Thanksgiving Lesson Idea(s) While There Is Time

I often feel I post lesson ideas after we’ve just done them – too late for others’ if they are seasonal. So for once I thought I’d try to give you some time. Here is a post from 3 years ago about an incredible project we did about the history behind Thanksgiving (which was really part of a larger unit on explorers and the New World). At the bottom of the page I’ll include some other ideas after the main post that are shorter activities you can even do right before if you want to do something:

5th grade is the “American History” grade in my school district (and probably most US school districts). As part of our study of the colonies we spent time delving into the first Thanksgiving. For the last week we focused on using multiple sources in research, so we used books, documentary video, and the internet to find out what they REALLY ate at the first Thanksgiving. Based on our research we put on as authentic a Thanksgiving/Harvest Festival as we could. I brought in a barbecue and cooked an 18 pound turkey, and the students were tasked with bringing in the rest. My student from Viet Nam brought in duck, others brought cod, corn, green beans, pumpkin (in the form of pie which the Pilgrims didn’t make – no sugar), bread, cranberries, wild berries, ginger ale (a stand-in for beer) our ESL teacher brought salmon and our school secretary donated venison.
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The students wrote about their Thanksgiving experiences and then about what they were looking forward to eating today – and then after our feast about what they had eaten. We noted colors, textures and smells. We took photos and watched video reenactments of the 1st Thanksgiving. Tomorrow we will work on blog posts … not sure how many will get posted, but our writing has been improving … so we’ll see.
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The experience was incredible. Most had never had REAL turkey before (processed or “rolled” turkey) or most of the other meats – and my students were totally intrigued by the whole thing. Green beans were new to many, and half had never had pumpkin pie before. 6 have never celebrated Thanksgiving (come from counrties that don’t celebrate as a national holiday). Students from other classes and grades saw our 18 pound turkey cooking and thought it was a chicken … when we explained it was a turkey they got perplexed looks on their faces … like why would you be cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving? We have chicken or tamales or…? Had to explain the whole cooking concept and serving concept … solid messy learning.

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When lunch was served … buffet style … students were tentative, but took some of everything. After everyone had been through the line I announced that there was plenty … don’t be shy … come back and have what you want without wasting food. Students came back and back and the food was eaten. The talk was all about how great it all was … I’ve never eaten food prepared like this,” was a common comment. We put the pumpkin pie on hold until late in the day. They loved it. Great conversations … and smiles … and good manners … students displayed joy.
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It was a lot of work … but when you do this kind of thing with your students … you usually catch yourself saying, “I should do this kind of lesson more often.”

Here are those other ideas:

What the World Eats – Part 1
Is a feature done by Time magazine a few years back. It is a photo slideshow that simply shows what families in different parts of the world eat in a typical week and how much it costs. There are 4 parts to this now, so if part one isn’t enough for you search for the others, they are easy to find.

The Water Buffalo Movie
Is a modern classic and gives students a taste of what poverty really is (have tissue available). The video is about 7 minutes long and delivers a very powerful message about giving and what we have to be thankful for.

Using these resources can be just as stand alone pieces to ponder, or starts to writing pieces, art pieces and more.

Learning is messy!

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33 Responses to Thanksgiving Lesson Idea(s) While There Is Time

  1. Kellie Grandquest says:

    Mr. Crosby,
    I am an EDM 310 student at the University of South Alabama. I enjoyed reading this article and I loved that the students were so into it. Doing something fun like this can definitely put on a new spin a learning. Once I get into the classroom, I hope to do a few fun projects like this each semester to keep the kid’s interest alive. This was a great idea and has even sparked a few thoughts in my head on what I could also do.

  2. Tiffany Morris says:

    Mr. Crosby,
    I’m a student at the University of South Alabama and am taking EDM 310. This is what real hands on learning is all about. I can only imagine how much your class enjoyed the lesson. I love it when children can grasp on to information and actually enjoy it. Other teachers should take note of this.

  3. Karissa says:

    Brian,

    I really love the idea and the food looks wonderful. It is so nice to hear that you have incorporated American culture into other student’s cultures. We are studying cultures right now in 3rd grade and I never thought of the value of pulling apart Thanksgiving. I work in a low-income school and this could be a great project for my students, who may not have a turkey on their table on Thanksgiving Day. This lesson leaves open so many opportunities to other subjects besides Social Studies. You could incorporate math by measuring the ingredients or weight of the turkey. In reading, you could find stories and literature on the first Thanksgiving. With writing, you could do how to’s (on how you made the turkey) or even after, the students could write about their experience. I love this idea because there can be many dimensions to it. Thank you for sharing. I can not wait to throw this idea around with my team!

