Thanksgiving is a day to reflect with gratitude on the blessings of our lives. It’s one of the most beloved American holidays, celebrated by people of all religions and backgrounds, and ideal for incorporating into your curriculum.
However, our understanding of the day has changed over the years. While some of the following Thanksgiving lessons, activities, and games include familiar elements such as turkey and pumpkin pie, others inquire into the historical record and modern social perspectives, helping students gain a fuller, more authentic understanding.
Before diving into the following free Thanksgiving lessons, activities, and games, educators can get an overview of the changing way Thanksgiving is taught through the articles listed below under Thanksgiving Perspectives, Past and Present.
Thanksgiving Perspectives, Past and Present
Time: The Way American Kids Are Learning About the “First Thanksgiving” Is Changing (opens in new tab)
Should we be teaching students myth or history? This excellent article is a great starting point for teachers to learn the truth, the myths, and the historical interpretations surrounding the first Thanksgiving. Best to read before planning your lesson.
Deconstructing the Myths of "The First Thanksgiving" (opens in new tab)
Explore 11 myths about Thanksgiving that shape Americans’ long-held misunderstandings about the 1621 harvest feast. Includes useful footnotes, primary sources, and further recommended reading about Thanksgiving.
Teaching the Real Story of the "First Thanksgiving" (opens in new tab)
Education World explores the stereotypes, myths, and half-truths that pervade our Thanksgiving lore. The article also extends seven simple, practical, and positive strategies for teaching Thanksgiving while honoring both the history and cultural practices of the holiday.
Native educators say Thanksgiving lessons can be accurate, respectful, and fun (opens in new tab)
If you’re wondering whether there’s anything suitable left to teach about Thanksgiving, don’t despair. This article details simple steps you can take right now to make your Thanksgiving lessons accurate and inclusive.
Best Free Thanksgiving Lessons and Activities
11 Classroom Activities to Teach Students Gratitude (opens in new tab)
Thanksgiving is, at its best, about thankfulness. Put the history aside and focus on these classroom lessons that teach students (and all of us) how to cultivate gratitude.
Teachers Pay Teachers Free Thanksgiving Activities (opens in new tab)
Find the perfect Thanksgiving-themed lesson for your class, whether it’s preK or high school seniors. All lessons, searchable by grade, CCSS, subject, and rating, are created and classroom-tested by your fellow educators. A veritable cornucopia of digital Thanksgiving delights!
Celebration, Conflict and Contemplation: Digital Thanksgiving Activities and Lesson Plans for Students (opens in new tab)
Ideal for distance or hybrid learning, these free preK-12 digital Thanksgiving lessons include thought-provoking writing assignments, recipe-based math lessons, humorous turkey hijinks, and a look at the modern day lives of the Wampanoag People.
Four Wampanoag folktales for the classroom (opens in new tab)
It’s not all about the Pilgrims. Use these four Wampanoag folktales as a springboard to learning more about the culture and history of the Indigenous people present at the 1621 feast. Note corrected link for The Circle of Life and the Clambake (opens in new tab).
Thanksgiving Directed Drawings
Directed drawings are a great way for kids to gain basic drawing skills and confidence while creating their own artwork. Whether apple pie (opens in new tab), cooked turkey (opens in new tab), Happy Thanksgiving message, or cartoon turkey (opens in new tab), these free and fun video drawing lessons are perfect for both classroom and remote learning. If you need help incorporating YouTube videos into your curriculum, check out 6 Ways To Access YouTube Videos Even If They're Blocked at School (opens in new tab).
‘All Indians Are Dead?’ At Least That’s What Most Schools Teach Children (opens in new tab)
Did you know that 87 percent of references to Native Americans in U.S. curricula depict them in a 19th-century context? In other words, as part of the past. Yet living in the U.S. today are millions of Native Americans, comprising 574 federally recognized tribes. This article highlights the need for educators to correct the mistakes of traditional Thanksgiving instruction, replacing it with a deeper and more accurate account of events.
Favorite Thanksgiving Music Lessons (opens in new tab)
Bring the joy of music into your classroom celebration with five Thanksgiving-themed music lessons from elementary school music teacher Jessie Johnson. Ever heard of Super Turkey? How about the Pumpkin That Ran Away? These and other light-hearted tunes tell engaging stories, while kids learn about glissando and dotted half notes. Includes the traditional Native American Racoon Song Game.
Rethinking Thanksgiving Celebrations: Native Perspectives on Thanksgiving (opens in new tab)
Seven lessons and activities for teaching Thanksgiving in an ethical, accurate and culturally sensitive way.
Thanksgiving Mourning Lesson (opens in new tab)
A thoughtful lesson for grades 6-12, in which students read Native American perspectives about Thanksgiving and gain a deeper understanding of why some Indigenous Americans view the holiday not as a celebration of survival, but rather a reminder of the eclipsing of Native cultures by Europeans’ arrival in the New World.
Turkey Templates for Thanksgiving Creativity and Writing (opens in new tab)
Education technology expert and Google app guru Eric Curts shares Google Slides templates for building and disguising a turkey. Use it as a fun art lesson, or as a jumping-off point into a discussion about empathy with animals.
Best Free Thanksgiving Games and Interactives
ABCya Thanksgiving Games (opens in new tab)
From Gobble Squabble to Turkey Touchdown, these five online games combine a small handful of historical facts with boatloads of enjoyable gameplay in math, language, and seasons of the year. Featuring hypnotic music and sound effects, these are sure to be a hit.
You Are the Historian: Investigating the First Thanksgiving (opens in new tab)
A great way for students to investigate and learn a more nuanced history about Thanksgiving, from both the Indigenous and Colonial perspectives.
Thanksgiving Puzzles - Fall Holiday Games for Kids (opens in new tab)
A super-fun iOs app that provides colorful animated Thanksgiving puzzles for children aged 4-6.
Thanksgiving Games for kids (opens in new tab)
Thanksgiving puzzles, connect-the-dots, memory games, drawing games, and more help preK youngsters learn shapes, numbers, and images while having a blast. Free Android app.
Thanksgiving Digital Games (opens in new tab)
Dozens of entertaining and educational Thanksgiving-themed puzzles allow kids to practice math, language arts, memory and pattern skills for free, with no account required.
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- Google Slides Lesson Plan (opens in new tab)