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Thanksgiving Activities to Try with Your Students

Thanksgiving presents the perfect opportunity to teach students the importance of being grateful and giving thanks. Talking about values such as gratitude, friendship, and charity require students to think about every aspect of their lives and why they should be thankful. Take some time this Thanksgiving holiday to provide students with a few activities that will help them have a better understanding of why it’s important to be grateful and how this can greatly impact their lives. Here are a few ideas.

Discovering Gratitude

Remind students that the Native Americans gave thanks for many things every single day and this was a traditional ritual for North American tribes. Tell students that today they will be thinking about what they are grateful for. Instruct students that according to psychologists, thinking about what you are grateful for can boost your over-all sense of well-being and can also enhance your happiness right at that very moment you are expressing gratitude.

Help students discover what they are thankful for by challenging them to get specific. It’s quite common for children to disregard the significance of the mundane things in their lives like having food on the table or shelter over their heads. Instruct students to think beyond the “typical” answers by assigning students to think of one specific thing they are grateful for, for each letter of the alphabet. This activity will force students to think beyond generic answers and help them recognize all there is to be thankful for.

The Value of Friendship

The pilgrims and Native Americans signed a treaty of friendship and shared a meal which was called “Thanksgiving”. The treaty of friendship was a gesture of goodwill and one that we can use as a lesson to remind students about the value of kindness and friendship.

Friendships are built upon specific relationship and social skills, such as listening, speaking, taking turns, sharing, and kindness. This Thanksgiving holiday, help build your classroom community and see new friendships grow by having students partake in a community building activity. Here are a couple of ideas that can be completed in person or during remote learning.

  • Guess Who – Have students provide a baby photo of themselves and write one thing that has happened to them that is funny. Randomly post photos and statements and have students guess which baby photo and funniest statement match.
  • Friendship Inc. – Students are randomly divided into small groups and assigned the task of inventing a new product. They must also develop a sales and marketing pitch they will present to their classmates who can invest fake money into their product. The team who has the most money invested wins.

Giving Back

According to the site Happify, science says that when you give to another person there is a physiological response. A hormone called oxytocin is released in the body, which lowers your stress and makes you feel more connected to the other person. The exceptional thing about this fact is that this feeling can be felt for up to two hours. This holiday season ask students how they would like to help out in their community. Take a poll and then have students vote on the top two project ideas. Whichever idea wins is the community service project students will partake in this holiday season.

Global Celebrations

America isn’t the only country that celebrates gratitude. There are different variations of the Thanksgiving tradition celebrated in different parts of the world. For this Thanksgiving activity, divide students into small groups and assign each group a different country that celebrates a variation of Thanksgiving. Each group’s task is researching their specific country and presenting their findings to the class. The History Channel is a exceptional resource to use for this activity.

Global Gratitude

Manners differ from culture to culture, but one thing that we’ve learned from the past, especially from the Thanksgiving feast, is that manners matter. The simplest way to show appreciation is to say, “thank you.” Teach students to appreciate and give thanks by learning to say thank you in different languages. Students can follow along with the video “How to say Thank you in fifty Different Languages” or download this article on “How to say Thank You in 100 Languages”. Then have students choose their top ten favorite languages to say thank you in and memorize them.

Thanksgiving Menu

It is believed that the pilgrims and Native Americans celebrated the very first Thanksgiving feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621. The harvest took place outdoors where hundreds of people gathered together to feast. The menu consisted of deer meat, roasted turkey, duck, geese, fish, lobsters, pumpkin, squash, beans, dried fruits, cranberry sauce, and corn.

Today we enjoy a delicious meal on Thanksgiving Day to commemorate this occasion. For this activity students will compare the Thanksgiving menu of the past and present with a Venn diagram. Then, have students write a brief essay comparing the two and what foods they are grateful to have on Thanksgiving Day.

A Pilgrims Story

Challenge students to find out who was the first pilgrim to arrive in America from their family. This will take a little detective work, but with the internet and the help of their family, they should be able to track some information down.

Have students write about their family members journey to their country and why they decided to settle in America. Ask students to provide a photograph if they can, and if they cannot find one, have them draw a picture of what they think their family pilgrim looked like at the time of their voyage to America.

Understanding Diverse Views

Even though in 1621 Thanksgiving was said to be a peaceful celebration, today many Native Americas think of death and loss of their homeland when they think of Thanksgiving. Take some time to teach students about nonconformist views. Talk about what we can learn from diverse groups from the past and the present. Then have students write about how we can celebrate what we have in common while still honoring our differences.

This Thanksgiving season try and go beyond teaching about pilgrim hats and hand turkeys. While it may be fun for students to create these fun crafts, it’s equally important to have students partake in learning important values from the Native Americans and pilgrims like gratitude and friendship.

Want even more Thanksgiving resources for your students? Check out our writing prompts for grades 3-5 and high school.


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