Thanksgiving Lesson Plans

Thanksgiving picture books

Thanksgiving is a required study in many state frameworks, sometimes year after year. You need some fresh new plans!


Start with some great Thanksgiving books. We’ve listed these in order of reading level, but we like them all for older students’ writing classes as well as for reading with younger students:

    • 10 Fat Turkeys by Tony Johnston is a goofy take on a traditional rhyme. It includes “Gobble gobble wobble wobble do a noodle dance” on every page, and kids should enjoy joining in on that line. It’s a backwards count down from 10 fat turkeys to none — but they all show up again at the end, so there’s no trauma.


    • Eve Bunting’s A Turkey for Thanksgiving tells the story of the Moose family that wants a real turkey for Thanksgiving — as a guest, we realize at the end, not the main course. Diane de Groot’s illustrations show the turkey’s dismay turning to relief. This book could be a great introduction to a discussion of communication, of manners, or of Thanksgiving customs. For writing class, use it to discuss how word choices can be used to make a specific impression.
    • Eileen Spinelli’s The Perfect Thanksgiving humorously contrasts two branches of a family. We see one side of the family taking walks and playing chess after their Thanksgiving meal, while the other group gets rowdy or takes naps. Other scenes throughout the holiday highlight the differences, while showing that both sides of the family, and both approaches to Thanksgiving, are perfect. This is another good starting point for discussions about customs, and also about appreciating differences,but I like it especially well for introducing compare and contrast essays. Check out our Perfect Thanksgiving Lesson Plans for details.
    • Three Young Pilgrims combines the story of a pilgrim family with lots of information, presented in beautiful illustrations. Not necessarily a good read aloud — there’s just too much going on outside of the story — but a terrific addition to the classroom library, for browsers and for readers.
    • Over the River and Through the Wood is a familiar song and therefore a good poem to study as a transition between nursery rhymes and other forms of poetry. Check out our lesson plans for it.
    • The Hoboken Chicken Emergency by Daniel Pinkwater is a mix of suspenseful plotting and antic humor, as a boy struggles with the 266 pound chicken he has managed to get instead of the Thanksgiving turkey he was looking for. Read it for fun, or check out our Hoboken Chicken Emergency Lessons.
    • Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving is the true story of Sarah Josepha Hale, the woman who persuaded President Lincoln to declare a national day of Thanksgiving. It took her 38 years (she wrote to a lot of presidents), and a whole lot of letters, so it makes a great story of perseverance and civic action. For writing class, it makes a terrific introduction to letter writing. We tend to skip over letter writing, but most of your students will have to write letters applying for college and jobs. This is also a great time to write letters to government officials at any level, or to newspapers, arguing cogently for a cause.
    • An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott (author of Little Women) is a heartwarming story of a group of kids making Thanksgiving dinner. They have just enough trouble to be realistic. All ages can enjoy this story as a read-aloud, older, middle and high school students can enjoy reading it themselves, and it makes a great starting point for a discussion of character in your writing class.
    • Eating the Plates: A Pilgrim Book of Food and Manners includes an easy to read yet informative discussion of the Pilgrims and their journey to the new world, information about their table manners, and even recipes. make some pickled eggs or succotash! Then use our Table Manners Lesson Plans to compare modern customs with those of the Pilgrims.
    • Thanksgiving in the Woods is the story of a family enjoying a special tradition. A simple story and homey pictures tell about a group Thanksgiving in the Woods that makes up a somewhat unusual special tradition for a family. It might be interesting to compare the traditions most students share with those that are more specific to individual families. The book includes sheet music for the Shaker song “Simple Gifts.”

Social Studies

History is a natural for Thanksgiving lessons, but that doesn’t mean that you have to reenact the first Thanksgiving every year. Here are some time different time depths to study:

  • Colonial America Certainly, the Mayflower and the celebration at Plymouth in 1621 are worth studying. Download the Plimoth Plantation’s presentation and install it on your classroom computer to use it without traffic slowdowns. Scholastic also has a wonderful collection of first Thanksgiving resources. For older students, use The Courtship of Miles Standish to get some literature, character education, and critical thinking in along with the history. Read about Squanto.  Check out our Native American Lesson Plans, too, and make sure your students realize that Thanksgiving took place during Europe’s Renaissance.
  • Pioneer America Pioneer families celebrated harvest festivals. George Washington declared a Thanksgiving in 1789, and several states had official Thanksgiving days. It was Sarah Josepha Hale, author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” who campaigned for a national day of Thanksgiving during the 1800s, and finally persuaded President Lincoln to create a national holiday. Learn about Hale with the book Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving, and discuss how one person can, with perseverance, do something big. The 1844 poem, “Over the River and Through the Woods,” gives a picture of pioneer life. Click the name to read the poem and see our lesson plans for it. If your students get confused about pioneers and pilgrims, check out our post on comparing pilgrims and pioneers.
  • Civil War In 1863, President Lincoln proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving that the Civil War had ended. This was the beginning of the annual national holiday of Thanksgiving. Make a class Timeline of the events of the Civil War, and see why the nation was so thankful when it was over. Knowing that Sara Josepha Hale spent 38 years trying to persuade presidents to declare a national day of Thanksgiving, you can also find out all the presidents she wrote to during that time and add them to the timeline. With this longer timeline, you can also trace the events leading up to the Civil War.
  • The Gilded Age At the turn of the century, a great wave of immigration brought people from all over the world. Immigration continues to be an important part of the character of our nation, and a controversial subject. Molly’s Pilgrim is a good book to read for this topic, and TCR has a lit unit to go with it, called A Guide for Using Molly’s Pilgrim in the Classroom.
  • The Great Depression It was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s efforts to bring the country out of the Depression to move Thanksgiving to the 3th Thursday of November in order to extend the Christmas shopping season. Thanksgiving moved back to the 4th Thursday of the month in 1941. Study the Great Depression and the New Deal, and compare those days with the recessions of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Use a Venn diagram to identify the differences and similarities, and have students write about whether the efforts of the New Deal would be helpful to the country today. Our Three Little Pigs Lesson Plans have good links and resources for a study of the Great Depression, and the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank has a complete curriculum on the subject for high school students.




Check out our Thanksgiving Bulletin Board ideas, too.


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