Activities & Lessons
This Thanksgiving, we are thankful for you—the teachers who impact students' lives and shape the future of education in the classroom each and every day.
At this time of year, you may be brainstorming Thanksgiving ideas for school related to the theme of gratitude and having students thank those who play meaningful roles in their lives. With that goal in mind, here are Thanksgiving classroom activities for you to consider. These activities are geared mostly toward early learners and elementary school students, but many can be adapted to meet the needs of older learners.
Fun Thanksgiving Ideas for School
1. Classroom Crafts
There's a lot you can do when it comes to Thanksgiving classroom crafts. One idea is to give students various pieces of construction paper, and have them trace their hand on a brown paper. Or they can trace their hand on white paper and color it in with brown. Then, they can cut out feathers of other colors and glue them to the turkey's body—the fingers of the hand. Students can color in their turkeys and decorate the background as they wish. If you want them to get even more creative, ask the students to list one thing they are thankful for on each of the feathers.
Photo: Courtesy of Amanda Villani, Director of Post-Secondary Counseling and High School Precalculus Teacher at Memphis Rise Academy, Tennessee
2. What Are You Thankful For? Activity or Writing Assignment
There are tons of ways you can approach this assignment, and this will depend largely on your class's grade level. An assignment of this nature can take the form of anything from each student writing a short paper explaining what they are thankful for and why, to a whole-class effort where the teacher writes down what each student is grateful for on a larger piece of paper or posterboard (see a good example below). The teacher and/or students can decorate the poster and hang it up for the world to see. This assignment can also turn into a classroom discussion, where students share their lists with their classmates.
Want to take your creativity one step further? Check out what this teacher did below to decorate her classroom while engaging students in a fun Thanksgiving activity. Each plate includes a student's hand and states what he or she is thankful for this year.
3. Then and Now: Looking Back at the First Thanksgiving
Have your students look back at the very first Thanksgiving feast: What were some of the Thanksgiving traditions that started at that time? What types of traditions came into existence in the future? And most importantly, how did Thanksgiving then compare with Thanksgiving now?
Students can conduct research online about the first Thanksgiving, when the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag people held an autumn harvest celebration in the Plymouth colony. Then, have students consider what the modern-day Thanksgiving experience entails—either based on their own experiences or on research—and have them write a paper or work on a short presentation to address this prompt.
4. Pumpkin Pie in a Bag
You can make a delicious pumpkin pie recipe right from your classroom (and without an oven!). All you need are the right ingredients. There are a lot of different recipes and instructions you can find online (including here and here), and this exercise can be a good way to have your students read (and follow) directions and practice math!
When Kelcee Calloura—a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at the Glasscock County Independent School District in Texas—taught science and math, she had her students do the following: "We used predictions at first to try to see what ingredients we thought would be in pumpkin pie, then we corrected our list when I showed them what we actually use. We made observations about what was happening to ingredients in the bag as we added each one. They followed the recipe and wrote about what happened at the end of the experiment."
5. Have a Thanksgiving Feast!
You can have a pre-Thanksgiving meal in your classroom in the weeks leading up to the holiday. This can take many different forms, but one approach is to assign students to bring in different foods (e.g., sliced turkey, stuffing, and so on). There could be an educational element to your feast as well, where you ask your students to write a short paper explaining the significance of what they brought in for extra credit. During the feast, you can have students say what they are thankful for; this can be either a minor or major component of the event, depending on the children's age. Finally, consider inviting students' parents or guardians to the classroom that day (which, as an educator, can be a great way to build those teacher-parent relationships!).
6. Thanksgiving Lesson Plan
Download the following Thanksgiving social studies and ELA lesson plan and have early elementary school students analyze the book This First Thanksgiving Day: A Counting Story by Laura Krauss Melmed. This book explores the Pilgrims and Wampanoag people who celebrated the harvest together with a feast. The text lends itself to many activities in social studies (history, holidays, culture, geography), language arts, and art.
7. Read Thanksgiving Books
There are a number of HMH books you can read to your students—or have them read themselves—that focus on the Thanksgiving holiday or the broader theme of expressing gratitude. Here are some examples for younger students:
- A Turkey for Thanksgiving, by Eve Bunting (Pre-K–3)
- The First Thanksgiving Feast, by Joan Anderson (Grades 5–7)
- The Thank You Book, by Mary Lyn Ray (Pre-K–3)
- Happy Thanksgiving, Curious George, by H. A. Rey (Pre-K–K)
- How Many Days to America? A Thanksgiving Story, by Eve Bunting (Pre-K–3)
- Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade, by Melissa Sweet (Ages 4–7)
8. Thanksgiving Puzzles
Download this HMH Thanksgiving crossword puzzle, which is ideal for elementary or middle school students—just note that it may require them to read up on their history to find the answers! You can also create your own puzzle using tools like Discovery Education's Puzzlemaker or WordMint to tailor an activity to meet your curriculum needs.
9. "Catch the Turkey" Game
Katie Risolo, a first-grade teacher at Diocese of Rockville Centre in Long Island, New York, says to provide your students with a silly scenario along the lines of the following for this Thanksgiving classroom game: "Your grandma burnt the Thanksgiving turkey! Now you have to go out and catch a turkey to save the day. You must design and create a trap to catch one." She brings a stuffed animal turkey to class and divides her students into groups with the following materials:
- 12 inches of masking tape
- 5 pipe cleaners
- 1 yard of string
It's up to you how exactly you want to format this activity, but regardless, this is a fun way to get your students thinking outside the box, collaborating with each other (social-emotional learning!), and using their creativity. You can even have your students present their trap to the rest of the class.
What Are Your Favorite Thanksgiving Classroom Games and Activities?
If you have additional examples of Thanksgiving school activities, let us know on social media! Tweet us at @LeadAndLearn, and your ideas may be featured on Shaped.
We hope you and your students have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. Remember that it's important to teach students (of any age) about the overarching theme of gratitude that is central to this day. While this can take many different forms, the broader theme of thankfulness matters in and outside of the classroom.
Teachers Amanda Villani, Katie Risolo, Kelcee Calloura, and Jade Mackney provided information for this blog post.
Want more Thanksgiving activity ideas for the classroom? Check out 7 Fun Thanksgiving Activities for Elementary Students.
Find more classroom resources and activities on Shaped.
The Thanksgiving lesson plan above originated from HMH Classroom Libraries. Click here to request a science or social studies libraries teaching sampler with free guided reading plans and activities.