All About Thanksgiving {Integrating Language Arts & Social Studies}

Do you love Thanksgiving as much as me?  The food, the traditions, the parade, the food, family time, the food.....;)  Of course, these are the things I love about celebrating this holiday, but I also love teaching my students about all things Thanksgiving.

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Honestly, there is so much content surrounding the topic of Thanksgiving that it can be hard to narrow it all down, but I rely on our state standards to narrow my focus.  Our standards tend to lean toward teaching our students about life in earlier times and the reason we celebrate holidays, so that's what I focus on in my instruction.

When I cover the Mayflower Voyage, the Pilgrims/Pilgrim life, and the First Thanksgiving, I integrate this content with language arts (and speaking and listening).  It lends itself perfectly to this subject area.  I cover the content during reading, writing, and social studies time throughout the month of November.  We take notes, discuss topics as we learn about them, write about the content, organize information using graphic organizers, compare and contrast, and more.

Most of my lessons are centered around purposeful read alouds.  More specifically, picture books tend to be the basis of my teaching during this unit. They are written at an appropriate level for my students and the pictures help bring the story of the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving to life.

When I begin my Thanksgiving unit, I like to start by introducing/reviewing who the Pilgrims were.  In second grade, most students are familiar with the Pilgrims, but I always start by reading the first several pages from The First Thanksgiving.  It does a nice job of introducing who the Pilgrims were.

After we read these pages, I like to have my students show what they've learned.  I love the little mini book shown above.  It covers the 5 W's and the students get to practice restating the question.  On the first day, I have them answer the WHO question and decorate the cover.  They are always super excited to make a book!

The following day, I read more pages from The First Thanksgiving.  Then, the students complete the rest of the mini book.  

This introduction to the Pilgrims is a great way to kick off the unit.  Once they know who the Pilgrims are and why they are important, we can move on to other topics that center around this group of individuals.

Once my students are familiar with the Pilgrims, I like to spend some time learning about the Mayflower voyage.  I like to begin by facilitating a discussion about transportation.  I ask the students to share how they travel from one place to another.  Then, I remind them that the Pilgrims traveled by ship.  I go on to explain that while that may be similar to how people travel in today's world, their experience was unlike any experience people today may have.

I read several pages from If You Sailed the Mayflower and the students practice their note taking skills.  At the end of the read aloud, I have the students share their notes and I compile them on a chart.  The students then use the chart to make a mini book about the voyage. The students write a sentence about the Mayflower/the voyage on each page. Clearly, we make a lot of mini books in my class.  ;)

I love making mini books because they get my students practicing their sentence writing skills without worrying about organizing an entire paragraph. 

When the mini books, are done, I like to have my students do some reading of their own. We are always practicing the skill of going back to the text to answer a question, and reading passages are a great way to sneak in more practice with that skill.  You can easily add some fun to this by letting your students use a highlighter to find their text evidence.

At some point during this portion of our unit, I always like to visit the Scholastic First Thanksgiving website. They have several amazing videos related to the Pilgrims and they really bring the content to life.  If you've never visited their First Thanksgiving site, do yourself a favor and go there now.  You won't regret it!

Before wrapping up our look into the Mayflower voyage, I like to ask my students to share the kinds of things they take when they travel.  Then, I ask them what kinds of things they take with them when they move (our town is very transient, so most of my students have experience with moving) to a new house (or town).  I use this conversation to point out that the Pilgrims were very limited in what they were allowed to bring with them when they moved to the New World.  I read a little more from If You Sailed on the Mayflower and then follow up with this activity.

Even though I start my unit with an introduction to the Pilgrims, I always return to this topic.  I like to take a look at life as a Pilgrim in Plymouth so that the students can do a little compare and contrast.  This National Geographic Pilgrims of Plymouth book is great!  It has great photos of people reenacting Pilgrim life, and it provides an overview of Pilgrim life.  I like to read it and then follow up with a graphic organizer that allows the students to record their take always from the reading.

Remember the Scholastic site I mentioned earlier in this post?  I usually visit it during this portion of our unit of study as they have some great videos about life in the Pilgrim village.  Definitely check out their videos!

After looking at Pilgrim life in general, I like to focus on what life was like for Pilgrim children.  The students always think it's interesting to learn about life as a kid in the past.  Once again, I like to use picture books to cover this content.  Sarah Morton's Day and Samuel Eaton's Day are great books to give students an inside look at a day in the life of Pilgrim kids.  The text is written in first person and is written in the vernacular of the day. 

After reading these books, it's time to compare and contrast our daily lives to that of Pilgrim kids.  This is always a successful activity.  The kids are always fascinated by the differences, and despite them being so drastically different, they are always able to identify the similarities.

Before moving on, I like to have my students write a paragraph about Pilgrim life.  It's a good way to give them more practice with informative writing and it gives me a good idea of what they have learned.

I always wrap our unit up by covering the First Thanksgiving.  I want my students to know why/how it was celebrated, and what kinds of food the Pilgrims ate.

A great book for explaining all of this is The Pilgrims' First Thanksgiving.  I usually take two days to read this book because it is long. On day one, we usually just talk about the text or do a stop and jot as I read. On day two, when we read about the First Thanksgiving, I have the students complete a circle map of important details. Then, they use that information to write about the First Thanksgiving.

Once we reach the end of the unit, I like to do this cumulative I Spy activity.  The students have to read the statement printed on the card and decide if it is true or false. It's a great way to get your students up and moving, and thinking critically. You could also use it as an assessment tool!

When/if time permits, I like to spend a bit of time covering Thanksgiving traditions, like the Macy's Day Parade.  Every year I am surprised at how many of my second graders have never heard of it, let alone watched it. 

There are lots of video options on You Tube, if you like the idea of showing them some actual parade footage.  Just be sure to watch whatever video you want to show before you actually show it.  It is You Tube, after all, who knows what might pop up.  Conde Nast has a short video that shows lots of different balloons from bird's eye view.  It's in fast motion (that's a thing, right?) but it still gives you a good look at the balloons.

After watching the video, I like to follow up with this reading passage.  It gives the students more information about the parade and gives them a chance to practice their text evidence skills.  And, if time permits, we might even complete the constructed response that goes with it.

You can grab this free reading passage by clicking HERE. :)

It also includes a passage about wild turkeys, another fun topic to cover when you're ready to expand your unit of study!  Use the link above to grab your freebie!

Many of the resources featured in this post can be found in my Thanksgiving unit on TPT.  It includes what you see here, and soooooo much more.  Check it out HERE.

Looking for more reading passages?  My Nonfiction Close Reads Bundle is formatted just like the freebie above and is jam packed with nonfiction passages that will get you through the entire year! 

Thanks for stopping by today! 


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