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.
Teach This Lesson
- 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
- Create a timeline
- 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
- Voyage on the Mayflower
- Computers for student use
- Pilgrim 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
- Basic art supplies (paper, glue, crayons, markers, etc.)
- Optional: Computer and projector for class demonstrations
- Optional: Calendar for class demonstration
- Optional: Large index cards, one per student
- 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 for individual activities in this lesson plan are described further in Lesson Directions below.
- Print copies of the Mayflower interviews for passenger Elizabeth Hopkins and passenger Desire Minter from the First Thanksgiving Reader's Theater Ideas collection. Highlight the questions and answers directly related to the passengers' travels on the ship.
Part I: Preparation
Step 1: Tell students that they are going to learn about the Mayflower, its voyage to the New World, and the Pilgrims who sailed on the ship. Either project the online activity from your computer or have students explore on their own. The Journey on the Mayflower, Tour the Ship, and Pilgrim timeline components of the activity are included in this section.
Step 2: If you don't have a projector, have students draw their own versions of the Mayflower and Pilgrims sailing to America while you work through the activity with small groups. Later, students can compare their pictures to the images in the activity.
Part II: Talking Drawings
Step 3: Write the word “Thanksgiving” on the board or chart paper. Give each student a sheet of paper. Ask them to draw a picture of what they know about Thanksgiving. Then have students provide a one-sentence summary about what they know about Thanksgiving.
Step 4: They can share their answer aloud or write it underneath their drawing.
Part III: If You Were at the First Thanksgiving Read Aloud
Step 5: Read aloud from If You Were at the First Thanksgiving by Anne Kamma. Focus on the portions entitled "How It All Began" and "Why Did the Pilgrims Come to America?"
Step 6: Point out the four core vocabulary words for this section of the book: Mayflower, Puritan, survive, worship. Ask students to use the core vocabulary words in sentences with a partner.
Step 7: 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.
- Why did the Pilgrims go to America?
- What was the name of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to America?
- In which season did the Pilgrims arrive in America?
- How would you describe life for the Pilgrims when they first arrived?
Optional: Take out a calendar. Tell students that Thanksgiving is always on the last Thursday of November. Have them find the last Thursday in November on the calendar for this year. Or give students the monthly calendar for November for the past few years with Thanksgiving labeled on it. Ask them to figure out the pattern or when Thanksgiving occurs.
Part IV: Passengers' Reflections
Step 8: Share and discuss the highlighted portions of the passenger interviews. Then have students imagine they are Pilgrims traveling to America on the Mayflower.
Step 9: Ask the following questions, as well as your own, to help evoke in students the sense of a personal, first-hand experience:
- How do you feel about leaving your friends and belongings to move to the New World?
- Is traveling on the Mayflower fun? Why or why not?
- How do the passengers on the ship treat you and each other?
- What kind of food do you eat? Do you like it?
- How do you spend your time?
- What frightens you about the voyage?
- Have you gotten angry during the voyage? What made you angry?
- Have you had any happy times on the ship? Sad times? What caused these feelings?
- What has been the best thing about your voyage? The worst thing?
- How do you expect to feel when you reach the New World?
Part V: Picture Postcards
Step 10: Ask the students to keep imagining themselves as Pilgrims. Have them make a drawing of their experience on the Mayflower.
Step 11: On the other side of the paper, have students write a message that describes some of their personal experiences on the voyage. For younger students, have them describe their drawing aloud.
Part VI: Personal Timelines
Step 12: Point out that the Journey on the Mayflower activity plots major events of the trip using pictures and text. Talk about the emotions each of these events might have evoked.
Step 13: Ask students to again assume the role of Pilgrims 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.
- Using a calendar, ask students to count the number of days the Pilgrims spent on the Mayflower. Have them start their count on September 6 — the day the ship set sail — and end on November 11, the day they landed at Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Invite them to share the longest trip they've ever taken and to compare their travel experiences with that of the Pilgrims.
- Tell students that after the Pilgrims reached the New World, they wrote and signed the Mayflower Compact. In this document, they agreed to stay and live together peacefully. Discuss with students ways in which they can live together in a peaceful classroom community. Work with them to draw up a set of rules to post in the room.
Common Core State Standards
If You Were at the First Thanksgiving Read Aloud
Scholastic's interactive activities let students tour the Mayflower and follow its difficult journey from Great Britain to the New World.
PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
Teach your students about 17th-century America and the history of Thanksgiving with ready-to-go classroom activities, book resources, colorful crafts, and more.