Lesson Plan



• Students will recognize that our modern day Thanksgiving celebration has developed throughout history.

• Students will be able to identify and share the origin of at least one family or other Thanksgiving tradition.

• Students will identify several symbols of Thanksgiving and demonstrate an understanding of their meaning.

• Students will demonstrate understanding of the concept that is the heart of Thanksgiving by illustrating what they are grateful for.


Time Allotment: Approximately 3 to 4 class periods

Resources Needed:

Summary of Thanksgiving symbols (see Barth, References)



A. Mini-lesson.

Explain to the students that there are many factors and historical events which have shaped our Thanksgiving celebration. Ask students to think of some examples. Although students have probably learned the story of the "First Thanksgiving," it may be a good idea to clear up some of the misconceptions that are traditionally taught (note: much literature can be found which is sensitive to the actual facts of the meeting between the pilgrims and Indians and is not stereo-typical.). Discuss with the students some of the symbols we see at Thanksgiving. Talk about students' ideas of their origin and meaning.

B. Jigsaw.

Divide students into groups of five. Have the students number off (1-5) and get into expert groups. Give each group a summary of one Thanksgiving symbol to study and become experts about (see Barth, References). Students can read the summary individually or aloud in their groups and then discuss their ideas. When they are familiar with the symbols, they should get back into their base groups and share the information they have become an expert about. Students may want to write down some notes, because after base groups have discussed, the teacher will roll the dice or spinner. The number showing will correspond to the person who will stand and give a summary of one of the symbols chosen by the teacher (individual accountability).


C. Hands-on (Centers).

Students will visit different centers throughout the classroom making items which have stemmed from Thanksgiving celebrations throughout our nation's history, and would have been found at Thanksgiving celebrations in earlier times. Divide the students into three groups. One center will be making the corn husk dolls, one group will make the popcorn balls, and the third group will make molasses taffy. Corn husk dolls were made by Indian girls and would have been seen at the earliest American celebrations. Popcorn, nuts, and berries, found in the popcorn balls have been traditions at many feasts, and molasses taffy is also a treat that would have been made at early celebrations. Parent or volunteer help is advised, as supervision will be needed at all centers.

Note: Optional activity centers may be used to incorporate other curricular areas (e.g., math, music, poems for language arts, etc.).


D. Guided Discussion:

Define the concept of tradition. Lead the students in a discussion, and ask them to think of as many Thanksgiving traditions as they can. List these on the board. Discuss traditions of past Thanksgiving celebrations and the origins of the traditions we see today.


E. Investigation:

Have the students engage in an investigation about family traditions related to Thabksgiving. Using the investigation sheet, students may interview parents, grandparents or other individuals to identify at least one family tradition and its origin. When students have completed assignment (next class period), allow them to share the results of their investigation with the rest of the class. Make a graph of the students results if there are several traditions which are similar (optional).


F. Mini-lesson.

Discuss Sarah Josepha Hale, her feelings about the celebration of Thanksgiving, and the role she played in its evolution, as well as the proclamations made by Abraham Lincoln (many other presidents have made proclamations, too!). Have the students then think about their own personal feelings about the Thanksgiving celebration. They may brainstorm in groups about the importance, or have a class discussion about the students feelings.


G. Writing.

After students have come up with some reasons why Thanksgiving is important, distribute paper to each student. Have them write a letter to the president, as Sarah Hale did, expressing why they think Thanksgiving is important. Be sure to not only include reasons why it is important to the students and their families, but also include reasons why it should be celebrated as a national holiday. You may also want to have the students include some of the things they have learned about the development of Thanksgiving. Have the students address the envelopes and send the letters. This activity allows the students to relate to Mrs. Hale's struggle, and also to be able to articulate their feelings about the importance of a time for Thanksgiving.


H. Open Discussion.

Discuss with the students the underlying reason for Thanksgiving (gratitude for the many things we have). Talk with the students about what things people have been grateful for through the years as they celebrate Thanksgiving. Have the students decide some things that they have to be grateful for. Make this a meaningful discussion by directing the students thinking toward things that many people do without everyday, etc.


I. Activity.

Review the cornucopia from the symbol summary page. Give each student several colors of construction paper. Have them design a cornucopia and cut it out, then cut out different types of food and write something that they are grateful for on each item (or the paper may be cut into the shape of the thing they are grateful for). Display the cornucopias in the room.


J. Carousel Brainstorming.

Post several pieces of butcher paper around the room. Divide the students into as many groups as there are pieces of paper. Write on each paper a question about the Thanksgiving unit (for example, "Why was the role played by Sarah Hale play in the development of Thanksgiving important?", "How do our traditions reflect those of the Pilgrims", "What are some traditions people have today?", etc.). One group begins at each question and writes down as may answers as they can for a short amount of time. Do not allow the students too much time at each area, as they may exhaust ideas of the other groups. The groups then switch until they have had a chance to answer all questions. As the students progress toward the last group, they may need more time to come up with original thoughts not already shared by other groups. Use a different colored marker for each group for assessment of the answers.



Individual accountability has been incorporated into the Jigsaw.

Investigation of family traditions will be assessed.

Letters to the president will be assessed.

Cornucopias will be assessed.

Assessment has been incorporated into the carousel brainstorming.


Background Information