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Free First Thanksgiving Unit Plans

By Erin Klein on November 12, 2013
  • 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.  

You can get these game ideas from the free Thanksgiving printables section of Scholastic's site. The Webquest is in the technology center where children rotate through using our class computer.  

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




Comments (6)

The Scholastic First Thanksgiving site has been a wonderful resource for many years. I also used to use "You are the Historian", created by Plimoth Plantation, in the days before the wonderful videos and other activities were available on Scholastic's site. You have done a wonderful job of tying the pieces together. I will share your lesson plans with my wife, who teaches 3rd grade. They would work well with different grade levels, don't you think with some tweaks? I have to admit, teaching the First Thanksgiving was once of my favorite units to teach, even when I worked with junior high students. There are so many different entry points. I still get excited thinking about it, even now as a high school technology coordinator. Thanks for sharing.

Hi Glenn,

Thanks so much! I really appreciate your thoughtful feedback. I think that is wonderful that you and your wife are both teachers. I do believe it would work well with a variety of grade levels. The way the content is presented is so fascinating.

Have a fantastic week,


Way to get people excited for this awesome explorative unit! As always, you're so inspiring!

Hi Lindsey,

Awe, you are so sweet! Thanks a million!!

Love ya!


Great ideas as always Erin...very excited to try this out...and going to sign up for the letters tonight!

Thank you so much! I LOVE getting comments and feedback. Yours is most appreciated. I received my letters last week. Hint: Take a screen shot and print them off for the kids. :) Enjoy!



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