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Celebrating Thanksgiving: Pilgrim Projects

Janelle Cox

If you have been teaching for a while, then you can attest to creating your share of Thanksgiving projects. You've probably made hundreds of turkeys, sang the turkey song a million times, and know every version of the first Thanksgiving. Well now it's time to change it up, this year try a few of these pilgrim projects with your students. I promise none of them include feathers!

Plymouth Plantation

Have you even wondered what life would be like if you were a pilgrim? Students will find out by completing this Plymouth Plantation research project. To begin, ask students what they know about the pilgrims, the mayflower and Thanksgiving. Then show students a map of the Plymouth Plantation. Ask students, "Why do you think the pilgrims chose to live in Plymouth?" Have them look on the map to see why it made a good location. Next, have students take a virtual field trip of the Plymouth Plantation. Ask students to answer the following questions.

  • How were the pilgrims dressed?
  • If they lived in modern times how would they be dressed?
  • Describe what each dwelling looked like.
  • What makes each one different?
  • What makes each dwelling the same?

Next, have students research how pilgrims found food. Have them visit Plimoth.org to learn about how the pilgrims farmed, cooked, and stored their food. Once students are familiar with what life was like on the Plymouth Planation, ask them to imagine that they were living on the plantation. Challenge students to write a letter home to England explaining what life was like. This project will enable students to gain information on Plymouth life, as well as understand where pilgrims came from.

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Pilgrims Past and Present

Help your students learn what it was like to walk in a pilgrim child's shoes. Read the following two stories to students, “Samuel Eaton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Boy” and “Sarah Morton's Day: A Day in the Life of a Pilgrim Girl” by Kate Waters. After reading each story, invite students to share a few things they learned about Samuel and Sarah's life as a pilgrim. Create a T chart on the front board and list their facts under "Samuel" and "Sarah."

Then, challenge students to compare their life with that of Samuel or Sarah. Have students create a T chart and label one side with their name and the other with the name of the child they are comparing their life to. Once they fill in the chart, have students take that information to write a brief essay comparing their life with that of a pilgrim child. An easy extension activity is to use the information from the T chart that compared Samuel’s and Sarah's lives, and create a Venn Diagram comparing how their lives were different, and how they were the same.

The Plymouth Periodical

Have students create and publish the Plymouth Periodical. Divide students into five groups and assign each group a newspaper section. Topics may include weather, editorial/commentary, food, current events, entertainment, etc. Encourage students to imagine that they are a pilgrim living on the Plymouth Plantation. Their job is to create stories, facts, or relevant information from the viewpoint of a pilgrim living there in 1621. Each member of the group must contribute one section (or paragraph) to their assigned topic. They can use any information available in the classroom (books, maps, newspaper clippings, and the internet) to help in their research.

Pilgrim Diorama

A creative hands-on pilgrim project is for students to create a diorama depicting pilgrim life. To do this each student will need a box, construction paper, art supplies, glue, clay, craft sticks and scissors. Have students use the clay to model their pilgrims and other small features of the house, and the construction paper to create the background.

Encourage students to be creative, and think outside of the box. They could color craft sticks green and make them into trees, or glue them together to create a dwelling. The diorama should include at least one pilgrim, one man-made structure, and one natural-made structure. All items should also all be able to fit inside the box comfortably. Encourage students to use books and the Internet to help them in their research.

Do you have any pilgrim projects that you teach in your classroom? Please share your ideas in the comment section below. We would love to hear your thoughts.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who draws on her 15 years of professional experience in the education system. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, where she provides educational information and lesson plans for teachers around the Globe.