Time is precious in the classroom and dedicating a week or more to fun is sadly out of the picture. Never fear! Thanksgiving (and all holidays) offer a chance to explore topics in engaging and fun ways while still getting classroom business taken care of. Take any symbol or tradition of the holiday and turn it into an engaging learning opportunity, one fascinating fun fact after another. Here’s how my little turkeys celebrate, learn, and enjoy Thanksgiving all at once with five quick and easy turkey-themed projects.
For me, all projects begin with literature. I build my themes around a great novel, favorite book, or interesting article. At Thanksgiving I use Thelonius Turkey Lives! (on Felicia Ferguson’s Farm) no matter the age I’m working with. The short story with brilliant illustrations provides a fun entry point for turkey learning. Cause and effect, prediction, and realism vs. fantasy are all topics we explored while reading.
Turkey Take Away: We created turkeys in disguise by using a printable turkey and imagination to transform each bird into cheerleaders, rainbows, and hula girls.
I asked my students how Thelonius differed from a real turkey. While the kids immediately came up with the personification of Thelonius, they struggled for other differences. I hunted for an appropriate nonfiction turkey text, but ended up typing my own with information using National Geographic as a guide.
Most passages and websites I found were in the 700 and up Lexile range, which is a bit difficult even for close reading in first grade. In my search, I happened upon turkey infographics, which are a fun and interesting addition to our nonfiction reading. The class favorite was one that showed how Americans spend millions of dollars on the electricity used to cook turkeys each year!
Turkey Take Away: As a class, we made a Venn diagram of the similarities and differences between real turkeys and Thelonius. Students then wrote their own comparisons in their journals, complete with fun illustrations.
After looking at turkeys, a natural discussion came up about using fun feathers vs. real feathers when we celebrate Thanksgiving. I asked students if they believed the Wampanoag actually wore the hot pink and orange feathers we use in holiday crafts. Armed with background knowledge, and a few good image searches, we decided that our headbands might be a little more Thelonius and a little less Native American. If it's a historically accurate Thanksgiving you are looking for, try fellow blogger Christy Crawford's seven tips for Thanksgiving lesson planning!
Turkey Take Away: With history under our belt, we made a choice to craft fun and funky headbands for our traditional feast, with the knowledge we were hat making, not being authentic.
Our school is participating in a Digital Renaissance program where every student in the county will have an iPad or MacBook by January. In preparation for that, I’m teaching my students to use tools I’d like them to know and manipulate on their own once they have their own devices. Being true to 21st century and project-based learning skills, we decided to show off our new turkey knowledge with infographics. My students loved reading the graphics online and jumped at the chance to make their own. They first suggested we make a paper version, but were thrilled to learn infogr.am makes online infographic design simple and free.
Turkey Take Away: We took quick polls about favorite foods and threw in a turkey joke with our infographic. Students then used another found infographic to write the steps to cooking a turkey, since sequence was an objective for me this week. They are all now infographic experts and are spending extra computer time searching out infographics on every topic imaginable.
What fun is a holiday without a little down time? After all our turkey learning, I promised a fun activity for my class. The thing is, fun activities have to be quick, easy, and cheap for me to incorporate them. A bag of potatoes ($3), a slew of fancy toothpicks ($4), and about ten minutes gave my students enough time to make potato turkeys. We drew our own turkey heads, but you can use a simple template on cardstock and glue the head to a toothpick. If you feel the need to stress learning, have them create a pattern with their colored toothpicks. The best part is my kids were quick to point out we all had male turkeys, since they now know only males have big tails!
Turkey Take Away: Let students stick toothpicks in for the fantail and you have a cute centerpiece to send home in a matter of minutes.
I’d love to take several weeks to celebrate holidays in-depth. The reality is each day is crammed with objectives to be mastered and little time for extras. By taking a topic, such as turkeys, and creating objective-meeting lessons around the theme, my kids get all the excitement of the event seasoned with real learning.
What fun ways do you celebrate Thanksgiving and learning? Happy Thanksgiving!