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 Mayflower and Pilgrims
- Develop an understanding of the Pilgrims' experiences in moving to the New World
- 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
- Voyage on the Mayflower
- Computers for student use
- Pilgrim and Wampanoag interviews from the First Thanksgiving Reader's Theater Ideas collection
- Whiteboard or chart paper and markers
- Mayflower Compact printable
- First Thanksgiving Questions for Grades 3–5 printable
- First Thanksgiving Answer Key for Grades 3–5 printable
- Poster-size pieces of paper, one per small group
- Poster board, one piece per small group
- Large index cards
- Basic art supplies (paper, glue, crayons, markers, etc.) will be needed for several activities
- Optional: Timeline printable
- 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, 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 also want to create a special display of thematic books in your classroom library. Check out our Colonial America and Native Americans Book List for suggested print materials. Include room for the projects that your students will create throughout the lesson.
- You may want to print out copies of the Ship's Cooper John Alden, Mate Robert Coppin, passenger Elizabeth Hopkins, and passenger Desire Minter interviews (all included in the First Thanksgiving Reader's Theater Ideas collection) for individual reading.
- Make copies of the Mayflower Compact printable and the First Thanksgiving Questions for Grades 3–5 printable.
Part I: Preparation
Step 1: Invite students to explore the Voyage on the Mayflower activity in The First Thanksgiving activity, including the tour of the ship and the Pilgrim timeline components of this section.
Step 2: Provide time for students to read — either individually or in small groups — the interviews for Ship's Cooper John Alden and Mate Robert Coppin included in the First Thanksgiving Reader's Theater Ideas collection.
Part II: Graffiti Wall
Step 3: Divide the class into groups of four or five students. Hang a poster-size piece of paper for each group to use. Invite each group to take a marker and graffiti their posters with words or phrases. Their graffiti should be about these words: Mayflower, Pilgrim, and Thanksgiving. You may give them each word individually and let them work or provide them all at once.
Step 4: At the end of the working time, have each group share their graffiti. Students should present their work and clarify anything that is unknown to other groups.
Part III: The Mayflower Compact Close Read
Step 5: Explain to students that on November 11, 1620, the Pilgrims drew up and signed the Mayflower Compact. Distribute copies of the Mayflower Compact printable. Explain that students will read the document multiple times, shifting their analysis of the document and focusing on different aspects of it throughout the lesson.
Step 6: Have students read the Mayflower Compact quietly to themselves. Encourage students to annotate their copy of the Mayflower Compact as they develop an understanding of the document.
Step 7: After students are finished reading, go over the document and its vocabulary, which may be difficult for students. Discuss the First Reading Document Analysis questions from the First Thanksgiving Questions for Grades 3–5 printable:
First Reading Document Analysis Questions
- Who is writing the compact?
- Why did the Pilgrims decide to go on this voyage?
- What action are the Pilgrims taking in this document?
- What is the reason they are taking this action?
- What will they do after this?
- When did they all agree on this compact?
- In two sentences, provide a summary of the Mayflower Compact.
Step 8: In the second and third readings, which may be done over several days, encourage students to think critically about the text in relation to what they are learning about the Pilgrims at Plimoth and their interactions with the Wampanoag. Have students answer the remaining sets of Mayflower Compact questions from the First Thanksgiving Questions for Grades 3–5 printable after the second and third readings:
- Who do the Pilgrims say they are signing in the presence of?
- The Pilgrims say they will do what from "time to time"?
- Why do the Pilgrims say this is necessary?
- Without the Mayflower Compact, what might have happened? What were the Pilgrims trying to avoid?
- Read the first line of the Mayflower Compact. Why does it begin that way?
- The Constitution created a separation of church and state. The Pilgrims did not have such a separation. What line in the compact best demonstrates this?
- What is a “civill body politick”?
- What is the overall purpose of the Mayflower Compact?
- Can you name other documents from other historical time periods that have a similar overall purpose to the Mayflower Compact?
Part IV: Mayflower Schematics
Step 9: Discuss the construction and layout of the Mayflower. Using information gathered from the activity and other sources, have students talk about the size and dimensions of the ship, identify the key parts of the ship, and explain the function and importance of each one. Also ask students to describe some of the crew members' positions and responsibilities.
Step 10: Pass out poster board to small groups of students and have them create a diagram of the Mayflower. Display the Tour the Ship screen in The First Thanksgiving activity for students to use as a model for their work. Ask them to label the main parts of the ship and write a brief description about each one, including its importance, who is responsible for it, what activity occurs there, etc. Students can write this information on large index cards, attach the cards to the borders of the poster, and use yarn to connect each card to its corresponding part. Instruct students to distribute the responsibilities for completing the project among themselves so that everyone has an equal share in developing each phase.
Part V: Passengers' Reflections
Step 11: To familiarize students with the passengers' experiences on the Mayflower, have them read — either individually or in small groups — the Mayflower interviews for passenger Elizabeth Hopkins and passenger Desire Minter included in the First Thanksgiving Reader's Theater Ideas collection.
Step 12: After students have read the passenger interviews, have students imagine they are Pilgrims traveling on the Mayflower. Ask the following Reflective Questions, as well as your own, to help evoke in students the sense of a personal, first-hand experience:
- What are your feelings about leaving family, friends, and belongings behind?
- How do you spend your time on the Mayflower?
- How do the passengers and crew treat you and each other?
- What do you eat? Do you get enough to eat?
- What frightens you about the voyage?
- Have you felt angry during the voyage? If so, why?
- What is the best thing that's happened during the voyage? The worst thing?
- What do you expect to find when you reach the New World? How does this make you feel?
Step 13: Check students' reading comprehension of the passenger interviews with the following multiple choice questions from the First Thanksgiving Questions for Grades 3–5 printable:
What word best describes how the passengers feel about the Native Americans?
Which statement 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 are no bathrooms on the ship.
What do the passengers think America will be like?
A. Beautiful beaches and food from the sea is plentiful.
B. Snowy mountains and cold weather.
C. Desert land with hot weather.
D. Wild forests with many animals.
According to the passengers, how was much of the time on the ship spent?
A. Playing games and laughing.
B. Praying and singing hymns.
C. Preparing for landing in America.
D. Waiting, cooking and cleaning.
Read this line from passenger Elizabeth Hopkins's 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: Letters to England
Step 14: While students are in a Pilgrim mindset, invite them to write a personal letter about their voyage to a friend or family member back in England. In their letters, have them describe their living conditions, daily activities, interactions with each other, and any memorable events. They can refer to Journey on the Mayflower and the Pilgrim timeline portions of The First Thanksgiving activity to help organize the contents of their letters so that they follow the sequence of actual events. As students compose their letters, encourage them to also include their own opinions and feelings.
- Ask students to assume the role of Pilgrims in their minds. Have them use the Timeline printable to create personal picture timelines of their experiences on the Mayflower, starting and ending with the dates of the actual voyage and filling in plot points in between with their imaginary events. In addition to labeling their timeline with pictures and brief text, have students add a comment about their emotional response to each event.
- Work with students to create a document similar to the Mayflower Compact that outlines six to eight rules for the common good of the class.
Common Core State Standards
Mayflower Compact Close Read: First Reading
Mayflower Compact Close Read: Second Reading
Mayflower Compact Close Read: Third Reading
Letters to England