Thanksgiving in the Upper Grade Classroom

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of the year, at home as well as at school. It is a small eye in the holiday hurricane, between the madness of Halloween, and the frenzy of Christmas.

Think your upper grade kids have already learned all they need to know about the Thanksgiving holiday? Think again…I’m always surprised about how little they still know by the time they get to my 4th/5th classroom.

Oh well, I love teaching the story, as well as doing lots of other fun things during this month.

Here are a few of the things I’ll be doing with my kids during November:

1. I’m Not a Turkey…I’m a ________________!

As soon as those blasted jack o’ lanterns are taken down and the new November calendar is put up, this is the first art project I love to do.

First, I read this great book called Turkey Trouble by Wendi Silvano. It’s about how this turkey disguises himself as other animals on the farm to avoid being eaten.

Then we talk about what other ways the turkey could’ve disguised himself (as an astronaut, a hula dancer, a ninja, a cowboy…).

Next, I give the kids a quick lesson on how to draw a turkey on their whiteboards. I emphasize that by this age, a hand turkey is “illegal” and should never be seen in our classroom. It sounds harsh but I keep it lighthearted actually. Just don’t like the lack of creativity that hand turkeys offer.

Basically, I teach them that one way to make it is to start with a bowling pin shape, add two wings and lots of back feathers, you get the idea.I give each of the kids a 6 x 9 inch piece of brown construction paper and then let them choose whatever other papers they need from an assortment of fall colors I’ve already cut into smaller pieces. I always love how these turn out! Really fun!

2. Review the Thanksgiving Story

I like to start by storytelling the whole thing in my own words. I tell the kids that when I pause, they can raise their hands to tell me the next word that will help complete the story.

For example, I might start out…Long, long ago, in ________________________ (England), the King made everybody go to his own church called the Church of England… They actually love this game and learn a lot from it too.

Another thing I like to do is to show a video or two with a factual account of the story. I subscribe to Discovery Education and there are lots of great videos there.

Then I usually read an account of the First Thanksgiving, using a picture book. I do love those picture books for older kids. They are short, sweet, and get me where I need to go! Any good title will do but one I especially like to use is The Story of the Pilgrims by Katharine Ross:

3. Integrate Reading Skills Using the Thanksgiving Story

All of us know how pressed we are to fit everything we need to do during the day, in order to cover everything we need to cover. That’s one reason I really love to integrate curriculum whenever possible and social studies and reading work especially well together.

I use one of the resources that I’ve created especially for Thanksgiving for 4th and 5th. It has worksheets targeting compare and contrast, figurative language, citing evidence, and context clues, which all kids need to practice, while teaching the kids more about Thanksgiving’s history. It also comes with task cards for fact and opinion, which work well with 3rd – 5th graders. These print and go materials are perfect for such a busy time of year!

4. Do Some Poetry

One of the things the kids love to do is to make an acrostic poem using the word Thanksgiving. We brainstorm the more difficult letters together (N for example could be Native Americans or New World, K could be kindness or the King of England…). I make sure that the kids use nice long phrases like T is for turkey, crispy and brown…rather than just T is for turkey (ugh!)

5. Do an Opinion Piece

I love to read Thank You, Sarah by Laurie Halse Anderson, which tells the story of Sarah Hale, who spent 17 years of her life writing letters to newspapers, as well as to several presidents, asking for Thanksgiving to be a national holiday.

After reading this story we talk about persuasive writing, what that means, and how to do it. I tell the kids how Benjamin Franklin really thought the turkey would have been a better choice as a national symbol.Then the kids read an informational sheet about wild turkeys and bald eagles (included in the Thanksgiving Literacy Set), and are asked to write their own opinion piece about which bird would have been a better choice for a national symbol.

6. Incorporate Some Gratefulness

I’ve seen lots of cute ideas on Pinterest, like writing one thing a day on a leaf and adding it to a thankfulness tree, or making a turkey and the feathers are things we’re thankful for. Some years, we do a buddy activity where I cut out the letter 4 from construction paper and the kids together write down things that they are thankful “four/for”.

One of the most successful things to do related to gratefulness is to have the kids write five things each morning for a week, in their Writer’s Notebook, that they feel thankful for. We talk about how studies have shown that people who are more grateful for the things they have in their lives, have a tendency to be happier…and who doesn’t want that? We talk about how if we make it a habit to remember what we have and how thankful we are for every little thing, we feel better about life and feel happier as a whole. And isn’t being thankful what this holiday is all about anyway?

I do have an entire month long unit on Gratitude that you might want to check out. It comes with discussion task cards, posters, awards, self-reflective quizzes and more to target the virtue of gratefulness, which I think is a perfect fit for November!

If you’d like to focus on gratitude this month, I also wrote an entire post about how to teach gratitude in the classroom you might like!

Happy Thanksgiving to you!

Thanks for stopping by!

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Hi, I’m Jenn! I love to create resources that hit standards, are engaging for students, and save teachers time. It’s my goal to help you help your students have fun while learning! Thanks so much for joining me here!

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