for the ESL Classroom
There are few holidays that leave this expat soul feeling as sentimental as Thanksgiving, which is pretty peculiar since it never used to be a holiday I cared much about. Of course I’d get down on some sweet potatoes and stuffing, but even as a child I didn’t buy into the whole pilgrims and “Indians” holding hands and singing kumbaya.
That said, being away from the states for ten (madre miaaaaa, TEN?!) consecutive turkey days has left me a bit nostalgic – not for whitewashed histories and cover-ups, but for the family traditions. Thanksgiving and Friendsgivings, loved ones preparing and enjoying a meal together and genuinely taking time to be grateful. The beginning of the holiday season and the calm before the storm of shopping malls and Christmas parties, Secret Santas and stocking stuffers.
In general, I try to steer clear of the whole “First Thanksgiving story” in the classroom, but I do enjoy using the holiday to talk about Thankfulness and Gratitude. And (obviously) to enjoy the true reason for the season: making paper hand turkeys. Read on for tons of Turkey Day activities for everyone from the little preschool pilgrims to the big ol’ bachillerato birds.
And while you’re at it, don’t forget to click here if you’re looking for ideas and activities to celebrate Native American Heritage Month this November.
Thanksgiving for Little Turkeys
Thanksgiving Gobble Gambling
Works best with: Infantíl/Preschool – 2nd Grade (4 – 7 years)
You need: butcher paper, glue, dice and feathers printed on Autumn-colored paper
Prep: Draw the outline of a turkey body on the butcher paper. Pre-cut the feathers.
- Each number on the die is assigned an autumn color
- IE: 1 – yellow; 2 – red; 3 – orange; 4 – brown; 5 – red; 6 – orange
- One by one, the kiddos roll the die to see what color feathers they get to paste on the turkey.
If you’re team teaching, one teacher takes the kids out in the hallways (group by group) to roll and paste while the other teacher stays in the class playing Thanksgiving videos as the kids cut out the feathers (so that you don’t have to!) This keeps them from getting bored and bird-brained while waiting for their turn.
Thanksgiving Videos for the Little Dudes
There are lots of obscenely awful Thanksgiving videos out there for kids. These ones don’t suck:
- This autumn colors video is a good partner for this activity
- This Gobble Gobble song & dance is a crowd favorite
- The Turkey Hokey Pokey ain’t too shabby
- And this one shows lots of yummy turkey day foods and a family having Thanksgiving dinner together
Thanksgiving for the Medium Turkeys
Hand Print Turkeys: The Reason for the Season
When it comes to Thanksgiving, there’s nothing like a good ol’ fashioned hand print turkey. I do variations of this simple, timeless craft with everyone from primary up to 1st and sometimes even 2nd of ESO (7 – 14 years old).
Best for: Primary – 1st ESO (8 – 13 years), varying the activity by age and level.
You need: coloured or construction paper, scissors and glue
Prep: If you’re supplying the paper, cut it in halves as they’ll only need half to fit their hand. If you’re doing group turkeys, prepare the turkey body in the shape of number 8.
There’s the OG Hand Turkey (individual) and the Turkey 2.0:
Thanksgiving Hand Turkeys
3rd – 4th of primary (8 – 9 years)
These little turkeys take a while to cut and paste, so I usually do a short intro with this weird but cool song by the Story Bots and go over the basics: What & when, symbols and what does it mean to give thanks / be thankful (I usually break this down to the little dudes as the things that make them happy).
Each student then traces and cuts out their hand print and writes something they’re thankful for on each finger.
Thanksgiving Hand Turkeys
5th and 6th Primary (10 -11 years)
Same as above, just advanced to their level and current unit (IE, if they’re learning Present Continuous, make them use it).
Depending on their level, you can introduce the holiday with the same StoryBots jam, or use this lighthearted little clip about the history of Thanksgiving (CC available).
Thanksgiving with the Big Turkeys
High School (ESO & Bachillerato)
While 1st ESO can get down with anything, Thanksgiving can be a tough one as the teens get older as many are “too cool” to be thankful. I always go by the usual vibe of the class to decide which route to go.
