Thanksgiving Across the Curriculum

Part 1: Lesson Plan Ideas

The tradition of Thanksgiving in America goes back to the winter of 1621 when the Pilgrims were virtually starving. Indians from the Wampanoag tribe came to their rescue providing them with food. We celebrate this event today usually by eating more than we need and giving some thought to the blessings we have had for the past year. However, feasts of Thanksgiving go back even further than that. For example, the Greeks celebrated Thesmophoria.

Read more about their holiday here.

The question for educators is how to incorporate this holiday into the classroom. I hope to help with the answer. Below find numerous lesson ideas for each curriculum area. If you have a lesson that you'd like to add to the collection, please submit it here.

Subject Areas

Arts/Crafts

  1. Balloon Making and History - Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is known for its large balloons. Incorporate this event into art classes with these activities.
  2. Craft Ideas - These simple craft activities could be used for peer tutoring with younger kids.

Computer Science/Internet

  1. Have students use HTML to design a webpage devoted to Thanksgiving activities at their school. They could list what students are studying; just put up information they have researched.
  2. Thanksgiving CyberChallenge - Take this interactive quiz and learn about Thanksgiving.
  3. Meet the Pilgrims Live - Read transcripts of questions and answers asked to 'Pilgrims' by students.

    Cooking

    1. Eating Etiquette - Teach students etiquette for eating.
    2. Carving Turkey - Learn all about the best way to carve a turkey.
    3. No Popcorn! - Read why popcorn was not part of the First Thanksgiving.
    4. My Family's Turkey and Dressing Recipe - My family recipe.
    5. What foods were actually eaten at the First Thanksgiving? - Scroll down the page to see what was served according to the historical record.

      Drama

      1. Play a game of charades where every option has to have some connection with Thanksgiving.
      2. Using biographies of Pocahontas and John Smith, have students discuss the poetic license taken by Disney when creating their film Pocahontas.
      3. Have students write a play about the First Thanksgiving for younger children.

      English and Language Arts

      1. Have students read and then create poems about Thanksgiving.
      2. Have students read Longfellow's The Courtship of Miles Standish. (Note: This is not historically accurate.)
      3. Journal Ideas:
      • What have you been thankful for in the past year?
      • Describe past Thanksgivings good or bad.
      • Does your family celebrate Thanksgiving? What are your traditions?
      • What was your best Thanksgiving?
      • What was your worst Thanksgiving?
      • How do you want to celebrate this holiday when you grow up?
      • Pretend you were a Pilgrim or a Wampanoag Indian at the First Thanksgiving. Describe what you ate and did.

      Music

      1. Thanksgiving Music? - Of course!

      Physical Education

      1. Archery - I learned archery in PE. What a great time to set up targets and have kids practice
      2. Football - What is Thanksgiving known for other than turkey? Football! Teach students about its history, rules, and more!

      Science

      1. Anatomy: The Digestive System - Show students what that turkey will actually be doing in their body.
      1. Discuss what nutrients make soil fertile tying in with the failure of the Pilgrims to create viable crops their first year.
      2. The science of Ballooning - Use Macy's balloons to spark interest in history and science of these massive 'sky sculptures'.
      3. Have students research scientific discoveries that occurred around the year 1621?

      Social Studies

      1. Read how Teaching with Biographies can help aid learning. Here are the biographies of John Smith and Pocahontas.
      2. Teach About the History of Macy's Day Parade.
      3. Canadian Thanksgiving Day - Learn how and why Canada celebrates its own Thanksgiving Day.
      4. Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation - Have students read this 1863 Proclamation and discuss its purpose. Great tie-in with the Civil War.
      5. Peace Treaty with Massasoit - Read about this 1621 treaty that kept the peace between the Wampanoags and the Pilgrims.
      1. Primary Sources for the 'First Thanksgiving' - Read about it first hand. Also, discuss the difference between primary and secondary Sources.
      2. Common Thanksgiving and Mayflower Myths - Discuss how history is fluid and all sources must be verified for historical accuracy.
      3. Life in 1621 - Have students read about life in 1621. Then have them create journals or letters where they take on the role of individuals who lived back then.

      If your class is weary of standard Thanksgiving fare, perhaps Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will spark their enthusiasm. Weare featuring Thanksgiving activities including reading, writing, model building, balloon modeling, creating original greeting cards, and sending cyber greeting cards.

      Students may enjoy reading a description of the big balloon inflation and a history of Macy's parade with pictures of early and memorable balloons, Selections from these articles could be used for lessons on paraphrasing and summarizing.

      After reading about Macy's Parade and seeing pictures of memorable balloons and other parade pictures, students may enjoy creating a model parade. Students could work as an entire class or in teams to determine what should be in their parade, to develop criteria for balloon floats and to plan a contest.

      Paper mache could be used for the floats and balloons; however, your students might especially enjoy learning to create balloon sculptures. Although some online directions for balloon sculptures are illustrated, andwritten very clearly, many are tips for improving sculptures and written for experienced balloon modelers. Thus arises an authentic writing task: Assign capable students the job of rewriting confusing directions.

      An interesting variation of balloon sculpturing, balloon fabrics involves the interlacing or weaving of balloons to create balloon sculptures. These sculptures could be an excellent creative choice for large, unusual and inexpensive school decorations.

      For ideas, check photos of a variety of balloon fabric designs including a dolphin, a turkey, a snowman, an angel, a Christmas tree, and many more.

      If your students want to pursue ballooning, have them check upcoming ballooning events and check the Balloon Sculpting Archive.

      A word about materialsSpecial balloons and a pump may be purchased from clown supply stores.

      I have linked to one online supplier so that you could see the kinds of supplies available; however, it might be helpful to visit a local shop.

      Students might be asked to research Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade or balloon modeling for a short oral or written report. They could also be assigned an I Search or a standard research paper. To get them started, suggest that they skim Web pages linked from Thanksgiving Resources for the Classroom for a topic that interests them. Then, with your help, their topic could be oriented toward your subject area.

      Some possible topics:

      1. The history of a balloon character
      2. The history of parades
      3. The logistics of managing a parade
      4. A comparison of two parades
      5. The history of Macy's Department Store
      6. The history of balloon making
      7. The materials to make balloons
      8. The steps for making balloons
      9. Creative new uses for parade balloons
      10. The history of balloon modeling
      11. Illustrated directions for making an original balloon sculpture
      12. Interviews with balloon sculpturers or clowns
      13. Factors determining the strength of material needed for a balloon
      14. Factors determining the length of time air will be contained in a balloon
      15. An illustrated description of how an air pump works

      Thanksgiving Holidays Around the WorldFor more traditional reading, yet something students may not have seen a hundred times before, check harvest holidays of various cultures.

      For other ideas, read Part I of this feature.

      Show students how easy it is to send cyber Thanksgiving Cards. This is a great medium for short poems and good humor. For ideas for unusually creative greeting cards, check cut out, pop up and tunnel books in last week's feature on creative display of student work.

      I hope some of these ideas will be useful or that they have triggered some of your own creative ideas for celebrating Thanksgiving.