Thanksgiving Lesson Plans and Activities

Thanksgiving Lesson Plans and Activities are always a fun way to teach American culture. But Thanksgiving lessons also raise timeless themes such as gratitude, types of food, and how we celebrate holidays in general. Plus, it’s nice to pop in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving sometimes and have some fun! So here’s some links to some of my most popular Thanksgiving activities and lesson plans.

Thanksgiving Day Lesson Plans and Activities for ESL, EFL, ELA Classes on Teachers Pay TeachersThanksgiving Lesson Plans and Activities


  •  A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving lesson plan is another great activity. The video does a great job of introducing the pilgrims and the Native Americans and the first thanksgiving. It also depicts the religious side of this holiday and the turkey and mashed potatoes. Even the football game is mentioned! You can also have fun introducing the Peanuts characters and running gags. Linus’ blanket, Sally’s crush on Linus, and Lucy always pulling away that football all are here.  There are a number of comprehension questions for students to answer as they watch. There’s also a guide for teachers that breaks the movie into scenes. For each scene, there’s some key vocabulary, major themes, and a summary of the action. You can use it to break the viewing into parts. Or to pre-teach some vocab you think students might need to know. Or ask students to make their own outline of the video and then compare it to your outline.
  • The Missing Mashed Potatoes. This is a clue by clue critical thinking mystery puzzle with a Thanksgiving theme. Maybe you had a favorite dish that you only ate on holidays. And everybody fought to get more than anyone else. In my family, it was the mashed potatoes. That’s what led me to write this mystery where students have to follow the clues to figure out who ate all the mashed potatoes!
  • Looking for a quick warm-up for your Thanksgiving Lesson Plans and Activities? The Thanksgiving Word Association Brainstorm is exactly what it sounds like: A worksheet that asks students to name 5 things they associate with Thanksgiving. It’s a simple activity, but powerful. You can elicit vocabulary, use their answers as discussion prompts, discover misunderstandings your students have, create a word cloud, or ask students to share the reasons for their associations!
  • Word Processing Skills Thanksgiving Day Edition is a fun activity that teaches students basic word processing skills. Students are given a text and rules on how to manipulate that text. In the process, they uncover a mystery message. This one is all about thankfulness! Tired of students that don’t know how to copy-and-paste? Want to make sure they know how to format in 12-point Times New Roman? Try this fun activity out.

FoodThanksgiving Lesson Plans and Activities

  • The Food and Holidays Lesson Plan gives students a chance to talk about their national food, then gives you a chance to discuss Thanksgiving and the traditional foods we eat on that holiday. Finally students get talk about their special holiday meals. It’s a great way to approach Thanksgiving with international students. They may not know a lot about this primarily American holiday, but they do know how to talk about food. It’s also a topic that is accessible to advanced, intermediate and beginner students.
  • One part of the Food and Holidays Lesson Plan is the food and adjectives worksheet. In fact, I’ve designed it in two different ways:  a Food and Adjectives Chart where students fill in words to describe tastes, ways of cooking, ways to describe food.
  • For less advanced students, there’s also a Food Adjectives Cloze Worksheet that gives some more support in the form of sample vocabulary and sentence frames. Students can also graduate from this scaffolded version to the more open Food and Adjectives Chart.

Reading Strategies: Questions

This lesson aims to teach students a strategy for reading better by constantly formulating questions as they read in order to keep their minds focused on the meaning of the text and to keep motivation up.


  • To teach students a technique they can use to read more effectively
  • To help students understand texts better
  • To make students more autonomous


  • A newspaper article or use  this fake article
  • A short text, preferably one page or so.
  • Post-It Notes
  • Another text, one that they need to read for class anyway.


Ask students to discuss in pairs or small groups what strategies they use to read. If your students are like mine, they will probably not have a lot to say. You might need to prompt them by asking what they find difficult about reading and how they try to overcome those obstacles.

