Beyond the hand turkey: An elementary Thanksgiving activity

November 2, 2017

"The First Thanksgiving 1621" by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris depicts the Pilgrims and Native Americans sharing a meal. (Library of Congress)

Critical thinking and reading are important literacy skills to build in early readers. Spark imagination and foster cultural empathy this Thanksgiving with a compare and contrast exercise designed for Pre-K–5 social studies classrooms.

Elementary Activity: Thanksgiving Past And Present

Overview: By analyzing informational text and images—and their own background knowledge—students will learn to compare and contrast the meanings and traditions from the first Thanksgiving to their own experiences with the holiday today.

Suggested Resources:

Strategy: Compare and Contrast

Activity: Together, read the articles and review the images found in the linked LaunchPack above. Have students take their own notes while the class identifies the key details of the first Thanksgiving.

Next, open up a conversation about your students' own family traditions during the holiday. Ask the class to pinpoint what is a fact about that first celebration, what is shared between then and their own modern celebrations, and what is a brand new tradition unique to today. Students will use this conversation to fill out the "Compare and Contrast" graphic organizer sheet.

Suggested Questions:

  • Why did the first Thanksgiving happen?
  • Who was involved?
  • Where did it take place?
  • What food was served?
  • What images in the LaunchPack were not part of the first Thanksgiving?
  • What does your family eat at Thanksgiving dinner?
  • Why do you celebrate this holiday today?
  • What traditions do you have that are similar to those of the first Thanksgiving?
  • What do you think the celebration will look like in another 200 years or more?

Possible Extension: Ask students to imagine their family Thanksgiving without any of the new traditions and meanings. What would that celebration look like? What would they miss? What would make it valuable? Have them write a description of—or even draw—that version of the holiday.