Being Thankful: Thanksgiving Hand Turkeys
1st ESO (12 years)
While you may be thinking they’re too old for arts & crafts, this has been a big hit with my 12 and-13 year-olds over the past couple of year. The cutting and pasting is quick here, so you can focus a lot more on talking about what it means to be grateful and what they’re thankful for.
Warm Up: Play this video twice and tell them to write down as many things as possible that they hear people say they’re thankful for. It’s great listening practice and gets them thinking about what it means to be thankful.
Pair work: Give them a few minutes to talk to their partner about things that they’re thankful for, stressing that they think outside of the box and make full sentences (not just “my mom,” but ¨I´m thankful that my mom is understanding and gives good advice.¨)
Turkey Time: Each student then shares one or two things with the class and the teacher gives them a paper once they’ve spoken (pure bribery) to start their turkey. They should write 3 – 5 things using the structures: “I’m thankful for”, “I’m grateful for” and “I give thanks for”. And then get their turkey on.
Thanksgiving Class Discussion: Being Thankful
If it’s a cool class with a cool vibe and they already know a bit about the history of Thanksgiving, you can focus more on what it means to be thankful. I usually start with this video clip and we discuss what it means to take things for granted and why it’s a good idea to set aside a day to give thanks. Later, I play this video and we discuss out-of-the-box reasons to be thankful. It ends with everyone saying one thing they’re thankful for and
If your students have never done Thanksgiving before as has been the case for me a couple of times, it’s worth it to dip into a little taste of history. I show them the Jeopardy template at the beginning of class and let them know that all of the answers are in the PowerPoint, so if they bare with me for 15-ish minutes they’ll have all the answers and victory will be theirs.
My PowerPoint goes over some brief history about the “story of the first Thanksgiving”, a reality check about what actually went down and some info about modern day traditions, like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, football and of course, the food.
For A2/B1 lower intermediate students (13-15; 2-4 ESO) I use this easier Thanksgiving Jeopardy template. For B1/B2 higher intermediate students (15-18, 4 ESO – Bach) I use this more difficult Thanksgiving Jeopardy template.
Jeopardy of course also works if they’ve learnt about Thanksgiving in the past and can be expected to remember some of the foods, history and traditions.
Thanksgiving Family Feud
“We asked 100 people what they were most Thankful for this year…”
This one I’ve found to be hit or miss, but is a blast with the right group. Family Fued works best with a class that already knows a bit about Thanksgiving and can expected to remember some of the traditions and food.
You’ll need to plan this one out a few days in advance, and it’s got to be a group you like (and trust!) In the past I’ve brought in some traditional, easy-ish Thanksgiving recipes (mashed potatoes, virgin eggnog, apple pie, apple cider, etc.) and the students prepare them at home and bring them to class for a Thanksgiving party. I throw on a Friends or Big Bang Theory Thanksgiving episode, and voila! Classgiving! And, duh, free lunch. That’s something to be thankful about 😉
For an IDGAF class, there’s always the usual suspects: Taboo, Pictionary, Bingo, you name it. Start off with a vocab introduction and the rest takes care of itself.
Big Ol’ Thanksgiving Turkeys
Bachillerato (17 – 18 years)
While no two classes are alike, one of the things I love most about teaching these guys is having legit conversations about things that matter.
Since your bach students have likely sat through about 5,214 turkey day activities over the years, open up the floor for a debate. There’s a range of topics to choose from – colonization, Columbus, cultural appropriation, etc.
The One Word word association video series is an incredible resource, and I highly recommend watching them even if you’re not planning to use them for a class.
- Word Association: Thanksgiving
- Word Association: Reservation
- Word Association: Language
- Word Association: Christopher Columbus
After watching one or two of the above videos, give each group a topic to discuss for 5 – 10 minutes
- Was Columbus a good guy?
- What is cultural appropriation? Use examples.
- Is it a big deal to say “Indians” rather than “Native Americans”?
Once they’ve had some time to get their ideas together, come back together as a group and discuss. There’s opportunity for really relevant discussions here, you might just be surprised!
Thanks for Reading!
I hope you find one or two of these ideas useful, and I hope to hear about how you’ll be celebrating turkey day in your ESL classroom! If you’re looking for some ideas on ways to commemorate Native American Heritage Month, click here for some additional activities. And don’t forget to check out this fun Autumn 2019 Current Events Trivia.
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