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Pilgrim Projects 

Have you had your fill of feathers? Have you tired of gobbling your way through Thanksgiving activities year after year? This year, try some of our Pilgrim projects instead. There's not a turkey among them! Included: Activities for young students and older students.

If you are a veteran teacher, you've made thousands of turkey puppets, sung hundreds of November songs, and researched reams of resources to find historically correct versions of the Thanksgiving story. You're sure you've done every activity even remotely related to the Thanksgiving holiday. Don't despair! Education World provides you with the information and inspiration you'll need to tackle the topic one more time.

Beyond turkey: Activities for younger students

Listening -- learn the Thanksgiving story. Read aloud The Pilgrims and America's First Thanksgiving and then ask students questions such as What was the name of the Pilgrims' ship? How long did the trip from Holland to the North America take? Where did the Pilgrims land? Who greeted the Pilgrims when they arrived in Plymouth? and Who was Squanto?

Language -- write a thank you note. Put the "thanks" back in Thanksgiving! Encourage students to write a thank you letter to someone who has done something nice for them. Students who can't write might create and decorate a Thank You Certificate for the person they choose.

Games -- learn about Pilgrim children. Arrange students into pairs and provide each pair with the materials necessary for creating Nine Men's Morris, a game played by Pilgrim children. Encourage students to play the game and to discuss what life might have been like for the game's original players.

Language arts -- solve a riddle. Read students five 17th Century Riddles and ask them to draw a picture showing their solution to each.

Classifying -- create a menu. Read about foods available to the Pilgrims for their 1621 Thanksgiving page. Then provide students with a list of foods frequently served at modern Thanksgiving dinners. Ask students to separate the items into lists of foods the Pilgrims probably did and didn't eat.

Nutrition -- create a healthful feast. As a follow-up to the previous activity, have students visit and ask them to choose foods from each area to create a healthful Thanksgiving dinner for their families. Have students cut pictures of their selections from magazines and newspapers, paste them onto oaktag, and make a Thanksgiving menu.

Science -- learn about weather. Discuss with students the information, found at The Stormfax Weather Almanac and other sites, about how the weather affected the lives of the Pilgrims. Then ask students to record the temperature and weather conditions in their area for a week. Each day, have students write a journal entry telling how that day's weather affected their lives.

Games -- play the telephone game. Arrange students in a circle and whisper a brief story to one of the students. Ask each student to whisper the story he or she hears to the next student in the circle, continuing until each child has heard and repeated the story. Compare the final story to the original story. How are they the same? How are they different? Ask students to speculate about why there are so many versions of the Thanksgiving story.

Beyond turkey: Activities for older students

Critical thinking -- stage a debate. Help students explore Caleb Johnson's Mayflower Web Pages Message to Teachers page, The REAL First Thanksgiving Lesson Plan, and other sites about the first Thanksgiving. Then ask them to stage a debate about the historical accuracy of various Thanksgiving stories.

Art -- create a game. Ask students to research online and library sources to find examples of games or toys used by Pilgrim children, such as Nine Men's Morris. Then have students create one of the games or toys they learn about and teach other students how to play it.

History -- take a quiz. Have students take the Thanksgiving quiz.

Reading -- Who's Who? Invite students to visit your school library to choose and read a biography of one of the Mayflower passengers. Encourage students to try to locate information about why the person was on the ship as well as about what happened after he or she reached the New World. Then ask students to prepare an oral report about the person they've researched. You might invite students to imagine that he or she is that person and to present the report as a first-person account of the voyage and first winter in Plymouth.

Research -- publish the Plymouth Gazette. Arrange students into small groups and assign each a newspaper section, such as Current Events, Foods, Entertainment, Weather, Fashion, Classifieds, Editorials, and so on. Encourage each group to create a newspaper story or section about their assigned topic from the viewpoint of a Pilgrim in 1621. Combine the stories into a newspaper for members of the Plymouth Colony.

Science -- learn about weather. Invite students to read the information about the winter of 1620-1621 at The Stormfax Weather Almanac. Discuss with them how weather, both good and bad, affected the lives of the Pilgrims. Then ask students to record the temperature and weather conditions in their area over a period of time.

Writing -- "We the Students." Have students read the Mayflower Compact and then write a similar document for their class.

Math. Provide students with copies of a grocery store circular and ask them to study the advertisements and prepare a shopping list for a Thanksgiving dinner they'll be hosting. Explain that they must decide how many people they plan to invite, estimate how much of each item they'll need to provide for each person, and then determine how many packages of each item they'll have to purchase. When students have completed their lists, ask them to figure out the total cost of the dinner. You might then ask additional questions, such as:

  • If the turkey, priced at $.99 a pound, cost $15.68, how much did it weigh?
  • How much would the vegetables have cost if they were on sale at 1/3 off the regular price?
  • How long would a person have to work, at minimum wage, to pay for the meal? At 10% over minimum wage?
  • How many people would you have to remove from the guest list to reduce the cost of the dinner by 30%?


    Grow Your Own Carrots
    Explains how to grow carrots in a grow-box just as the Pilgrims did on the Mayflower voyage many years ago. (A spring activity)

    Be sure to visits Education World's Thanksgiving Holiday page for more great ideas for teaching about this theme.

    Related articles from Education World

  • The "first Thanksgiving" -- A feast of activities

Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
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Last updated 11/11/2015