Come back as a class and put any strategies up on the board. Focus on any that are close to the one we will be discussing, “Asking yourself questions as you read the text to focus your brain.” If no one has said anything remotely like that, introduce the idea. Ask students whether it might help or not.

I often do a little demonstration to show that we are normally making questions when we read. And that in fact we often read to answer a question. So I might pick up a class schedule or a reference book and look something up, to demonstrate that I had a question and I looked for the answer (Similar to scanning). Or I might have a newspaper article ready (like this silly fake one) and read the first line, then ask myself a question and read til I see the answer to my question, then formulate a new question and find the answer. And so on.

Making Questions

After students have the idea, give them a serious text to work with. One-page texts work well because they are short enough to read in one period, but they have enough meat for students to answer and ask a few questions.

Have students look at the title or any pictures or subtitles and form a question, something that they want to know about the subject. If the title is opaque, you might tell them the subject and then have them make a question about that. One way to make a good question is to tell students to write a sentence like, “I want to know _____________________ about this topic.” and fill in the blank.

Give students a Post-It note and have them attach it to the side of the reading. Then ask them to write their question on the Post-It note.

Now have students read the introduction or first section. This can be done in groups so they can help each other to understand. When they have read, ask them if anyone found the answer to his/her question. The answer may be Yes or No or Maybe.

If anyone says Yes or Maybe/Sort Of, ask what their question was and what answer they found. Ask other students if they agree with the answer. This reinforces that the strategy works by giving them a way to understand the text through their own questions and interests.

Now ask if students have a new question based on what they read. This is a good time to also check comprehension based on their new questions. Have them write new questions down.

Now let them read the next section/paragraph of the text. Again ask if anyone found an answer to one of their questions, discuss the answers and ask them to make a new question. Let them continue reading in this way until they have finished the text.

At the end, check comprehension of the text through some questions or by discussing the main ideas. Make sure the students are on the same page. Then ask students to reflect on the strategy. Did it help them understand better? Was it easy to come up with questions? Did they have a lot of unanswered questions? How does having a question in mind help? Does it feel natural?


You can collect any unanswered questions and use them to plan your next lesson.

You can also ask them what difficulties they had reading and plan another strategy-based lesson to answer their individual problems.


Hope that was helpful. As always, comment away on good points, bad points, your favorite color or which brand of rum you prefer in your Mojitos.

English Attack

Via Views from the Whiteboard, I discovered English Attack which is a cool little resource to teach English from media. It features video clips from popular TV shows and sitcoms taken from Hulu (so I don’t know if it’ll work outside the US) with vocab reviews before watching. Then after watching there are some comprehension questions and cloze exercises. Obviously you could put something like this together yourself in the classroom, but English Attack seems like a good way to get students to practice at home.

You do need to set up an account to access any of the material but everything I looked at was free of charge.

New Year's Resolutions and the Future

This is just an idea I had to use New Year’s resolutions to teach the future tense. That in and of itself is probably nothing new. However one major issue that many students have with talking about the future in English is distinguishing between when we use “going to do”, when we use “will do” and when we use present continuous, “I am doing”. So here’s a way to help them understand the difference. Of course, we should be careful not to present these distinctions as hard and fast rules. In actual practice, the three modes are interchangeable or come down to subjective differences. Often comprehension is the most important point. They need to understand that when someone says, “Italy is going to win the World Cup,” it means the speaker has some reason to believe this is so. When someone says, “Italy will win,” it more likely means the speaker wants Italy to win.

New Year’s Resolutions and the Future

Learning Skimming and Scanning

This is an exercise I came up with last night to try to teach students about scanning and skimming readings. This topic mostly comes up for me in my TOEFL or IELTS preparation classes and usually I don’t explicitly talk about skimming and scanning texts. I tell them not to worry about understanding every single detail in the text and then I show them how different question types can be best answered by either skimming for main ideas in a paragraph or by scanning for key words from the question.

