- Use technology tools to access, explore, and synthesize information on the Pilgrims, Plimoth colony, Wampanoags, and 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
- Understand and identify cultural differences between colonial times and the present
- Read for detail
- Participate in a variety of active writing activities
- Demonstrate comprehension through experiential response
- Reflect on what has been learned after reading by formulating ideas, opinions, and personal responses
- KWL Graphic Organizer printable
- The First Thanksgiving online activity
- The Thanksgiving Feast
- "Life in Plimoth" and "Native American Perspectives" interviews from the First Thanksgiving Reader's Theater Ideas collection
- Of Plymouth Plantation Excerpts printable
- Writing paper
- Basic art supplies (paper, glue, crayons, markers, etc.) will be needed for several activities
- First Thanksgiving Questions for Grades 6–8 printable
- Of Plymouth Plantation Answer Key printable
- First Thanksgiving Answer Key for Grades 6–8 printable
- Grading Rubric for Grades 6–8 printable
- Optional: Nonfiction books for print research
- 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.
- You may want to create a special display of thematic books in your classroom library. Check out our Thanksgiving and Colonial America and Native Americans book lists for suggested print materials. Include room for the projects that your students will create throughout the unit.
- Make class sets of the KWL Chart printable and the First Thanksgiving Questions: 6–8 printable.
- Print a copy of the First Thanksgiving Answer Key: 6–8 printable for your own use.
- Students should have a copy of the Of Plymouth Plantation Excerpts printable from the Voyage on the Mayflower lesson. If they don't, make a class set. Also print a copy of the Of Plymouth Plantation Answer Key printable for your own use.
- Optional: You may want to print out copies of the "Life in Plimoth" and "Native American Perspectives" interviews from the First Thanksgiving Reader's Theater Ideas collection for individual reading.
Part I: Preparation
Step 1: Before discussing the 1621 harvest feast known as the first Thanksgiving, hand out the KWL Chart printable and have students fill in any information they know about the people, foods, and activities involved in the feast, as well as how the celebration originated. Then ask volunteers to share their knowledge with the class.
Note: As students work through the following activities, have them periodically return to their KWL charts to compare, correct, or add new information.
Step 2: Invite students to explore The Thanksgiving Feast online activity, including the slideshow and the Thanksgiving Timeline.
Step 3: Direct students to read the "Life in Plimoth" and "Life as a Wampanoag" interviews 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.
Step 4: Provide time for students to read their interviews and take notes. Allow additional time for them to learn more by exploring other online resources, as well as books in your class library.
Part II: Of Plymouth Plantation Close Read
Step 5: Have students read the final excerpt from William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation, The First Thanksgiving Feast.
Step 6: Have students answer the text-dependent questions included in the Of Plymouth Plantation Excerpts printable. Check students' understanding and reading comprehension using the Of Plymouth Plantation Answer Key printable.
Part III: Special Scrapbooks
Step 7: Discuss with students what they learned about the people, food, and activities that were a part of the 1621 celebration. Talk about how the Pilgrim and Wampanoag cultures and customs influenced each group's interactions with the other, their table manners, what foods they brought to the table, and the activities they engaged in.
Step 8: 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. Ask students to include a description or explanation of each item in their scrapbooks.
Part IV: 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. Have them compare how Thanksgiving Day is observed today versus the 1621 feast. Encourage them to also consider what kind of observation the proponents envisioned as they campaigned to set aside a special day of thanksgiving.
Step 10: Have students take all of these things into account and write personal perspectives about how they (or our nation in general) observe Thanksgiving. Their writing should address things such as its similarities 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.
Part V: Passenger Interviews
Step 12: Ask students to read the Pilgrim Interviews and answer the multiple-choice questions in the First Thanksgiving Questions for Grades 6–8 printable (the questions are also featured below).
Which statement from the interviews best describes how most of the passengers feel about the Native Americans?
A. “They are very different than what I had expected.”
B. “They have taught us many useful things, of planting, fishing, and hunting.”
C. “We are afeared that some might attack our town.”
D. “The first guest that stayed in the house of my husband was one of the Indians, named Samoset.”
Which event relayed from the interviews best shows that the journey from Europe did not go as expected?
A. The weather has been bad.
B. The Speedwell and its passengers had to be left behind.
C. The weevils attacked the bread.
D. There were no bathrooms on the ship.
What do the Pilgrims anticipate America to be like?
