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Thanksgiving Book-Based Lessons

Janelle Cox

This time of year, help motivate kids to read by teaching Thanksgiving to them with a few booked-based lessons. These stories (and accompanying Thanksgiving classroom ideas) will help your students learn about the pilgrims, Thanksgiving traditions, and the importance of being kind and giving thanks.

"Turkey's pilgrims and Indian Corn: The Story of the Thanksgiving Symbols"
By Edna Barth
Grades 3-5

This Thanksgiving story discusses all of the "symbols" of the Thanksgiving Day holiday and how they came to be. This book is a great informational tool to help children understand traditions and where they came from.

One way to use this book is to have students take notes on chapters as you read them to the class. Make sure to emphasize important concepts you want students to learn. Ask them, "On what day of what month is Thanksgiving Day held in Canada?" Then, as an extension activity for teaching Thanksgiving (or Thanksgiving classroom ideas), have students create flash cards with the new information they learned. For example, the first flash card would be labeled "Thanksgiving" and on the back of the card students would label topics such as "it is celebrated on …"

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"The Pilgrims’ First Thanksgiving"
By Ann McGovern
Grades K-2

This story takes readers on a journey of the pilgrims going to the new world. It chronicles their struggles and the hardships, and talks about their houses and where they built them. It also talks about the three-day first Thanksgiving, and how it was a harvest celebration.

This story is an easy way for students to understand the historical part of Thanksgiving without getting too in depth. It’s a great read-aloud book to discuss some of the problems the pilgrims ran into when creating the country we live in. You can also use this book to have students describe events and people honored in the story. To carry out these Thanksgiving classroom ideas, print out all of the pictures in the book and ask students to recall information based upon the pictures. For example, ask students "The Pilgrims sailed on the____?" And "They landed at_____?"

"The Night before Thanksgiving"
By Natasha Wing
Grades K-2

This fun and whimsical story adapts the classic tale of "Twas' the Night Before Christmas" into a silly Thanksgiving story. The day before Thanksgiving, children are on a field trip at a farm and are shocked to discover that the farmer is going to kill the turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner. This is the perfect story to have students put on as a fun Thanksgiving Day play. Possible character roles can be child number 1-8, the teacher, the bus driver, farmer Mack Nugget, Stanley, Larry, Moe, etc.

"Eating the Plates: A Pilgrim Book of Food and Manners"
By Lucille Recht Penner
Grades 3-5

This story covers the food, customs and manners of the early American settlers. It talks about the foods pilgrims brought with them on the Mayflower, what they drank, how they planted food, and how food was traded. It’s a great informational book to answer students' questions about what the pilgrims ate and where their food came from. This activity encourages students to use the information they learned in the book to recreate an authentic pilgrim meal. Group students into pairs and have them recreate a meal they think the pilgrims ate at that time. They must draw each food item on a paper plate and present their meal to the class.

"Thanks for Thanksgiving"
By Julie Markes
Grades K-3

Learning to be kind and giving thanks is a huge part of the tradition of Thanksgiving Day. This story reminds readers the importance of giving thanks. Author Julie Markes discusses how life is full of small things with big pleasures and how little details make each day enjoyable. Use this story as a platform for teaching Thanksgiving via discussing specific ways students can be grateful and give thanks. Then, have students write a thank you note to a special someone for something they are thankful for.

"If You Sailed on the Mayflower in 1620"
By Ann McGovern
Grade 3-5

This story gives readers an account of what life was like in 1620 and answers the many questions students may have about pilgrim life on the ship, as well as on the shore. This book is a great starting point for students to understand pilgrims. To give students a sense of what being on the Mayflower was like, tape off a section of your classroom and have students try and fit into the taped section. Discuss how they felt crowed and encourage students to give you facts they learned about the mayflower. As an extension activity, have students try and re-create the Mayflower ship using clay and other art supplies.

Do you have any Thanksgiving stories that you love to read? What about activities that may correlate with these stories? Please share your ideas in the comment section below, we would love to hear your thoughts. 

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