These lesson plans give younger students an in-depth look into the First Thanksgiving and help them understand the experiences of the Pilgrims on their voyage to the New World.
- 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
- 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 Thanksgiving Feast
- Pilgrim and Wampanoag interviews from the First Thanksgiving Reader's Theater Ideas collection
- Highlighters in multiple colors (for teacher use)
- Whiteboard or chart paper and markers
- If You Were at the First Thanksgiving by Anne Kamma
- Thanksgiving T-Chart printable
- Grading Rubric for Grades K–2 printable
- Basic art supplies (paper, glue, crayons, markers, etc.) will be needed for several activities
- Optional: Nonfiction books for print research
- Optional: Computer and projector for class demonstrations
- 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 and a team reporter.
- 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, and so on. Details are described further in the Directions sections, below.
- Create a class-sized T-chart labeled "Thanksgiving Then and Thanksgiving Today" or print a class set of the Thanksgiving T-Chart printable.
- Print copies of Pilgrim and Wampanoag interviews from the First Thanksgiving Reader's Theater Ideas collection. Highlight the questions and answers related to the first Thanksgiving in each of the interviews.
Part I: Preparation
Step 1: Tell students that they are going to learn about 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: Either project the online activity from your computer or have students explore on their own. The Thanksgiving Feast slideshow and the Thanksgiving Timeline components of the activity are included in this section.
Optional: You can also have students explore books in your class library or books gathered for the unit to discover information about the first Thanksgiving while you work through the activity with small groups.
Part II: Thanksgiving Traditions
Step 3: Talk about the word "tradition." Ask students what traditions their families have at Thanksgiving.
Step 4: Now display or pass out the Thanksgiving Then and Thanksgiving Today T-chart printable. Ask students to list what they know about the way Thanksgiving is celebrated today. You can also combine all their answers into a class list of knowledge.
Part III: If You Were at the First Thanksgiving Read Aloud
Step 5: Tell students they are going to learn about the first Thanksgiving feast. Read aloud from If You Were at the First Thanksgiving by Anne Kamma. Focus on the following portions:
- Was the First Harvest a Success?
- Why Did the Pilgrims Want to Celebrate?
- Who Made Thanksgiving a National Holiday?
- What was the First Thing the Pilgrims Did to Get Ready for a Harvest Festival?
- Who Were the Surprise Guests?
- Who Was in Charge of Cooking?
- Was the Food Cooked Outdoors?
- What Other Foods Did They Have at the First Thanksgiving?
Step 6: Point out the three core vocabulary words for this section of the book: tradition, harvest, and festival. Ask students to use the core vocabulary words in sentences with a partner.
Step 7: After the read aloud, ask students to discuss and answer the following questions. Students can answer the questions in a whole group or as a think-pair-share dialogue.
- The Pilgrims lived before the invention of refrigerators, freezers, or electricity. How did they store their food?
The Pilgrims had many ways of preserving food. Some food was packed in salt, some was smoked, some was dried, and some was pickled!
- How did the Pilgrims feel about Thanksgiving?
They were excited to celebrate their first harvest. But of course they didn’t know that their celebration would become the holiday we know today! In fact, it wasn’t called Thanksgiving until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday.
- What problem faced the Pilgrims when the Wampanoag showed up for the harvest festival? How was the problem solved?
They were worried about having enough food for everyone. But, Chief Massasoit sent out hunters. Five deer made enough food for all.
- How was the food for the harvest festival cooked?
Women prepared the food inside the Pilgrim homes, the English way.
Part IV: Completing the T-Chart
Step 8: Ask students to complete the Thanksgiving Then and Thanksgiving Today T-chart printable with information they learned about what the first Thanksgiving was like for the Pilgrims and Wampanoag. Prompt them to notice similarities and differences between how the first Thanksgiving was celebrated and how the holiday commemorating that feast is celebrated today. Are there any traditions that remain? What parts of today’s celebration were not part of the first Thanksgiving?
Part V: First Feast Collages
Step 9: Provide students with more information about the First Thanksgiving by sharing the highlighted sections of Pilgrim Interviews and Life as a Wampanoag.
Step 10: Work with students to create a list of foods and activities, such as hunting, singing, and playing games, that were a part of the celebration. Then invite them to create a collage made up of pictures and symbols representing the first Thanksgiving.
Step 11: Students can use a combination of sources for their collage images: their own drawings, magazine cutouts, online printouts, etc. Ask them to explain why they included each image in their collages.
Part VI: From Harvest Feast to Holiday
Step 12: Explain that the event we refer to as the first Thanksgiving was not a holiday in 1621 — it was a Harvest Feast celebration.
Step 13: Review the Thanksgiving Timeline to discover and discuss the evolution of Thanksgiving Day into a national holiday and the roles that different presidents and Sarah Hale played to make this happen.
Step 14: Point out that President Lincoln officially declared Thanksgiving Day as a national holiday in 1863. Invite students to create mini-posters announcing this special declaration to the entire nation.
- The first Thanksgiving was attended by 50 Pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag. Discuss with students why there were more Wampanoag than Pilgrims. Ask them to think about what they might have felt if they had been one of the Pilgrim children at that feast. Have them write a description and draw a picture to show their feelings.
- 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 children 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 in this section. On the right side, ask them to write "Future Foods" and then draw and label foods served during a present day Thanksgiving celebration.
This writing-based task focuses on beginning narrative writing. You can use the Grading Rubric for Grades K–2 as a guide for assessing students' writing.
Traditions are part of holidays. In the lessons about Thanksgiving, we learned about different traditions for Thanksgiving. Draw a picture of a one of your family’s traditions at Thanksgiving. Tell why you think this is a good tradition to have. Why do you think so? Share your reasons.
Common Core State Standards
If You Were at the First Thanksgiving Read Aloud
First Feast Collages
- None applicable
From Harvest Feast to Holiday