  4. Pamela Willoughby says:

    What an awesome idea! I teach kindergarteners but I think we could make this work. About half of my students are from other countries – Mexico to Vietnam. Most would be considered living in poverty. It would be so much fun to recreate a Thanksgiving feast and learn about the country they are living in now. Thanks for the info and the pics!

  5. Brian says:

    Karissa – and how about weighing the turkey after thawing, before cooking and after? Why did the weight change? You are right, we just scratched the surface!

    Pamela – Just pictures and video clips of live turkeys – and sounds of them gobbling could be great ways to get them to express their understanding. I’ve seen kindergartners explain how different foods are cooked – temperature, ingredients, and so on. Some are poignant and others hilarious!

  6. Hello! My name is Kindra Blackwell and I attend the University of South Alabama. My major is elementary education. I was assigned to read your blog as a part of my EDM310 class with Dr. Strange.I love this idea! It is so creative and I am glad the students got to bring food as well. It was great that you also had them write about it. Its awesome that you provided them with this experience. I hope when I become a teacher, I can do something fun and creative like this.

  7. Leslie Roberson says:

    Hello my name is Leslie and I attend South Alabama in Mobile, AL and am part of Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class. I thought the activity was a great idea. It shows that not everyone celebrates the holiday like we do and give us insight on how other cultures celebrate. The hands on is what the children would really like because instead of just talking about it was demonstrated and children understand things like that easy when they see it and just not read about it.

  8. Professor Pete Post says:

    Great to see the comments coming out of South Alabama and this week I will add voices from Palos Heights, Illinois as I would like my students from Trinity Christian College to add their comments and ideas to your blog. The power of pictures and hands-on activities is immense (but also requires preparation and clean up that require dedication on the part of teacher and student alike). Keep getting messy!
    Prof Pete Post

  9. Kevin Barron says:

    What a clever idea! While it seems like some schools [especially the one I'm observing] would never allow teachers to bring in food for their students no matter how much notice was given, you prepared a pretty hands on and tasty way to teach students. So much of education isn’t just seeing something on a board and copying it down, it should be an experience- and that is exactly what you offered your students here. I’m excited to browse through the rest of the site here and see what other great classroom ideas you’ve come up with.

  10. Hannah Sprague says:

    I really enjoyed really this article. This is such a neat lesson and hands-on experience for students. I enjoyed reading how excited and involved your students got in the lesson. What a thrill to see how enthusiastic they were about learning the history of Thanksgiving.
    This article also shows the vast array of diversity in schools today. Everyone brings a piece of their culture to the classroom and it allows for a great learning opportunity for other students who come from different backgrounds and traditions.
    I liked that this was a hands-on experience and allowed for the kids to get a taste of what Thanksgiving is like. This experience is far more exciting for students than traditionally reading about it in a textbook and being lectured on it. Many students were able to partake in what a true Thanksgiving meal is like. I love the fact that you had everyone pitch in and bring something to the table, what nice collaboration and teamwork.

    Great idea and neat learning experience for your students!
    Thank you for sharing,
    Hannah Sprague
    Sophomore at Trinity Christian College

  11. Hannah Schaap says:

    This is great!! Not only is it getting the students involved and using all their senses to learn, it is showing how different cultures can come together. Learning from other students is a great way to see how other cultures can get along. It is really cool to see a diverse classroom where something like a Thanksgiving can take place. I would definitley that learning is messy, it seems like kids learn better when things are hands on and what better way to show this than having a thanksgiving meal!

  12. Hannah Sprague says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article. This is such a neat lesson and hands-on experience for students. I enjoyed reading how excited and involved your students got in the lesson. What a thrill to see how enthusiastic they were about learning the history of Thanksgiving.
    This article also shows the vast array of diversity in schools today. Everyone brings a piece of their culture to the classroom and it allows for a great learning opportunity for other students who come from different backgrounds and traditions.
    I liked that this was a hands-on experience and allowed for the kids to get a taste of what Thanksgiving is like. This experience is far more exciting for students than traditionally reading about it in a textbook and being lectured on it. Many students were able to partake in what a true Thanksgiving meal is like. I love the fact that you had everyone pitch in and bring something to the table, what nice collaboration and teamwork.

