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Ways Your School Can Feel the Thanksgiving Spirit

Jordan Catapano

Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday meant solely for celebration around a table with family. It almost certainly isn’t reserved for dressing up as pilgrims or making turkeys out of handprints in school. It is, however, absolutely the ideal time for a school community to come together and do any number of activities that maximize the spirit of America’s purest holiday.

Don’t pass up the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving together as a school. Your students, your colleagues, your whole school community can band together in a variety of ways for making the most of Thanksgiving.


Nothing sets the tone for a holiday like classic decorations. Whether in your classroom or throughout your building, make your atmosphere look and feel like Thanksgiving.

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  • Have a decoration contest between classrooms: Students vote on the most festive!
  • Have your students do Thanksgiving crafts that can be displayed in the classroom and hallways.
  • Create a “Thankfulness Wall” where students can write and post what they’re thankful for.

Donations / Giving

One of the best aspects of Thanksgiving is the opportunity to give to others. Christmas frequently receives the bulk of attention when it comes to finding ways to share love, but Thanksgiving is a prime holiday for it too! Not only will individuals benefit from your school’s generosity, but the students benefit from learning that it is indeed more blessed to give than to receive.

  • Host a Thanksgiving dinner for those students’ families who may be poor.
  • Hold a donation contest between classes or grades.
  • Hold a food drive where students can donate canned goods.
  • Create gift baskets stuffed with food, gift cards, or even whole turkeys and deliver them to students’ homes.


Nothing builds a spirit of camaraderie and unity like fun-filled activities that a school body can share together. Take advantage of this big holiday.

  • Take time out of the regular educational grind to make thanksgiving crafts together. These can be brought home to families or used to decorate the classroom.
  • Play games with Thanksgiving themes that incorporate thankfulness, history, or autumn.
  • Host a class or school meal that features the best Thanksgiving foods and traditions around the same table.

Sharing Experiences

Beyond just sharing activities, it can be a lot of fun and extremely meaningful when students and teachers share their Thanksgiving thoughts and experiences too.

  • Tell stories about favorite Thanksgiving memories. Or, after this year’s Thanksgiving, have students share details and pictures of how they celebrated. You can even set up blog posts, a Facebook page, or a Twitter hashtag where students can share with one another.
  • One classic activity is to simply take time to share what you’re thankful for with one another. Sit down, put away the electronics, and have a good chat with each other. Everyone is thankful for something!
  • Another way to enhance the reflections on gratitude is to have students write short poems, notes, letters, or blog posts that express their thanks.


Of course we don’t want to eliminate the academic opportunities implicit in Thanksgiving. Try some of these approaches to turning a holiday into a lesson that, hopefully, will enhance their understanding and appreciation.

  • Read about the original Thanksgiving from William Bradford’s “Of Plymouth Plantation” text. This pilgrim shares his group’s experiences before, during, and after this inaugural Thanksgiving meal.
  • Have your students research the original pilgrims, from their religion to their clothing, from their names to their stories.
  • Learn about survival in the wilderness; after all, that’s exactly what the pilgrims had to do when they landed in New England in wintertime!
  • Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday. Have students listen to, read about, or find immigrants and hear their reflections on this holiday and on America in general.

These are just some of the ways your class and your school can celebrate this holiday together. What are some of your own favorite Thanksgiving activities that you’ve enjoyed? Tell us in the comments!

Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also sits as the District Leader for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and serves as a school board member for a private school. Jordan also owns, a website created to give students additional support for the writing section of the ACT.

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