There are few holidays that leave this expat soul feeling as sentimental as Thanksgiving, which is kinda 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.
BUT, being away from the states for six consecutive turkey days has really left me nostalgic – not for whitewashed histories, but for our modern traditions. Thanksgivings 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 obviously to make turkeys.
Read on for Thanksgiving ideas for the classroom, and click here if you’re looking for ideas and activities to celebrate Native American History Month this November.
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. Precut 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 waiting for their turn.
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
Primary – 1st ESO (8 – 13 years)
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).
There’s the OG version:
And the turkey 2.0:
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 (or the things that make them happy).
Each student then traces and cuts out their handprint and writes something they’re thankful for on each finger.
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).
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 (not just “my mom.”)
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.
2nd – 4th of ESO (13 – 16 years)
Thanksgiving can be a tough one at this age as many are “too cool” to be thankful. I always go by the usual vibe of the class to decide which route to go.
Option 1 – Class Discussion
If it’s a cool class with a cool vibe, you can use this video clip to talk about what it means to take things for granted and talk about 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.
Option 2 – Games
For an IDGAF class, there’s always Taboo, Pictionary and Bingo. Start off with a vocab introduction and the rest takes care of itself. If they’re pretty knowldedgable about Thanksgiving, you’re also welcome to use this Jeopardy Game I threw together a while back.
Option 3 – Family Feud
This year I’ll be trying out a new idea that I got off a buddy who teaches in Madrid – Family Feud. This is their first year doing Thanksgiving (the previous native teachers were British), soI plan to start off with a quickie presentation about Thanksgiving symbols, traditions and foods, and then play Family Feud using the new vocab and information.
IE: We asked 100 people what they were most Thankful for this year…
Option 4 – Potluck
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-enough Thanksgiving recipes (mashed potatoes, virgin eggnog, apple pie, apple cider, etc.) and the students prepare them 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 😉
Bachillerato (17 – 18 years)
It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been blessed with bachillerato, and one of the things I miss 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 History Month, click here for some additional activities.
And don’t forget to follow me for more ESL Lesson Plans 📚 and adventures ✈️ in the Canary Islands, Spain and the world 🌍!
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