, one for a Teacher suitcase and one for a Pilgrim suitcase.
- Before Day 2, decorate the Pilgrim suitcase with pictures or drawings of things Mayflower passengers may have carried like period clothing and toys.
- Make a copy of the Suitcase and Family Interview printables for each student.
- Before Day 3, make a chart of the countries from where students' families emigrated. Put corresponding push pins on the map. Use red yarn to connect all the countries to your city. Use yellow yarn to stretch from the country of origin to the outside border of the map. Post your family emigration chart, allowing enough room to later post student suitcases.
- Set out pencils, crayons, glue and scissors.
- Set out store advertisements, fliers, or catalogs.
Step 1: Gather students for a whole group discussion and ask them if they notice something different on the wall. Tell students it's a world map that that shows our planet's land and water. Introduce map vocabulary like cities, countries, continents, rivers, lakes, and oceans. Write these words on the chart paper. Ask students the name of the city where you live and ask a volunteer to find it on the map. Put a colored pushpin there. Using colored pushpins, indicate on the map: The U.S., the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and the North American continent.
Step 2: Point to the calendar and ask students if they know of a special holiday coming soon. Ask students to describe what they know about Thanksgiving and share a short oral story or book about the first Thanksgiving. Afterwards, place a pushpin at England and Plymouth, Massachusetts. Use a red piece of yarn to show the Mayflower voyage. Share the meaning with students.
Step 3: Remind students that Pilgrims came to our country; the only people here when they arrived were the Native Americans. Tell children that most of us came from someplace else. That means we emigrated here. Write the words "emigrate" and "immigrant" on the chart and define them. Discuss the different ways immigrants may have emigrated: plane, boat, car, foot, or by train. Write the word "ancestor" and describe what it means. Recall the story The Keeping Quilt and remind students about the Russian immigrant mother and family who arrived in the United States. Share your history.
Step 4: Tell students that over the next few days they're going to act like newspaper reporters and interview their family to find out from where their family emigrated. Then, the class is going to locate the countries on the map and compare them. Distribute the Family Interview printable and review the questions with the "reporters."
Step 1: Collect the Family Interview sheets and gather the children together to share. As you call out their names, ask students to share their family origins and what means of transportation their ancestors used. If they don't remember, read the information to the class.
Step 2: Distribute the Suitcase printable to students. Ask them to write their name on the Suitcase handles. Tell students that when their families came to the U.S., they probably brought things in a suitcase. Ask them to name some things they think their families might have brought and accept all reasonable answers. They don't need to be historically accurate, but they should describe the kinds of things one might bring, like clothing, toys, food, books, photos, or money. Introduce the store advertisements, fliers, or catalogs, and invite students to cut those things out and glue them to their suitcase. Distribute the small student photos so that they can glue them on the suitcases. When they're finished, have them cut out the suitcases. As they work, circulate around the room and assist them in completing their sentence, "My family emigrated from ____________." Some families may have written a continent or even a city. Accept all reasonable answers. If children want to make more than one suitcase for different countries of emigration, allow them to do so.
Step 3: Gather the children back together and have them present the suitcases to the class. Collect them for the next day's activity. Show the Pilgrim suitcase. Discuss with the children the kinds of things the Pilgrims would have brought when they came on the Mayflower. Use a yellow piece of yarn to extend from the map to the border and staple a suitcase for the Pilgrims for display.
Step 1: Before the children arrive, make a chart of the locations from where their families emigrated, grouping similar student names and geographical origin together. Put a push pin on the map to indicate the origin. Use red yarn to connect all the countries of origin to your city. Use yellow yarn to stretch from the country of origin to the outside border of the map. Post your family emigration chart, allowing enough room to also post the student suitcases.
Step 2: Gather students in front of the world map and indicate the countries that have pushpins in them. Tell them that the red yarn shows how far their families traveled to this country. Compare and contrast the distances by asking the children which families traveled the shortest and longest distance.
Step 3: Tell them that many years ago, immigrants from all over the world came to the U.S. by boat and first landed on Ellis Island. One of the first things they saw was the Statue of Liberty. On Ellis Island, they were all mixed together in a great hall. Show them the list of immigrants on the family emigration chart. Distribute each child's own suitcase back to them. Ask students to find the other families that emigrated from the same country as they did. Allow them to refer to the family emigration chart and encourage them to mingle in order to find classmates whose families emigrated from the same place. Assist children getting into groups.
Step 4: When students are grouped together, show them your suitcase and staple it to the outside border of the world map at the end of the yellow colored yarn. Ask each group of emigrants to come forward and find their country of origin together on the map. Staple their suitcases around the border of the world map at the end of the yellow yarn from their county of origin.
Step 5: When all groups have finished, count the number of suitcases from each geographical location and compare which group of immigrants is the largest, smallest, and the same.
Supporting All Learners
Be sensitive to those families that may not be legal immigrants. The family interviews are not about legal status. Some families may want to indicate that their ancestors came from a city within the United States, rather than another country. Others may list more than one place to reflect their ancestry. Honor their replies.
Make a class graph of the method of transportation families used to emigrate. Compare and contrast the various modes of transportation used. Ask students to think about which took more or less time.
- Make a collage on a paper suitcase and cut it out.
- Assemble a class immigration diagram with a world map.
- Were students able to locate places on the world map?
- Did they use geographic vocabulary?
- Were they able to illustrate and cut out their suitcase independently?
- Did they complete the assignment to interview their family?
- How might you do this lesson differently next time?
Observe how students compare and contrast lengths of yarn and numbers of suitcases. Notice the relevance of the items they draw on their suitcases.