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Thanksgiving Lessons Other Than Paper Hats

Thanksgiving Lessons Other Than Paper Hats

Thematically, Thanksgiving can be a bit tricky to incorporate into lessons for older students. They are no longer impressed by paper hats and hand turkeys (although you would be surprised on how much mileage “childish” activities like that can get with older kids). So let’s start discussing some Thanksgiving-themed activities for all secondary subject areas.

 English/Language Arts – True Thanksgiving poetry

I found this great essay at discussing some of the most important poetry that covers both the concept of Thanksgiving and the historical ramifications. Linked within are examples of everything from traditional Native American prayers to Langston Hughes. It can serve as the backbone to a great one-period discussion or even a weekly unit. Now is the time to move kids’ perception of Thanksgiving away from turkey and football to what the day really meant, both positive and negative.

History/Geography – Trace the route

Here is the approximate route of the Mayflower as created in Google Maps. It doesn’t look like much, but considering they were supposed to be landing in Virginia, it’s worth a discussion about what could pull them so far off-course and what their navigation was like. Also noticed the timing notes given on the side—it took the Mayflower three months to cross the Atlantic. Have the kids do some research to describe those conditions.

Science – The chemistry of Thanksgiving

The American Chemical Society produced this great video featuring Dr. Diane Bunce discussing the various ways chemistry affects our Thanksgiving, from how pop-up turkey timers work to the chemical differences between mashed potatoes and mashed paper (hint: not much). It’s a great video for the day before break when the kids’ attention is waning. The ACS has some other Thanksgiving lesson ideas here, as well.

Math – Black Friday analysis

Thanksgiving also heralds the ultimate monument to consumerism: Black Friday. You don’t have to wait for Thanksgiving to see what retailers have in store for their doorbusters this year; simply visit Have the kids track the prices of their favorite doorbusters as they have moved throughout the year to see if they are really getting a good deal. This can open up all sorts of discussions on the math of economics and how to be a smart consumer.

And, cross-curricularly, try to find ways to show your students that Thanksgiving is just as much about giving as it is consuming. Organize a can drive or volunteer at a shelter during the holiday. Our role as educators is not limited to the material we have to cover; sometimes it’s just as much about the world around us.

Have an activity that worked well in your classroom? Share your Thanksgiving ideas via comments.


scott.sterling's picture
Scott Sterling

Scott Sterling is a former English teacher who worked in Title I middle and high schools in St. Petersburg, Florida who is now a freelance writer who focuses on education. He is also a stay-at-home dad to his 4-year-old daughter Lily, who will soon be starting her own educational journey.