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 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.
- 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.
This restaurant role play is how I teach beginner students to order at a restaurant. The goal of the lesson is to get them to do a role play of being at a restaurant, so the focus of the lesson is as communicative as possible. In addition, I have an intermediate/advanced level restaurant lesson that you can check out.
Restaurant roleplays are a great way to teach students survival skills. They also provide a basic customer service dialogue that they can modify. And I like how they absorb more complex grammar such as “would” without having to parse it just yet.
This full lesson plan helps ESL false beginners and low-level students practice ordering at a restaurant. The lesson includes:
- complete teacher notes
- a warm-up
- an exercise that elicits key language
- an exercise to write a sample dialogue
- work with some target vocabulary and grammar
- materials for a role play including sample menus and a sample dialogue for students to follow.
- To give students practice ordering in a restaurant
- To practice the structures “I would like” and “May I have”
- To promote fluency and automaticity
This restaurant role play lesson plan has been moved to my Teachers Pay Teachers store. You can purchase and download it there.
I am a big fan of mysteries, so I’ve done a complete mystery lesson plan using a fun mystery story as the basis for a vocabulary and grammar lesson. There’s also practice in close reading and critical thinking as students try to solve the mystery and a graphic organizer to guide students to write their own mystery story. I designed this for my ESL classroom but I know it’s been used in ELA classrooms across the country.
The Mystery Lesson Plan Includes
- Mystery vocabulary such as alibi and motive.
- Using modal verbs of speculation to guess the significance of clues
- A mystery story as along reading
- Reading strategies such as reading for key information and evaluating information
- Graphic organizer in the form of a mystery reading worksheet
- Mystery writing worksheet to help students write their own stories.
There’s complete teacher notes, ideas for alternative or extension activities and an answer key.
Why Use Mysteries
I love using mysteries. Here’s a few reasons why.
- They encourage extensive reading. Most people like puzzles and mysteries so it can encourage students to read outside of class.
- When you read a detective story, you tend to read for whodunit, for the outlines of the plot and then for the details. So students learn extensive and intensive reading skills.
- Specifically mysteries teach analytical reading comprehension skills like skimming, scanning, and evaluating important material (i.e. clues)Mysteries are fun. Students love puzzles and riddles. They also love the CSI and Law and Order shows.
- They teach reading and writing to a genre, in this case the Whodunit.
- They give students practice making guesses and speculations
- Provide the perfect jumping off point for creative writing , with good planning as mysteries require a lot of pre-writing outlining.
Preview and Buy the lesson plan?
You can purchase and download the full unit from Teachers Pay Teachers: Whodunit Unit
I love large compendiums of activity ideas. Resource books full of simple, easy to adapt activities are the lifeblood of teaching in my opinion. And if there happens to be a free resource, available on the Internet so I can access it anywhere, that’s even better!
So here’s a really nice one put out by the Colorado Department of Education: Listening and Speaking Activities for Adult ESL Learners
The resource also shows how the activities align to the BEST Plus Assessment and CASAS Listening Basic Skills Content Standards. Fortunately, as a private teacher I don’t have to worry about that stuff but it’s a nice way to get an idea of what exact speaking or listening skill is involved.
This goal (part of the 30 Goals Movement) caught my eye as I have begun to finally play Minecraft. And while I am skeptical of a game teaching students English, I like the way David Dodgson at ELT Sandbox (not ELTs and box as it looks like from the URL) frames this idea for an activity:
Learn to play – let your students teach you how to play a
- Start by choosing a game – it could be a game for your phone/tablet, for your laptop, from a website, or any other device you have available to you, but make sure it is a popular game the students will know about (check the app store charts for example)
- Tell your students you have started playing this game. You like it but you are finding it difficult.
- If they know the game, invite them to explain the rules, give you some
instructions and offer you some advice about how to play it.