But I felt that the class I am teaching right now needed more a more direct explanation of what skimming and scanning are. I wanted to show them that they already had these skills and used them in their native language.


  • To teach students to skim and to scan through a demonstration
  • To help students realize that they already know how to skim and scan in L1
  • To improve the speed of answering reading questions on the IELTS/TOEFL
    • Materials

      • An article or text from a newspaper, journal, or book with details blocked out in some way: See the box below for a sample handout. Or you could hand out the full article and demonstrate reading it by skimming (say, “blah, blah” or skip over details)


      I start off by telling the class that when they are reading the newspaper in their native language, they are very often skimming. That is, they see an article that looks interesting and they read it fairly quickly, looking for main ideas and interesting points. I gave them a text much like the following (I’ve modified it here to make it more universal and not Kazakhstan-specific):

      Today, the President signed a new law on education. He said the law was important because xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

      The new law makes it a criminal offense for teachers to take bribes or gifts of any kind. The implementation of the law will xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx pilot regions xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 2012 xxxxxxxxxxx whole country xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

      According to the new law, teachers who take any gifts or bribes from students or their parents will be fired immediately and forbidden from teaching in any government school ever again. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx old laws were ineffective because xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

      Corruption in education is a serious problem. For example xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx and one teacher had $1 million xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Public School 222 xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

      International organizations praised the new law xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx OSCE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx UN xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Teachers’ reactions were mixed.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

      I told students that this is probably what it looks like when they read the newspaper. I read it out loud substituting muttering or “blah blah” for the xxxxx to indicate that those were parts of the article they probably read more quickly and without much interest because either they were predictable (the President said the law was important because it was big step forward, corruption is bad, the same sort of things politicians always say), contained technical details students may not understand well or not care about (the law will be implemented on some schedule in some pilot regions, such and such policies will also be changed.), or weren’t interesting (The UN and the OSCE said the law was super awesome). I pointed out that

      I also noted (and would love to have elicited this from them somehow) that the highlighted sentences above form a complete story, the kind of thing we might say to a buddy when discussing the article: “Hey, did you hear about this new law? It prevents teachers from taking gifts or bribes. If they do, they are out of a job forever. Apparently corruption is really bad, one teacher even had like $1 million saved away just from bribes!”


      So that’s skimming. Noting main ideas and noting where key details are in the passage so we can go back and read in more detail if we want to. For example, if your friend that you are talking to about this article says, “Hey, teachers must hate this law.”, you will think, “Yeah there was something about that at the end and scan for the phrase “teachers’ reactions”. Then you can read that bit in detail:

      Teachers’ reactions were mixed. Sally Johnson of PS 154 said the law was far too harsh because children and parents sometimes give innocent gifts, especially younger children. On the other hand, John Saleri said, “I have seen bad teachers take money from students left and right, and then use some of that money to bribe the director of the school so they aren’t ever fired. It hurts our education system”

      Anyway, that was my brillant last minute idea. I think it went okay but I’m not sure they fully got it until we moved on to IELTS exercises and they saw actual questions that they had to solve. So maybe my demonstration didn’t give them enough motivation. I would also say that the class I did this with had very good scanning skills but skimming still wasn’t great. Not bad, but not great. They had trouble focusing on the most important information and instead latched onto the most abstract or general information, which I suspect reflects the Kazakhstan education system and thus represents the habit that I have to break them of.

      For example, we did a reading about snow machines. I would have summarized the first paragraph as, “in the past lack of snow was a problem for ski resorts, but the snow machine solves that problem by letting them make snow when they want.” Students produced, “It’s about problems in the winter sports industry” or “the history of ski resorts” which were way, way too broad and abstract.

      I would love to hear other people’s comments on my idea. How can I make the lesson better, or is this approach completely useless? If you try something like this, I’d also love a comment on how it went. Or any other ways of teaching skimming and grasping main ideas.

      I’d also be curious how students find this tool. Is it useful for you? Does it make sense?