It’s always tough to get students to focus during Thanksgiving week — they’ve already got their minds on the holiday. So why not indulge them (within reason)? Since they’re already thinking about Thanksgiving dinner, give them a lesson that touches on the topic in a way that helps them picture the very first Thanksgiving more accurately.
Don’t worry — we’ve taken the work out of the holiday lesson planning for you. We’ve created a video for you to download and show in class and additional materials you can print and share with students to help them understand the changes the holiday has undergone and why. Take a look:
Grade and subject recommendations
This assignment would work best for middle and high school social studies classes.
For more advanced classes, have students analyze the two primary source documents related to the Thanksgiving feast, which you can find at the Pilgrim Hall Museum website, both in original and modern English versions.
Do Now/Anticipatory Set:
Have students respond to question “What will you have for Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday?”
Ask students to write responses to Anticipatory Set on the board. Briefly discuss what constitutes a “typical” Thanksgiving dinner, but give students opportunities to describe dishes that are unique to their families (or let students who do not celebrate share that fact).
Review the reasons we celebrate Thanksgiving. You can share your own interpretation, or print out our quick review of how Thanksgiving became a national holiday. Mention that because of first-hand accounts, we know much of what the colonists and native Wampanoag tribe would have eaten during the first Thanksgiving.
Show students the video below and ask them for their reactions. You can also download the video, if you’d prefer. Just right click or CTRL click on the video when it pops up to find the option to save it.
Marketing Video Style: Blank Slate
Song: “Oh No!” (Instrumental) by Mindy Gledhill
Download our First Thanksgiving Video
Write a short essay describing how our Thanksgiving menu might change in the future. What different foods might make it onto the Thanksgiving menu in 50 years that aren’t common now? Explain your reasoning.
After the assignment
Let students share their ideas for a Thanksgiving dinner of the future with the class. Then collect students’ essays for assessment.
If you’d like to broaden the scope of the assignment, these sites offer interesting resources or articles you can also use in class:
- The Plymouth Hall Museum shares the only two primary sources for the first Thanksgiving.
- The Smithsonian covers what was on the menu at the first Thanksgiving.
- The Plimouth Plantation website traces the evolution of Thanksgiving from 1621 to the present.
- The History of Massachusetts blog has even more details about what happened at the first Thanksgiving.
- The New York Times examines why eel was so important to the colonists.