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The First Thanksgiving: A Feast of Activities

Looking to cook up a feast of across-the-curriculum fun? The table is set with a plentiful selection of ideas. Dig in!

Let's start with a little quiz

True or false? The Pilgrims stole the land for their Colony from the Indians and mistreated them.
True or false? The Mayflower passengers always wore black-and-white clothes without any color.
True or false? The Mayflower was headed for Virginia but, due to a gross navigational error, ended up making landfall at Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
True or false? The Pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving every year.

All of those statements are false (how'd you do?) and are among many myths that are exposed on

Caleb Johnson, a direct descendent of a handful of Mayflower passengers, started the Mayflower Web Pages in September 1995 with a simple passenger list of the Mayflower. His site, along with a full Mayflower passenger list, has plenty of resources for teachers, including"

  • a complete list of passengers and biographies (which include lots of interesting information including family genealogies, last will and testaments, and more),
  • a history of the Mayflower and its voyage,
  • documents including the Mayflower Compact (1620) and the Peace Treaty with Massasoit (1621),
  • letters written by the pilgrims.
  • special pages devoted to girls and women on the Mayflower.
  • a biography of Tisquantum (Squanto) that explains how he came to speak English, and
  • special pages devoted to the clothing and weapons of the Pilgrims.

And those are just a few of the great resources that the Mayflower Web Pages site has to offer. Check them out! Then you might try the following follow-up activities:

Research "Scavenger Hunt." You might develop a list of Mayflower related questions based on information in the pages and have your students go on a "scavenger hunt" in search of the answers!

Language/Letter Writing. Invite students to check out some of the early Plymouth letters. Then invite the students to pretend they were Pilgrims. Ask them to write letters to their relatives back in England. The letters should be based on facts; they should explain what life in Plymouth was really like.

History/Blasting Stereotypes. Have students read the account of the first Thanksgiving from the Mayflower Web Pages. Those pages include lots of information, including a couple of the Pilgrims' accountings of the feast, a lengthy menu, and a list of "some perhaps startling omissions." (For example, did you know that the feast didn't include ham? The Pilgrims had no pigs with them. Sweet potatoes and yams had yet to be introduced to New England. Indian corn was good for making cornmeal, but there was no corn on the cob yet. Surprised? How about cranberry sauce? Nope! Pumpkin pie? Nope!) Many of the things your students learn might contradict information they've always thought was true! Students could work in small groups to list the new facts they learn. Then the groups could share facts to make a class list. Take this activity a step farther and use the lists of surprising facts as the basis for the next activity.

Literature/Critical Thinking. Provide students with all kinds of library resources (children's books, magazine articles, etc.) related to the Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving. Let them hunt through the books in search of information and illustrations that present the Pilgrims, the Mayflower, or the First Thanksgiving inaccurately or incompletely.

More activities across the grades and across the curriculum

Language. Ask students "What are you thankful for at Thanksgiving time?" For young children: Invite them to write the word T-H-A-N-K-S-G-I-V-I-N-G vertically on the side of a page. Children can write something they are thankful for that begins with each letter of the word. For older students: Invite each student to compose an "ABCs of Thanksgiving Book" to include something he or she is thankful for each letter of the alphabet.

Math. Cut from a newspaper a grocery store sale ad that includes prices for lots of Thanksgiving related foods. Compose word problems to go along with the ad. For example: For young students: How much does a can of cranberry cost? For middle grade students: How much would it cost to buy a can of peas and a can of corn? How much change would you get if you paid for those two things with a $5 bill? How much would a 20-pound turkey cost? For older students: Use the store ad to plan a complete Thanksgiving dinner for you and your family. (You might allow students a $30 budget. Or you might give them complete freedom and ask them to total the cost of their feast; how much would that feast end up costing per person?)

Graphing. Invite students to manage a canned-food drive that will collect food for a local shelter in the weeks ahead. Graph the number of items that are collected each week. Post the graph over the collection bin as motivation to students to "beat" last week's total. (Optional activity: Run the food drive for one week and graph the total number of items collected by category, for example, foods in cans, boxes, bags, jars, and other.

ABC Order. Passengers on board the Mayflower had what people today might think are some unusual first names. Invite students to alphabetize the list of Mayflower passengers below by their unique first names.

Bartholomew Allerton Remember Allerton Love Brewster
Wrestling Brewster Humility Cooper Giles Hopkins
Damaris Hopkins Oceanus Hopkins Desire Minter
Jasper More Degory Priest Resolved White

Language/Adjectives. Invite students to draw a picture (or to cut out and mount on paper a picture from a magazine) of a delicious looking Thanksgiving meal. Then ask them to think of all the adjectives they might use to describe that meal. Students should write those words in large letters spread out around the page.

Cooking. Check out the recipe for furmenty, a wheat pudding along the lines of Indian pudding, if you're looking for an authentic recipe. You can find other authentic recipes on the "Plimoth Plantation" Web site.

Word Search. A Thanksgiving word search puzzle can be printed out for use from the Web, or students can choose to play on their devices. Students might use Web resources, including The First Thanksgiving from the Mayflower Web Pages, to determine which foods on the list might have been on the original menu. Students can use markers to highlight those foods on the puzzle.

Writing/Biographies. Invite each student to write a brief biography of one of the early settlers or of one of the Indians of Plymouth. Students will find good biographical resources on the Internet. The Mayflower Web Pages site includes a complete Mayflower passenger list (click on the name of any passenger on the page's sidebar).

Art. Check out some neat ideas for Thanksgiving art projects (including easy napkin rings and a Thanksgiving Pop-Up Card) on Thanksgiving craft page.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2010, 2015 Education World


Last updated: 10/28/2016