    Great idea and neat learning experience for your students!
    Thank you for sharing,
    Hannah Sprague
    Sophomore at Trinity Christian College

  13. Anita Anderson says:

    I thought this was an awesome idea and one that students in your classroom will remember for a lifetime! I remember when I was in grade school, my teacher did a similar project celebrating Cinco de Mayo. The more students learned about different culture the more they respected them. It is important to learn about different cultures and traditions because that is how the world is. I also really enjoyed how you included photos in this blog. Not only does it make you want to read more, but it shows the how much hard work you put into this project. Eating an actual Thanksgiving dinner is so much better when your class gets to make one, rather than reading about one in a book. It makes learning more fun!
    – Anita Anderson,
    Student at Trinity Christian College

  14. Meghan says:

    This was a great lesson and I will remember it. I loved looking at the pictures; it shows how much fun everyone had. I enjoyed hearing that some of the food was different because everyone comes from different backgrounds and never tried some of this food before. Thanksgiving is a great holiday and I am glad everyone got to try it. Learning about history and moving on to a fun hands on activity is all what learning is about! I want to make sure that when I am a teacher I will always try to have fun lessons, giving the kids to get excited and of course learn! This lesson seemed like a lot of work, but seeing all the teamwork that was put into it was well worth it. Everyone did an excellent job, good work! -Meghan

  15. Kristin Ipema says:

    This sounds like a great lesson to teach your students! I was kinda of surprised when I was reading it that you said there were so many students in your classroom that never celebrated Thanksgiving before or that did not eat turkey on Thanksgiveing. I guess it just seems like such a big deal in America that I never really thought about other cultures not celebrating it. I think it is really neat that you brought the kids back to the very first Thanksgiving and they learned exactly what they ate and how this holiday came to be because I think that it is important to realize this was a significant day in history and it is a tradition that has changed slightly over the years.
    I also really like the way that this is a way that students can learn through interaction. What better way to learn about the first Thanksgiving dinner than actually doing the hard work and preparing and then getting to enjoy the food and fellowship of you classmates.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Kristin Ipema
    Sophomore at Trinity Christian College

  16. Stefanie Geer says:

    This seems like such a fun project! I’m sure your students were really excited; I know I would’ve been. It’s always nice to remember that teaching is supposed to be fun for everyone. I wonder how many other projects like this you could incorporate into a classroom. If we would’ve done more hands on projects like this when we were younger I would’ve been so much more excited to learn. Getting the students in hands-on experiences makes the world of a difference. I really like all of the pictures too and how you actually showed the progress of the feast. I’m curious if you gave the students some of the pictures for them to keep?
    It’s awesome how you were able to include so many diverse cultures involved in Thanksgiving. I’m sure it was fun for them to learn about a cultural difference that they may have never heard before. Thank you so much for sharing this! It makes me wonder what kind of projects I can do like this in my classroom in the future. =)

    Stefanie Geer
    Trinity Christian College

  17. Jackie says:

    I think this Thanksgiving lesson was a great idea! It’s good for the students to get a chance to “get messy” with a hands-on lesson instead of simply reading about it in a textbook. I also like that you included writing activities. Not only were the students able to try things they weren’t familiar with, they were also able to practice writing by putting their thoughts about the food on paper. It would be interesting to see what each student took away from the lesson.
    Thanks for sharing this great lesson! I look forward to using hands-on lessons like this in my future classroom.

  18. Kristin Ipema says:

    This sounds like a great lesson to teach your students! I was kinda of surprised when I was reading it that you said there were so many students in your classroom that never celebrated Thanksgiving before or that did not eat turkey on Thanksgiveing. I guess it just seems like such a big deal in America that I never really thought about other cultures not celebrating it. I think it is really neat that you brought the kids back to the very first Thanksgiving and they learned exactly what they ate and how this holiday came to be because I think that it is important to realize this was a significant day in history and it is a tradition that has changed slightly over the years.
    I also really like the way that this is a way that students can learn through interaction. What better way to learn about the first Thanksgiving dinner than actually doing the hard work and preparing and then getting to enjoy the food and fellowship of you classmates.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Kristin Ipema
    Sophomore at Trinity Christian College

  19. Matt Nagelkirk says:

    Beautiful! What a great way to educate your students about Thanksgiving using a technique that offers something other than lectures and movies. A hands on idea for this particular lesson was great. You really engage your students when you have them doing hands on type things and if they can taste and smell it, that’s even better!
    Other teachers should take note of this, even if they don’t want to get messy!

