After a short discussion at a morning meeting with my students, I realized how many of them were unaware of the story of the first Thanksgiving. I quickly turned this brief daily starter into a unit of study for all. See how Scholastic’s The First Thanksgiving engulfed our room with engagement, learning, and student-made fun.
We started the unit with the Mayflower introduction. Students went on virtual field trips and took notes. We read interviews and compared the differences between a cooper and a first mate. The students also compared and contrasted lifestyles as well as gardening and shelter-building techniques. The information poured out of their mouths like a running faucet. They were enthralled with the history they were learning and eager to form discussion groups to share their information. “How will we review this information so we don’t forget it?” they asked.
We quickly took our learning to the next level — game time — and here's what we came up with. Students used their notes to create review questions. Using the Team Shake app, I divided the class into equal teams and discussed the rules — every question answered correctly was worth a point. They were then ready to play a review game.
Each group had to formulate 5 to 10 review questions per section (Mayflower, Daily Life, The Feast) based on the resources we used: virtual field trips, interviews, and historical letters.
As a class we reviewed each group's questions and discussed if the review question shared were “quiz worthy.” (This also gave us time to review the concept that the question addressed. It was really a time for verbal discussion about what we were learning.)
We created question cards with each group's questions.
During game time, group members came up one at a time to pull a card and answer in front of the class.
Correct answers gained points on the board, and points translated to moves on the map.
At the end of the game, the group with the most points was the first to make it to the First Thanksgiving of 1621!
In my earlier post about students and library skills, I talked about my students creating a list of potential books they would like to read, before they went to the library. Another strategy I used for this unit was bringing groups to the library together to check out books about Thanksgiving, the Wampanoag, and the Pilgrims. Again, students went to the Book Wizard for a first look at books that covered the subject, were in their range, and allowed them to find BookAlikes for their teammates to check out.
While the Graffiti Walls described in the Scholastic Thanksgiving Lessons for grades three through five were a hit, my students were also able to write from the perspective of either a Pilgrim or a member of the Wampanoag tribe. The Thanksgiving lesson plans from Scholastic lay out each day so nicely. Narrative and expository writing took place on a daily basis during our study.
To wrap-up our learning, students took what they learned and presented it to the class. Clutter-free classroom has a great Pilgrim and Wampanoag brochure that I adapted for our classroom needs. Groups worked together to create a masterpiece showing their understanding of this important event in history. The final page in their brochure is a reflection piece where I asked the question, "How does this historical event relate to you?" This gave them the opportunity to really think about the why in all of this engaging learning.
Scholastic offers a number of amazing Reader's Theater ideas that I would love to incorporate into our learning for next year.
Another great project would be to create student-directed videos of the events that took place before, during, and after the Mayflower voyage.
In my opinion, learning about history is more than just a checkmark on a list of countless things to cover. Learning about history gives you the opportunity to learn from the past and reflect on how it will shape your future. The First Thanksgiving unit allows for this experience and so much more.
As we looked at the lives of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, what we realized was how simple, yet meaningful life was. The elements crucial to their survival did not include any of the tools we rely on today, such as computers or cell phones. What mattered most were the friendships and alliances between both groups for the mutual benefit of all. The fourth and fifth graders in my class left this lesson with the reminder that family and friends are what we are most thankful for.