- Once they have taught the teacher, ask them to prepare a short guide to the game
(this could take the form a short written set of instructions or
It seems like this could be a whole unit or a simple bonding exercise as a pre- or post-class discussion. Maybe run into a kid in the hall, “Hey is that that Angry Birds thing I’ve heard about? Tell me how it works…”
This seems like a really nice way to let the students shine by making them the expert, sharing (and validating) an interest of theirs, and also getting them to want to use language in order to discuss something they are passionate about.
And then depending on the game, you might be able to do a whole lot more. I mentioned Minecraft and a handful of ideas jumped out at me for using it in the classroom , such as:
- Construction manuals Their complexity would depend on the level of the student. A manual could range from how to build a simple house to how to recreate the Taj Mahal. Or how to create a certain effect such as a gabled roof.
- Crafting manuals Students can write out instructions on how to craft different things.
- Map or picture/sculpture recreation Students can recreate a terrain to match a description. Students can even draw pictures or recreate sculptures from written directions.
- Explain the missing steps Engineers in particular might enjoy explaining the over-simplifications in the crafting process. TNT is surely more than just sand and gunpowder. How do you really craft a pick axe from stone?
- Treasure hunts: If students can share worlds, they can hide treasures in locations and write directions how to get there.
- Books You can write books in Minecraft. Students could create sculptures, buildings, whole worlds and then write a history of it or diary entries from the creator. Then other students go on a tour.
I’m hardly the first to suggest Minecraft for Education. In fact, there will be an EVO on using Minecraft in the classroom next year, so feel free to check that out. I suppose keep an eye on the EVO homepage for when enrollment begins.
I love taking students on field trips. Even as the world turns to virtual field trips for their ease, I still feel getting students to leave the classroom and talk to people or explore real texts is worth the extra hassle of the logistics.
This is a nice activity I came across when I was working at an Intensive English language program that works well getting students to talk to native speakers in authentic conversations and also helps them to understand a little bit of American culture. I’m posting it here with Christmas in mind, but it can work with any holiday or cultural event. To simplify planing on your part, students could do this as homework. I’ve had students interview butchers at the grocery store, old men playing chess in the park, people waiting for the bus…It’s amazing who will speak to an ESL student wanting to practice English.
And as with any activity that has a productive component, it’s easy to throw in a vocabulary or grammar focus as well by asking students to use particular words or a specific grammar form.
What follows are the instructions I usually give students:
Your mission is to interview two Americans about Christmas. You will need to prepare questions in advance. To do so, think of something that you want to know about Christmas. It might be about how or why we celebrate. Maybe you have seen something you don’t understand and want to know more about it and its connection to Christmas. Or perhaps you have a question about the history of the holiday.
Once you have decided on your topic, write 4-7 questions that will help you find out what you want to know. For example, if you want to know how people celebrate Christmas, you could ask, “What kind of food do you eat on Christmas?”
Now that you have written your questions, find two Americans to interview. Be sure to introduce yourself and explain why you are doing this interview first. Ask if they have time for a short interview. Then ask your questions. Take notes on their answers.
Write a short (one-page double-sided) summary of what you learned about Christmas.
I was consulting the Michigan Academic Speech Corpus recently and discovered this passage that does wonders for demonstrating the purpose of intonation:
SU-f: where’s Jerry? he was here
SU-f: oh no
S13: okay, um, approval, of the agenda why don’t you guys take a second to look over
SU-m: who needs the agenda?
S13: the agenda?
I first read this as Where’s Jerry. He was here. Oh No! (meaning “Something horrible must have happened to Jerry”, as opposed to “Oh, I must have been wrong about him being here because I just saw the guy I thought was Jerry before, but now I clearly see that it’s in fact Ali”)
…Who needs the agenda (meaning, “No one needs an agenda, guys. Serious in 2014 we still have agendas?” as opposed to, “I have in my hands more than one copy of the agenda and I will give said copies to people who do not have agendas because we expect that everyone will have a copy of the agenda and read it”)
Reading transcripts of spoken English is also a wonderful way to dispel the myth that spoken English follows the rules of English or even makes the slightest bit of sense out of context.