These lesson plans help students develop an understanding of historical events from different perspectives while they practice reading comprehension, creative writing, sequencing, and research skills.
- Use technology tools to access, explore, and synthesize information on the first Thanksgiving
- Develop an understanding of the Colonial and Wampanoag cultures of the early 1600s
- Compare and contrast lifestyles of the Pilgrims and Wampanoags
- Interpret information from timelines
- Read for detail
- Participate in active writing activities
- Demonstrate comprehension through experiential response
- Reflect on what has been learned after reading by formulating ideas, opinions, and personal responses
- The First Thanksgiving online activity
- The Feast
- Pilgrim and Wampanoag interviews from the First Thanksgiving Reader's Theater Ideas collection
- Whiteboard or chart paper and markers
- First Thanksgiving Questions for Grades 3–5 printable
- KWL Chart printable
- Basic art supplies (paper, glue, crayons, markers, etc.) will be needed for several activities
- First Thanksgiving Answer Key for Grades 3–5 printable
- Grading Rubric for Grades 3–5 printable
- Optional: Timeline printable
- Depending on the grade level and maturity level of each class, activities can be facilitated as independent work, collaborative group work, or whole class instruction.
- If there are fewer computers than students, group the students by reading level. Assign each student a role: a driver who navigates the activity, a timer who keeps the group on task, and a note taker. If there are more than three students per computer, you can add roles like a team leader, a team reporter, etc.
- If you are working in a learning station in your classroom, break your class into different groups. Have rotating groups working on the computer(s), reading printed background information, holding smaller group discussions, etc.
- Optional: You may want to print out the writing prompts for the Narrative, Expository, and Argumentative tasks (see Lesson Assessment).
- Optional: You may want to print out copies of the Pilgrim interviews and Native American perspectives from the First Thanksgiving Reader's Theater Ideas collection for individual reading.
- Optional: You may also want to create a special display of thematic books in your classroom library. Check out our Colonial America and Native Americans Book List and Thanksgiving Book List for suggested print materials. Include room for the projects that your students will create through the lesson.
Part I: Preparation
Step 1: Explain that the 1621 feast, held a year after the Pilgrims moved to the New World, is known as the first Thanksgiving. Tell students that they will be learning how the First Thanksgiving came about, how long it lasted, who was there, what foods were served, and what activities were part of the celebration.
Step 2: Hand out the KWL Chart printable and have students fill it out as best they can.
Step 3: As students work through the activities, have them periodically return to their KWL charts to compare, correct, or add new information.
Step 4: Invite students to explore the Thanksgiving Feast slideshow and the Thanksgiving Timeline components for this section.
Step 5: Direct students to the Pilgrim interviews and Native American perspectives from the First Thanksgiving Reader's Theater Ideas collection. Ask them to find and read the parts of the interviews that address the 1621 Thanksgiving feast. Provide time for students to read their interviews and take notes. Allow additional time for them to learn more by exploring additional online resources, as well as books in your class library.
Note: If computers aren't available for students to share, pass out printed out copies of the interviews.
Part II: Special Scrapbooks
Step 6: Discuss with students what they learned about the people, food, and activities that were part of the 1621 celebration. Work with students to create a separate list of each aspect of the first Thanksgiving. For example, make one list of the foods that were served, another of the activities, and a third list of the people who attended.
Step 7: Invite students to imagine that they were participants in that historical event. Have them make a scrapbook of their memoirs. Students can use a combination of sources for their scrapbook: their own drawings, magazine cutouts, online printouts, homemade artifacts, etc.
Step 8: Ask students to write a caption to go with each item included in their scrapbooks.
Part III: Personal Perspectives
Step 9: Ask students to quietly reflect on what they've learned about the origins of Thanksgiving and its evolution into a national holiday (see the Thanksgiving Timeline component of The Feast in The First Thanksgiving activity). Have them compare how Thanksgiving Day is observed today versus the 1621 feast. Encourage them to also consider what kind of observation Sarah Hale, Abraham Lincoln, and others had in mind as they worked to set aside a special day of thanksgiving.
Step 10: Taking all these things into account, have students write personal perspectives about how they (or our nation in general) observe the Thanksgiving Day celebration. Ask them to address things such as similarities of today's holiday to early thanksgiving observations, ways it reflects a time of thanksgiving, what they like or dislike about it, what they would change and why, etc.
Step 11: Invite volunteers to share their perspectives with the class.
- Tell students that many of the foods served at the First Thanksgiving were different from those found on today's holiday table. Discuss some of the foods served at the 1621 feast. Have students fold a large sheet of paper in half and then unfold it. Ask them to write "First Foods" on the left side of the paper. Have them draw and label foods served at the First Thanksgiving on this side. On the right, ask them to write "Future Foods" and then draw and label foods served during a present-day Thanksgiving celebration. Finally, on the back, have students write a description of each celebration.
- Ask students to define the word pilgrim. Invite them to tell about any modern-day pilgrims they know of. Discuss reasons why people from other countries might choose to move to America. Then ask students to share their opinions on how today's pilgrims might view the significance of the first Thanksgiving in their lives and how their views might be similar or different from that of lifelong American citizens.
These writing-based tasks incorporate the three types of writing required by the Common Core Standards. Use one or more as a culminating assessment for your students.
Imagine you have a pen pal in another country who is a student your age. The student knows little about U.S. culture. In a friendly letter, tell the student the story of the first Thanksgiving. Your story should follow the true events of the first Thanksgiving that you have studied in these lessons. Be sure to write about the main participants. Use details from what you have read and studied to support your letter.
- Use a friendly letter format
- Tell the story of Thanksgiving while remaining faithful to the true events
- Use details from the texts you have read to support your story
Using the graffiti wall that you have worked on during the lessons on Thanksgiving and the Mayflower Compact, explain the purpose of the Thanksgiving holiday. Be sure to discuss the events that led to the first Thanksgiving, as well as the people involved. Use details from the lessons.
- Explain the purpose of the Thanksgiving holiday
- Talk about the events and people involved in the historical Thanksgiving
- Use details to support your answer
The year is 1621 and you are a Pilgrim. A fellow Pilgrim expresses to you that the Pilgrims should not be celebrating with the Wampanoag Indians. Respond to your fellow Pilgrim. Build an argument for why Thanksgiving should be celebrated with the Wampanoags.
In your response, remember to:
- Present a claim for why Thanksgiving should be celebrated
- Provide a rationale to support your claim
- Use details from the texts you have read to support your answer
Common Core State Standards