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Turkey Time: Thanksgiving Lessons

"Gobble, gobble, gobble...." Increase your students' knowledge and skills when you use TURKEYS as a teaching theme.

"The return of wild turkeys to appropriate habitats is truly a success story in the field of wildlife conservation," say wildlife biologists from the State University of New York in The Return of the Wild Turkey.

And that success in New York State has been echoed in many other states.

About a century ago, wild turkeys all but disappeared -- their habitats destroyed when forest areas were cleared. Now, wild turkeys are back. They can be found in 49 states -- all but Alaska. Many states have conservation programs to reintroduce wild turkeys and to relocate turkeys in new habitats.

Ben Franklin liked turkey!

Benjamin Franklin, an admirer of the wild turkey, was disappointed when the bald eagle was chosen as a symbol of the United States of America. He felt the wild turkey should have been the chosen bird. Franklin called the wild turkey a "...more respectable Bird..." and "...a true original native of North America."

More facts about turkeys

  • Turkeys are large birds, related to pheasants. Wild turkeys are native to wooded areas of North America. (Turkeys were not mentioned by name in original accounts of the 1621 Plymouth Thanksgiving celebration. Wild turkeys would have lived in the surrounding area and may have been included in the fowl eaten at the meal however.)
  • Male turkeys are called toms. Female turkeys are called hens.
  • Only male turkeys make gobbling sounds.
  • Wild turkeys eat seeds, acorns, and insects.
  • Wild turkeys can run and are good fliers. Domesticated turkeys cannot fly.
  • Wild turkeys are not as fat as domesticated turkeys.
  • There are several breeds of domesticated and wild turkeys. See photos and illustrations of some breeds on these sites:
    Turkeys (scroll down for list)
    Turkey breeds
  • Domesticated turkeys are related to Mexican turkeys.
  • Spanish Conquistadors took Mexican turkeys to Europe in the 16th century. Turkeys were raised in Europe before the Pilgrims left there.
  • In this country, the average person in the United States eats almost 19 pounds of turkey each year.

Activities for younger students

Language Arts (vocabulary development). Help children learn the meanings of turkey-related words: wattle, tom, hen, poult (a young turkey). Make up "turkey rhymes" using those words.

Nutrition/Cooking. Many people eat turkey leftovers. Ask students to list as many ways as they can think of to use turkey the day after. (turkey sandwiches, soup, salad, casserole, potpie)

Arts/Crafts. Make turkeys for holiday centerpieces, gifts, or greeting cards.

  • Pine cone turkeys. See directions for making a pine cone turkey on the Craft Exchange Web page.
  • Paper bag turkeys. Stuff a brown paper lunch bag with crumpled newspaper. Tightly tie the open end of the bag, creating a neck for the turkey. Attach a paper turkey head. Tape or glue colored feathers to the flat end of the bag.
  • Circle turkeys. Attach a large, brown paper circle to the center of a bulletin board or wall. Add a red turkey head and turkey legs cut from paper. Children can cut out feathers from colored paper. Attach all feathers to the turkey. (Some children might want to write "turkey facts" on the feathers.)
  • Hand turkeys. Children can trace their hands on paper. (Younger children can trace each other's hands if necessary.) The hand will form the turkey's body; the thumb the turkey's head; and the spread fingers, the turkey's feathers. Children can add feet and color. They can also make a whole bunch of turkeys this way!

Turkey Games. Play one of these turkey games with your students.

  • Play "Pin the Feathers on the Turkey."
  • Encourage children to make up their own turkey games or make up turkey names for familiar games. (How about Duck, Duck, Turkey? Ring around the Turkey? Dodge Turkey?)

Activities for older students

Social Studies/History. Encourage students to read what Benjamin Franklin had to say about the national seal of the United States of America on the Thanksgiving Turkey Web page. Ask students to explain Franklin's reasoning about the appropriateness of the turkey over the bald eagle. Then students can debate the merits of both birds (and other birds) for that purpose. Invite students to design a new seal -- using a turkey instead of the eagle.

Nutrition/Cooking. Read about the proper handling and cooking of turkey on the Turkey Basics: Handling Precooked Dinners Web page. Prepare a presentation or create a brochure about handling and storing food safely for parents and teachers.

Additional resources

"Thanksgiving on the Net"
This site is fun! It contains a bounty of information about the Thanksgiving holiday (in addition to the great turkey information). The site contains background music too.

The National Wild Turkey Federation
Read about the Federation's research and conservation efforts to benefit the wild turkey. The site includes information about conservation, and hunter safety.


Article by Anne Guignon
Education World®
Copyright © 2010, 2015 Education World


Last updated: 10/28/2016