  20. Frank Kovach says:

    This is a great blog post! I feel something like this should happen in every school that is learning about Thanksgiving. Putting students in an environment like the real Thanksgiving will give them a full concept and learning environment that will help them learn even more than if they were given a simple lesson or two about it. It let them engage in a somewhat real experience like there was back then. Next time though I suggest you make costume wear a necessity for that day only. Create the real experience for them.
    Students in every grade learn most from experience; this is why I want to become a Physical Education teacher. If you put the students in a learning environment that they will be engaged in they will learn so much better. A lesson like the one you displayed will also follow these students through the rest of their lives because they will never forget something like that. That’s what makes learning so essential; a student will not learn something if it does not spark something knew in their minds. Students love to be hands on, getting the real feel for things rather than sitting in a desk and reading a book or doing a worksheet. Activities need to be more creative and more interacting for the students, because then it is something that will actually teach them.
    This is such a great blog post. If I get a job as an elementary school or middle school PE teacher I may have them dress up like they did back then and do some outside activities that involve Thanksgiving learning also!

    Thanks for this great activity,
    Frank Kovach
    Junior at Trinity Christian College, PE major

  21. Austin Warner says:

    I also believe this is a great and a creative lesson that you incorporated in your classroom. These hands-on learning experiences are the experiences that students will always remember and it definitely beats reading out of a history textbook. I also think it was a great that you got the whole class involved by having them research on what the first Thanksgiving was like. It really seems like both you and your class benefitted from this lesson and this was a great example and reminder to educators on how important and fun hands-on learning can be!

  22. Courtney Rozeveld says:

    Mr Crosby –

    Thank you so much for this great way to get your students doing hands on activities. This is a great way to show the students what the real first thanksgiving looked like. Doing hands on activities is a great way to get students excited about school. This was also a good activity because you made it a full day event so your students are probably going to remember what happened on the first thanksgiving even more because they immersed themselves in the celebration all day long.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Courtney Rozeveld
    Sophomore at Trinity Christian College

  23. Haya Ismail says:

    I really enjoyed this article. This sounds like a great lesson to teach your students! I was not surprised when I was reading it that you said there were so many students in your classroom that never celebrated Thanksgiving before or that did not eat turkey on Thanksgiving because I never celebrated Thanksgiving until I came to the United State. I think it is really neat that you brought the kids together and prepare a Thanksgiving together. Another Thing I liked how you told them about the history of Thanksgiving and how you went back to the very first Thanksgiving. This is such a neat lesson and hands-on experience for students. I really like the collaboration and the teamwork from the students for bring something to the Thanksgiving. It allows students a great learning opportunity for other students who come from different backgrounds and traditions.
    Thank you for sharing, ?
    Haya Ismail
    Trinity Christian College

  24. Willie Gesch says:

    When I was in grade school, some of my best experiences were when the teacher did something unusual, most likely involving something with food! This idea is fantastic. I love how hands-on it is, and how it shows the children something they have never experienced before in a way that they can all enjoy. Even if children are tentative at first, it is easy to see the enjoyment they got from this experience and how much fun they had (especially since it was food!). Learning doesn’t have to be sitting down at a desk taking notes; it can be done sitting at a desk eating food!
    Willie Gesch
    Junior, Trinity Christian College

  25. Willie Gesch says:

    When I was in grade school, the most fun I ever had was when the teacher brought in food! Most often, the teacher wold bring in foods that my class had never seen before, and they taught us a lot about different cultures and traditions in the world than the ones we had grown up with. This is a great way to introduce students to new ideas and traditions, or even to teach them about the history of their own traditions. Learning does not have to be at a desk taking notes; learning can be at a desk eating food!
    Willie Gesch
    Junior, Trinity Christian College

  26. Kelly Brandon says:

    This was such a wonderful idea! I think hands on learning and getting messy is the best way to have students learn. It’s not only memorable for the students but it’s interactive and fun!

    I had a similar experience in the classroom I am teacher aiding in. Many of the students are Arabic so they had never celebrated Halloween before. Not only was dressing up very exciting for them, but the teacher had great hands on activites planned. Only one or two students had ever really seen or carved a pumpkin before. So the tacher brought in a huge pumpkin for the class to carve. After we cut open the top the students got to come up one by one to reach in and take out the “pumpkin guts.” The studens absolutely loved it!

    It would be amazing to try this Thanksgiving feast with the students in my class. Espescially since there is so much history to share about Thanksgiving. I really like how you made the meal so authentic. It sounds like a lot of cultural boundaries were broken down and shared that day!

