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November 12, 2020

Celebration, Conflict and Contemplation: Digital Thanksgiving Activities and Lesson Plans for Students

Take students on a historical journey with our free pre-K12 Thanksgiving activities and resources for use in distance or hybrid learning classrooms.


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By Christina Bartolomeo

Free Thanksgiving Activities and Lesson Plans for PreK-12 Students

Whether you’re helping kindergartners understand what feeling grateful means or guiding high schoolers through complex cultural issues, Thanksgiving can be a teaching challenge. We’ve got you covered. With Share My Lesson, you can take students on a historical journey this holiday season with our curated collection of free, engaging preK-12 Thanksgiving activities, lesson plans, and resources. We’ll help you teach your students about this tradition from multiple perspectives, including a focus on studying Indigenous people and endangered cultures.

Thanksgiving Writing Activity for all Students

Thanksgiving Writing Prompts: Twenty-one journal or story starters with Thanksgiving writing prompts and visuals. What comes next after, “The turkey was ready to be served when … ” or “I believe there is a better way to move these pumpkins …”? Kids can also share who they miss most this Thanksgiving, or imagine telling the Thanksgiving story from the point of view of the Native Americans.

thanksgiving writing prompts

Thanksgiving Activities for Pre-K and Elementary Students

Thanksgiving Tales: Check out our bilingual holiday book list, Thanksgiving Tales. From The First Thanksgiving Feast, to Gracias, the Thanksgiving Turkey, Colorín Colorado has just the book you need to start a discussion about Thanksgiving in the classroom. From immigrant stories on a new generation of pilgrims willing to risk their lives for freedom in America, to varying cultural and historical outlooks on Thanksgiving, to modern reflections about what it means to be thankful, these books offer a wide range of perspectives on the holiday—and lots of ways to celebrate and give thanks.

Printable Poems, Coloring and Cut-Out Activities for Fall: Check out this perfect fun fall activity for your students from ABCmouse! From an autumn scene for children to draw themselves into, to a fall leaves cutting exercise, to a poem about grandma’s warning on keeping warm in “sweater weather,” these are great for parents as well as teachers to enjoy with kids.

thanksgiving activities: printable poems and coloring cut outs screenshot

Get Fit Action Story with Tom the Turkey: What happens when Tom the Turkey decides not to participate in Thanksgiving? This active learning book includes listening and sight words that are physically acted out when read aloud. Little ones can get fit and have fun while reading and learning, with action words like “gobbled and hopped!” and “shake a leg.”

Video and Teachers Guide for Turkey TroubleTurkey is in trouble. Bad trouble. The kind of trouble where it’s almost Thanksgiving ... and you’re the main course. But Turkey has an idea: What if he doesn’t look like a turkey? What if he looks like another animal instead? After many hilarious attempts, Turkey comes up with the perfect disguise to make this Thanksgiving the best ever! Accompanied by a teacher guide, this book is part of the SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s award-winning website, Storyline Online, which streams videos featuring actors reading children’s books alongside creatively produced illustrations.

marc maron reading turkey torubles

Thanksgiving Dinner Project-Based Learning Activity: It’s a challenge many grownups tussle with too! “I need to feed my family of six for Thanksgiving. For my meal I need an appetizer, main dish, two side dishes, a dessert and a drink (at least). I have $175 to spend on all the ingredients and any decorations I may want. What should I make?” The exercise lets students practice skills such as looking up recipes, putting together a meal plan and budgeting.

thanksgiving dinner pbl learning example

Thanksgiving Activities for Middle and High School

Thanksgiving and the Wampanoag People: Through this thought-provoking lesson plan, students will learn about today’s Wampanoag people, the same Native American tribe that interacted with the Pilgrims at Plymouth nearly 400 years ago. Students also will examine current issues, including the Wampanoag tribe’s fight today for their ancestral homelands and to keep their Native language alive for future generations, as well as the Day of Mourning started in 1970 by Wampanoag tribal elder Tall Oak and fellow activists to tell the story of the subjugation of the Wampanoag and other Native Americans. The lesson plan challenges students to share their answers to the question: “Do you think it’s possible to celebrate Thanksgiving while learning about the effects of colonization on the Wampanoag and other Native American peoples?” Find more from PBS NewsHour Extra here.

thanksgiving wampanoag people lesson pbs

StoryCorps’ The Great Thanksgiving Listen: Started in 2015 as an experimental challenge by founder Dave Isay, the Great Thanksgiving Listen invites young people—and people of all ages—to create an oral history of the contemporary United States by recording an interview with an elder, mentor, friend or someone they admire. The Great Thanksgiving Listen comes with an educator toolkit and video. For students, there’s a Great Questions list, interview planning and tips sheets, Keyboarding 101 guide, and starter manual webinar. StoryCorps provides free technology to record conversations. To date, thousands of high schools from all 50 states have participated and preserved more than 100,000 interviews, providing families with a priceless piece of personal history. Interviews become part of the StoryCorps Archive at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, and can be shared with teachers, friends and family.

great thanksgiving listen logo

Crash Course History Videos: John Green, the New York Times bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars, and his brother Hank Green co-created Crash Course, which offers witty, lively YouTube courses on a variety of AP high school curriculum topics, from astronomy to U.S. history to mythology. SML’s Thanksgiving collection features two Crash Course videos:

  • The Black Legend, Native Americans and Spaniards: John Green talks about the Native Americans who lived in what is now the U.S. prior to European contact. Also covered is the first sustained European settlement in North America, under the Spanish. The Spanish have a long history with the Natives of the Americas, and not all of it was positive.
  • When Is Thanksgiving? Colonizing America: John Green teaches about the English colonies in what is now the United States. This video lesson covers the first permanent English colony at Jamestown, Va., the various theocracies in Massachusetts, the feudal kingdom in Maryland, and even a bit about the spooky lost colony at Roanoke Island.

We're wishing you a warm, happy and safe Thanksgiving this holiday season! If you find yourself unable to travel due to the current circumstances, we hope you find some time to sit back and enjoy a satisfying meal. Happy Thanksgiving from the team at Share My Lesson!

For all of our featured Thanksgiving activities, lesson plans and resources, visit our curated collection here.

cristina bartolomeo

Christina Bartolomeo is an Assistant Director

in the Communications Department of the American Federation of Teachers.

If you have additional Thanksgiving activities and resources you'd like the Share My Lesson community to know about, please share them in the comments below.

The AFT was formed by teachers more than 100 years ago and is now a 1.7 million-member union of professionals that champions fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for our students, their families and our communities. We are... See More

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