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.

Genre Approach to Writing Slides

Just sharing my slides from my ConnTESOL presentation on the genre approach to writing.

The genre approach starts with the idea that writers write for a purpose, from a particular author role, to a particular audience, in a particular context. And that depending on the purpose and the situation we choose to write in different genres.  Genres are socially-defined conventional forms of texts that have particular linguistic features (structure, language, grammar, content) that students can be taught to make their writing more effective.

My presentation describes the basic theory of the genre approach and then presents the stages of a typical lesson or unit with examples of activities.

I used the example of a brief news article because I wanted something short and also a genre that had some relevance for academic and non-academic classes. Any other genre could have just as easily been used.

Please feel free to look at the slides and let me know what you think: Beyond Five Paragraphs

5W Chart

Here’s another one of my versions of a popular teaching tool–the 5W chart. It’s usually used to help students keep track of a story or news article by filling out the who, what, where, when, and why of the story. Especially helpful for beginning level readers, it can also be used for advanced readers doing dense and difficult texts. The questions break down as:

  • Who did it?
  • What did they do?
  • Where did they do it?
  • When did they do it?
  • Why did they do it?

Some people add “How” but that usually gets tangled up in “What”. And of course, not all stories are going to have answers to all those questions. I like to follow up by having students note which information the article is mainly about. Is it an article or story about an event (WHAT) or a person (WHO). MAybe it’s a portrait of a place or a time. An editorial might even focus on WHY more than the other questions.

While this is primarily meant as a reading tool to help students break a reading down, it can also serve as an outline for writing.

My Presentation of the Genre Approach

I was honored to be part of the first ever TOBELTA Web Conference sponsored by TESL Toronto and BELTA. My presentation seemed to be well received and I would love to hear feedback. If you missed my live show, they’ve put up the recording of my presentation and you can also access the the slides alone. Finally I’ve done Past the Five Paragraph Essay Handoutthat provides a little more information about the benefits of the Genre Approach and why the five paragraph essay needs to die! It also has references for other books and sites out there.

I am quite serious about feedback because I am very excited about the genre approach to writing (or speech). I think it addresses many of the flaws in the five paragraph method that is traditionally taught along with these generic text types like compare-contrast, argument, process and problem-solution. And I do think this is a very exciting time for the genre approach because there is room for teacher contributions–materials, ways to implement it or integrate it with other methods, theory, research on its effectiveness. So as I say in my presentation, here’s this cool thing I found. Please do something cool with it!

Process Essay

To my collection of resources for teaching students to write a process essay, I am adding a Process Essay Test. I designed this to test both reading skills and writing skills. It asks students to reverse outline a fairly simple process essay about doing well in college. Then students are given practice applying transition words by rewriting a list of instructions as a process paragraph.

Here are a couple of other resources I use to teach the process essay:

Teaching Introductions and Conclusions

I hate teaching introductions and conclusions! There, I said it. It’s so hard to define clearly what makes a good introduction!

  • A good introduction should make the topic interesting–but what’s interesting to you isn’t always interesting to me.
  • A good introduction should have enough background information to open the topic but not too much–and how much exactly is that?
  • We need a clear, strong thesis statement-but how manyexcellent pieces of writing do you read where the thesis statement is implied, or broken into two sentences, and those sentences are located far away from each other?
  • The introduction is the first paragraph–unless it’s the second because the first paragraph is an extended hook.

And conclusions?

  • A conclusion should sum up
  • Or make a recomendation
  • Or conclude the topic somehow
  • But it shouldn’t have new information.

And when we teach students to write by rote, let’s face it, the results are pretty boring. And while beginners may not have great English skills, your students may be sophisticated writers with excellent writing skills in their own language. We don’t want to stunt them with a school child level formula.

So how can we get students to write good introductions and good conclusions? By exposing them to as many examples as we can. To make that process easier. I developed these two worksheets–one is for beginners and the other is for more advanced students that provide fairly formulaic intros and conclusions with pretty basic problems. They serve as jumping off points to get students reading analytically to inform their own writing:

The Worksheets

Good and Bad Introductions for higher levels (with Good and Bad Introductions Suggested Answers)

Good intros and conclusions for lower levels (with Good intros and conclusions Suggested Answers)

I like to use them like this:

  1. Review what makes a good intro and/or conclusion as a class which shouldn’t take long.
  2. Break students into groups and give them each a worksheet. Let them discuss and evaluate for about 15-20 minutes. Remind them that there are good and bad points about every example.
  3. Break students into different groups and have them share ideas with new students for about 7 minutes.
  4. Come back together and go over the good, the bad, and the ugly about each one.
  5. For homework, send students to a news  opinions page (The New York Times is great or BBC Words in the News has articles written for ESL websites. Local papers are also a good resource). Have them pick an introduction and a conclusion and analyze what is good and bad about it.
  6. The next day, students present their introductions and conclusions  in groups.

Basically, I want to give students analytical skills that lets them write excellent introductions and conclusions.

Highlighting Essays: Compare and Contrast

I’ve posted before about highlighting essays to help students see the structure. It’s a great exercise to have students reverse outline an essay by highlighting key information like the thesis statement, topic sentences, examples and conclusions. Then the key structural elements of the essay will literally jump off the page at them.

Here’s an essay I wrote to show students the structure of a compare and contrast essay. I was getting tired of reading body paragraphs like this:

Dogs are more friendly than cats. Cats are very independent and they don’t need people. So they are not as friendly. On the other hand, dogs like people and always want to be around them. So I think friendly people like dogs and unfriendly people like cats.

I really wanted them to see how ideas connect to each other. And I wanted them to include evidence for their claims including sub-topics and examples. So the essay is a bit dense because it also serves as a model of how to develop strong supporting points and link paragraphs. So without further ado, a sample essay for your students perusal:

CC Essay Highlighting