  27. Kelly Brandon says:

    This is such a wonderful idea! I think hands-on or messy learning is the best way to teach kids. Not only does it make the lesson memorable for the students but it also makes it fun.

    I had a similar experience in the classroom I am teacher aiding in. In my class the students are mostly Arabic, so they had never celebrated Halloween before. They were not only excited that they got to dress up, but there were also lots of fun activities planned. Only a couple students had ever really seen or carved a pumpkin before. So the teacher brought in a huge pumpkin for the class to carve. After we cut open the top, all the students go to come up one at a time to help scoop out the “pumpkin guts.” They absolutely loved it!

    I think it would be amazing to do a this Thanksgiving feast with my students. Especially since there is so much history to share with them about Thanksgiving. I really like how you made the feast so authentic. It just makes the experience so much more exciting and memorable for the students. It sounds like a lot of culture was shared that day!

  28. Kelly Brandon says:

    This is such a wonderful idea! I think hands-on or messy learning is the best way to teach kids. Not only does it make the lesson memorable for the students but it also makes it fun.

    I had a similar experience in the classroom I am teacher aiding in. In my class the students are mostly Arabic, so they had never celebrated Halloween before. They were not only excited that they got to dress up, but there were also lots of fun activities planned. Only a couple students had ever really seen or carved a pumpkin before. So the teacher brought in a huge pumpkin for the class to carve. After we cut open the top, all the students go to come up one at a time to help scoop out the “pumpkin guts.” They absolutely loved it!

    I think it would be amazing to do a this Thanksgiving feast with my students. Especially since there is so much history to share with them about Thanksgiving. I really like how you made the feast so authentic. It just makes the experience so much more exciting and memorable for the students!

  29. Kelly B says:

    This is such a wonderful idea! I think hands-on or messy learning is the best way to teach kids. Not only does it make the lesson memorable for the students but it also makes it fun.

    I had a similar experience in the classroom I am teacher aiding in. In my class the students are mostly Arabic, so they had never celebrated Halloween before. They were not only excited that they got to dress up, but there were also lots of fun activities planned. Only a couple students had ever really seen or carved a pumpkin before. So the teacher brought in a huge pumpkin for the class to carve. After we cut open the top, all the students go to come up one at a time to help scoop out the “pumpkin guts.” They absolutely loved it!

    I think it would be amazing to do a this Thanksgiving feast with my students. Especially since there is so much history to share with them about Thanksgiving. I really like how you made the feast so authentic. It just makes the experience so much more exciting and memorable for the students!

  30. Kelly B says:

    This is such a wonderful idea! I think hands-on or messy learning is the best way to teach kids. Not only does it make the lesson memorable for the students but it also makes it fun.
    I had a similar experience in the classroom I am teacher aiding in. In my class the students are mostly Arabic, so they had never celebrated Halloween before. They were not only excited that they got to dress up, but there were also lots of fun activities planned. Only a couple students had ever really seen or carved a pumpkin before. So the teacher brought in a huge pumpkin for the class to carve. After we cut open the top, all the students go to come up one at a time to help scoop out the “pumpkin guts.” They absolutely loved it!
    I think it would be amazing to do a this Thanksgiving feast with my students. Especially since there is so much history to share with them about Thanksgiving. I really like how you made the feast so authentic. It just makes the experience so much more exciting and memorable for the students!

  31. Pingback: Change of Address: 40 Blogs All About Thanksgiving

  32. Courtney Rozeveld says:

    This is a very interesting approach to teaching a class about Thanksgiving. It is a wonderful way to get your kids hands-on experience with the material. I think its wonderful that you thought of this special lesson that makes the material fun. I think that everybody should celebrate Thanksgiving so I’m so glad that you were able to show the kids who had not yet celebrated Thanksgiving how it should be celebrated. Learning truly is the most fun when there isn’t a pencil in the student’s hands, whether it be watching chemical reactions in the lab or preparing stuffing for the thanksgiving dinner, it is always more fun. Thank you for sharing!

    Courtney Rozeveld
    Sophomore at Trinity Christian College

  33. Cole says:

    Hello, I am a student at the University of South Alabama. I read and commented on your most recent post about 2 weeks ago. I wish I had seen this one first. I think it is a great idea to have an actual meal of what may have been eaten at the first Thanksgiving. The pictures are great and it seems like the kids have a good time when you do this lesson. I hope you had a similar experience this Thanksgiving. Good luck the rest of the year, this is the last comment assigned for the EDM class I am in, but I hope to continue to read your great posts.

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