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Back to Thanksgiving Lesson Plan

Thanksgiving Then
And Now


  • Arts & Humanities
    --Language Arts
  • Educational Technology
  • Social Studies


  • K-2
  • 3-5
  • 6-8
  • 9-12

Brief Description

Create a Venn diagram to compare the Pilgrims' "First Thanksgiving" with today's Thanksgiving celebration.


Students will

  • learn to use one type of graphic organizer, a Venn diagram.
  • talk and read about the Thanksgiving celebration of 1621 at Plymouth.
  • use the Venn diagram to compare the Pilgrims' "First Thanksgiving" to our modern Thanksgiving Day.
  • use an online tool to create a Venn diagram. (Optional)
  • use the information in their diagrams as they organize and compose a brief essay about the similarities and differences between Thanksgiving celebrations then and now.


Thanksgiving, Pilgrim, Wampanoag, 1621, feast, Venn, diagram, graphic organizer, November

Materials Needed

  • Venn diagram work sheet (three samples provided)
  • library and/or Internet resources about the Pilgrims' "First Thanksgiving" (Internet resources provided)
  • computer access (optional)

Lesson Plan

In this lesson students compare the Pilgrims' "First Thanksgiving" in 1621 to a modern-day Thanksgiving celebration. They use a Venn diagram to help them organize their thoughts and research.

  • Younger students might focus on the foods that were part of the feast the Pilgrims and Wampanoags shared.
  • Older students will use higher-level thinking skills to dig deeper into the events and significance of the day.

Students might complete this activity on their own or in small groups.

Provide each student with a copy of the editable Venn diagram work sheet. Students can save the diagram to a disk or computer hard drive, edit it using a word processing program, and print out the results.

See alternative printable, but uneditable, Venn diagram sources: Venn diagram work sheet 2 or Venn diagram work sheet 3.

After students have created their Venn diagrams, they might use an online tool, the Venn Diagram Generator (scroll down the page), to produce a clean version of their work.

Note: If your students are unfamiliar with the Venn diagram as a graphic organizer, or if they might benefit from a quick refresher course before using it, draw a sample diagram on the board. Write the word "Dog" under Circle A. Write the word "Cat" under Circle B. Then ask students to help you brainstorm a list of characteristics of dogs and/or cats. Discuss which of those characteristics are specific to each animal and which are characteristics the two animals share. Write the characteristics specific to dogs in Circle A. Write the characteristics specific to cats in Circle B. Write those characteristics that both animals share (e.g, they make good pets, they have fur) in the area where the two circles intersect.

You might start the lesson by drawing a large Venn diagram on a board or chart. Give students a couple minutes to share things that they associate with the Thanksgiving we celebrate today. Write a few of those key words in the second circle on the Venn diagram (labeled "Thanksgiving Today"). Then ask students what they know about the Pilgrims first Thanksgiving at Plimouth Plantation; write a few key words or phrases about the Thanksgiving celebration of 1621 in the first circle on the diagram (labeled "The Pilgrims First Thanksgiving").

Next, look with students at the phrases in both circles that might tell things that the Thanksgiving celebrations of 1621 and today have in common. Erase or cross out those things from their respective circles and write them in the area of the diagram where the two circles intersect.

Then students set off -- on their own or in pairs or small groups -- to research additional similarities and differences between Thanksgiving then and now. Students might use library or textbook resources to complete the activity. If they have computer access, they will be able to gather lots of information from the Thanksgiving of 1621 Resources listed below. Have them write the facts they learn in the appropriate area on the Venn diagram.

Note: It is important to draw students attention to the fact that the Thanksgiving feast of 1621 is often referred to as the "First Thanksgiving." Make clear that, while this was the Pilgrims' first Thanksgiving in a new land, native peoples had held Thanksgiving feasts for many years before the settlers arrived. Feasts of thanksgiving had been celebrated in many other cultures for centuries.

When students have completed their research, invite them to share what they learned. Then challenge them to write a brief essay to describe some similarities and differences between Thanksgiving in 1621 and Thanksgiving today.

Thanksgiving of 1621 Resources

The True Thanksgiving Story (Grades 4-up)
The History of Thanksgiving
(Grades 4-up)
The First Thanksgiving
(Grades 3-up)
The Pilgrims 1621 Thanksgiving
(Grades 4-up)
The "First Thanksgiving": Facts and Fancies
(Grades 4-up)
Thanksgiving Traditions in the United States: The Pilgrims First Harvest Feast
(Grades 4-up)

Thanksgiving 1621 Menu

The feast in 1621 included some of the following foods that might be unique to that feast; the foods might appear in the "The Pilgrims' First Thanksgiving" circle on students Venn diagrams.

deer, goose, lobster, clams and mussels, sea bass, cod, eel, swan, salt pork, honey

The feast in 1621 included some of the following items that might appear in the area where the two circles intersect:

turkey, squash, corn, carrots, turnips, onions, beets, fruit, nuts, cranberry, pudding

Students might write in the second circle ("Thanksgiving Today") a variety of things that are unique to their families' Thanksgiving celebrations. Those things might include pasta, rice and other foods that would not have been part of the Pilgrims' "First Thanksgiving."


When students have completed the activity, they might use an online tool, the Venn Diagram Generator, to produce a clean version of their research. Then students will use their Venn diagrams to write a brief essay that describes ways in which the Thanksgiving feast held in 1621 is similar to and different from today's Thanksgiving celebration.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

Submitted By

Gary Hopkins

National Standards

NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
NL-ENG.K-12.5 Communication Strategies
NL-ENG.K-12.8 Developing Research Skills
NL-ENG.K-12.9 Multicultural Understanding
NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

NSS-USH.K-4.1 Living and Working together in Families and Communities, Now and Long Ago
NSS-USH.K-4.3 The History of the United States: Democratic Principles and Values and the People from
GRADES 5 - 12
NSS-USH.5-12.2 Era 2: Colonization and Settlement (1585-1763)

NT.K-12.1 Basic Operations and Concepts
NT.K-12.4 Technology Communications tools
NT.K-12.5 Technology Research tools

See more lessons from the Education World archive in our special Thanksgiving holiday page.

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Last updated 11/02/2011