A. Beautiful beaches with plentiful food from the sea
B. Snowy mountains and cold weather
C. Desert land with hot weather
D. Wild forests with many animals
According to the interview with John Rowland, Pilgrims were most thankful to God for:
A. the food on the Mayflower
B. not having to celebrate Christmas
C. the Native Americans who spoke English
D. clothing to keep them warm
Read this line from passenger Elizabeth Hopkins’ interview:
“I am just glad to be in sight of land, even though it is a wilderness.”
What does this statement say about life on the Mayflower for the Pilgrims?
A. The voyage on the Mayflower has been difficult and tiring.
B. The people on the ship have been waiting with excitement for landing.
C. The people on the ship probably do not get along with one another.
D. The voyage has left people frightened of what is to come after landing.
Part VI: Wampanoag Ways
Step 13: Ask students to read the Life as a Wampanoag interview and answer the multiple-choice and short-answer questions in the First Thanksgiving Questions for Grades 6–8 printable (the questions are also featured below).
Multiple-Choice and Short-Answer Questions
“The English had been told that the inhabitants of the New World were savages, so they were afraid of the Wampanoag.”
In the sentence above (from the interview with Fast Turtle), savages probably means
A. an unkempt people
B. a friendly group
C. a group with many skills
D. an uncivilized people
Fast Turtle references Squanto and says he died “a premature and mysterious death.” What was Fast Turtle implying with this statement?
A. Squanto died at the hands of his own tribesmen.
B. He died of old age.
C. He died of disease.
A statement that best shows the differences between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag is:
A. “The Wampanoag had no such weapons and were deathly afraid of the white man’s musket.”
B. “When the Wampanoag helped the Pilgrims bring in their first crop, there was a great feast during that harvest time.”
C. “At first the Pilgrims were friendly with the Wampanoag, because they helped them learn the environment and how to survive on the land.”
D. “The Wampanoag were here thousands of years before the Pilgrims arrived in Plimoth.”
Select all that apply.
At one point in his interview, Fast Turtle says, “Life was good before the English came.”
This statement most likely refers to the idea that Wampanoag:
[ ] were living alone before the English came
[ ] had to give up their lands and religion
[ ] were afraid of the Pilgrims
[ ] didn’t have as much food
[ ] came down with diseases from the Pilgrims
[ ] were forced to learn English
The Pilgrims were grateful to the Native Americans for showing them survival skills, but they also had several other feelings toward them. What were these feelings? Use at least two details from the interviews to support your answer.
- Have students research and identify problems that contributed to the deteriorating relationship between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag, such as their language, cultural, and religious differences. For information, have them read Life as a Wampanoag (from the First Thanksgiving Reader's Theater Ideas collection) and access other resources. Have students use what they learn to discuss ways in which the two groups might have resolved their differences and learned to live peacefully as neighbors.
- Ask students to define pilgrim. Invite them to tell about any modern-day pilgrims they know of. Discuss reasons why people from other countries choose to move to America even today. 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. Share with the student the ways in which your family’s Thanksgiving traditions are similar to and different from the first Thanksgiving feast.
- Tell the story of the first Thanksgiving while remaining faithful to the true events
- Provide similarities and differences in the first Thanksgiving and how your family celebrates it today
- Use details from the texts you have read to support your story
The Pilgrims and the Wampanoag had different lifestyles. In a short essay, explain the similarities and the differences between the two groups and their daily lives. Then explain how the skills that the Pilgrims and Wampanoag had contributed to the first Thanksgiving feast.
- Explain the similarities and the differences between the daily lives of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag
- Explain how the skills they used in their daily lives contributed to the feast
- Use details from the texts you have read to support your answer
Imagine that your state declares that schools will be open on Thanksgiving. The state also says, however, that a school district can decide to close for the day if it wants. Appeal to your district’s superintendent and ask her to close the school, so you and your classmates can celebrate Thanksgiving. Write an argument that clearly outlines why your school should close for the celebration of Thanksgiving.
- Present a claim for why your school should be closed on Thanksgiving
- Provide several reasons for why Thanksgiving should be recognized as a holiday by your school district
- Use details from the texts you have read to support your answer
Alternately, write an argument supporting the superintendent’s decision to keep schools open on Thanksgiving. You still should present a claim with reasons to support it.
Common Core State Standards
Of Plymouth Plantation Close Read