By- Kelli Drummer-Avendano

Thanksgiving is the perfect occasion to learn about the past, give thanks for what we have today, and expand our horizons by exploring different harvest celebrations. 

Here are five ways to take advantage of the holiday to sneak in some learning opportunities and celebrate along the way.

1. Celebrate contemporary Native peoples. When we talk about Thanksgiving in the classroom, sometimes we unintentionally give the impression that Native Americans lived in the past and that they aren’t a part of the current dialogue. Each week in November, make it a point to learn about a different tribe, including the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe from the original Thanksgiving celebration. If possible, invite a Native person to give a presentation to the class. 

2. Create a “Gratitude Wall.” Have students leave sticky notes on a designated wall or area of the classroom. Encourage students to get specific. Instead of just writing “my family” on a sticky note, they might write “dinner with my family on Sundays.”   

When we remember specific moments or particular acts that make us feel grateful, we learn to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude,” which helps us appreciate the small, everyday joys in life. 

3. Write diary entries from the perspective of the pilgrims and the Wampanoag Tribe. After doing some individual research or talking about the first Thanksgiving as a class, assign students to write a letter or a diary entry from the viewpoint of either a pilgrim or a member of the Wampanoag Tribe. This helps students learn that people can see the same event in different ways.

4. Have a food drive. Thanksgiving is a holiday that teaches us the importance of giving thanks for all that we have. There’s no better way to remind us of what we are grateful for than to give to others. Having students bring in food to donate is an easy way to celebrate all month. You can even decorate a large cardboard box to look like turkey and challenge students to “stuff” the turkey in time for Thanksgiving. 

5.  Decorate the classroom with an international flair. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, take time every day to create decorations for a harvest celebration— but don’t limit yourself and your students to just turkeys and pumpkins! Hang up moons for the Harvest Moon Festival (China), make flowers to celebrate Pongal (India), or color pictures of yams to represent the Festival of Yams (Ghana). People from all over the world take part in celebrations to give thanks for bountiful harvests; students will enjoy learning about “Thanksgiving” festivities from across the globe.


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