Free First Thanksgiving Unit Plans
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5
When a teacher is able to bring history to life, students tend to remember the experience. As you reflect on your most memorable moments from school, it's likely the projects you created that come to mind first.
Scholastic has put together a wealth of rich resources for teachers to use for teaching the first Thanksgiving. After integrating a few pieces of their site into my curriculum last year, my second grade team decided to fully embrace the materials this year and do their own class simulations of the first Thanksgiving.
Each of our four grade two classrooms has parent volunteers coming in to help us prepare for our special day. Prior to our simulation day where children will get off the Mayflower, observe the new land, take part in a feast, and work on building relationships with the natives, students will learn about the history and daily life during this time.
If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620
My class starts by doing a daily shared reading using the book, If You Sailed on The Mayflower in 1620. Each day, I squeeze in about 10-15 minutes of reading aloud followed by about 10-15 minutes of responding in an activity book the kids work on to complete comprehension skills and strategy questions and activities based on the daily readings.
The children love reading about the life of the people in search of a new home. As a class, we talk about what motivated the people to leave their homes. We discuss how brave they must have been to leave for the unknown opportunities in hope for a better life. We also talk about the long trip at sea and the hardships the passengers faced. When our students travel today, it's usually by plane or car. Some have traveled by boat, usually a cruise ship. At this time, we take the opportunity to discuss the Mayflower.
We introduce the vocabulary of the ship, examine cut-away maps, and talk about map elements. Students learn how to read the map scale and key. They find this very fascinating.
Students take the voyage on the Mayflower. They are guided through eight points where engaging narrators share information about the weather conditions and crew members. Our class also gets to tour the ship. They learn about seven different parts.
Without actually being able to tour the ship in person, students really get a feel for what it was like through the visual guides and interesting facts.
Receiving Letters from The New World
Now that our class has a bit of background information, they crave more information. I ask them if they would like to sign up to receive letters from The New World. I explain that this means we would receive historical letters from a Pilgrim girl a Wompanoag boy. The response is always an overwhelming YES!
Exploring Daily Life
The children love learning about the daily life. This is also one of my favorite parts. Before we dig deeper into learning about the ins and outs of the Pilgrim's daily life, we complete a KWL chart to help guide our thinking before we begin learning more.
The Feast: a Slideshow and a Webquest
Any time the kids have to answer questions, ask questions, and be more interactive with the content, they love it! The day before we have our class feast, we explore the Scholastic First Thanksgiving Site and view the slideshow of information to extend our learning. After this short activity, I allow students to rotate in centers doing various Thanksgiving related activities and games.
Virtual Field Trips . . . a Favorite!
To really get into the Thanksgiving mindset, as a class, we embark on the rich virtual field trips. This is always a class favorite.
The videos are done with a level of quality that really enables the viewer to get an authentic understanding of the story being told. The children always ask to watch them again.
Each segment is relatively short so we view one each day. This allows us to have a nice discussion about the video each day.
There are four trips that the students travel through our exploration of the Plimoth Plantation.
Mayflower — step aboard and explore an exact replica of the Mayflower, in this 20 minute video for all grades
Pilgrim Village — get a behind-the-scenes look at the simple but arduous life of the Pilgrims in this 18 minute video for all grades
Wampanoag Homesite — witness the day-to-day life of the indigenous people who were part of the Wampanoag Nation in this 17 minute video for all grades
Plimoth Plantation — join the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag as they discuss the First Thanksgiving in this 30 minute video for grades three and higher