Curriculum for Relearning Thanksgiving

As you may know, Thanksgiving is a controversial subject for many First Nations people. Regardless of how you choose to spend your Thanksgiving holiday, we invite you to reflect on the past with your students. We’ve highlighted some phenomenal resources that honor indigenous perspectives, providing a more balanced historical account of the events surrounding the "first" Thanksgiving. Encouraging young people to challenge prevailing narratives prepares them for the work of building a more equitable tomorrow.

Pilgrim & Wampanoag Daily Life | Scholastic

This lesson provides the perfect opportunity for younger students to develop an understanding Colonial and Wampanoag cultures of the early 1600s. They’ll interpret timelines and give creative responses to demonstrate comprehension while sharpening their ability to compare and contrast details.

Suggested Grades: K-2

Common Core Standard: RI.K.1

You Are The Historian | Plimoth.org

This resource includes tons of visual and audio aids and is the perfect way for students to tap into their inner historian as they sort through clues to piece together the true story of the Harvest Festival of 1621. This interactive requires Flash Player and the site mentions that users might experience slow loading times due to the high level of interest. You can avoid this by downloading the application. We think it’s well worth it! Access the Teacher’s Guide here.  

Suggested Grades: 3-5

Common Core Standards: 

RI.2.3 RI.3.3 RI.3.7 RI.4.1 RI.4.3  RI.5.3 RI.5.6

Wampanoag Celebrations | Aquinnah Cultural Center

There’s more than one way to give thanks and the Wampanoag have a way of showing their gratitude that has been practiced since way before the first Europeans arrived. This lesson plan teaches students all about the Wampanoag thanks-giving celebrations of the past and present through primary source documents, writing prompts, online research and even a cooking lesson!

Suggested Grades: 3-5

Common Core Standards: 

RI.3.1 RI.3.3 RI.3.5 RI.4.1 RI.4.3 RI.5.3 RI.5.7 

The First Thanksgiving | Scholastic

This easy to navigate website teaches students about the daily lives of the Wampanoags and the Pilgrims. With so many historical letters, primary source images and videos to peruse, it’s the perfect resource for a self-paced lesson.

Suggested Grades: 6-8

Common Core Standards: 

RH.6-8.6 RH.6-8.7 RH.6-8.9

The Surprising Origins of Thanksgiving Foods | PBS Learning Media

If we were transported back in time to dine with some indigenous people, we might be surprised by what would end up on our plates. This video explores the history of animal domestication and farming in the Americas before European contact, and gives more information about turkey poop than you ever thought you'd need.

Suggested Grades: 6-8

Common Core Standards: 

SL.6.2 SL.7.2 

Myths and Truth: The 1st Thanksgiving | ReadWriteThink

Spark dialogue in your classroom about the myths associated with the “first Thanksgiving.” This lesson asks for students to think critically about what they’ve heard about this event and consider the differences between common lore and historical fact. They’ll then engage in a “myth-breaking” process and share their discoveries in group presentations.

Suggested Grades: 6-8

Common Core Standards: 

RH.6-8.1 RH.6-8.6 RH.6-8.8 

SL.6.1 SL.6.4 SL.7.1 SL.7.4 SL.8.1 SL.8.4

Native Americans Review Thanksgiving Storybooks | As/Is

A group of Native Americans review children's' books about the story of the first Thanksgiving and make some hilarious discoveries. This video is an interesting way to engage students in a discussion about why positive representation matters, especially in depictions of historical events. They can also debate whether or not there is a need for children's books that teach the realities of the interactions between the Pilgrims and the indigenous people. Students can use the New York Times article below to gather evidence.

Suggested Grades: 9-12 (Contains language that some may deem inappropriate; 1 censored and 1 un-censored) 

Common Core Standards: 

SL.9-10.1 SL.9-10.3 SL.11-12.1 SL.11-12.3

Most Everything You Learned About Thanksgiving is Wrong | New York Times

This article provides a quick overview of some of the key misconceptions about Thanksgiving, from the invite list to the menu. Students can use it to debate whether history books containing inaccurate or incomplete information about this topic should still be used in schools. An even more creative approach would be to have students play in-role as editors, seeking out an outdated version of the story of the first Thanksgiving and making all the necessary edits to the text, using the information they’ve gathered.

Suggested Grades: 11-12

Common Core Standards: 

SL.11-12.1 RI.11-12.2 RI.11-12.7 

Thanksgiving Mourning | Teaching Tolerance

This thought-provoking lesson plan allows students to explore the perspectives of two Native American authors as they discuss what Thanksgiving means to them, to show how people from similar cultural backgrounds can perceive shared experiences differently. Afterward, they'll write about what they learned from the authors and explain whether or not these discoveries gave them a new view of Thanksgiving.

Suggested Grades: 9-12

Common Core Standards: 

RI.9-10.1 RI.9-10.6 RI.9-10.9 RI.11-12.1 RI.11-12.6 RI.11-12.8 W.9-10.9 W.11-12.2 W.11-12.8

Thanksgiving Through the Lens of Native Americans Today | PBS Learning Media

As an alternative to the Teaching Tolerance assignment, this lesson plan brings conversations about Thanksgiving into a contemporary context by looking at how the history of the Wampanoag people informs their current battles, including the fight to preserve their ancestral lands and native language.

Suggested Grades: 9-12

Common Core Standards: 

RI.9-10.1 RI.11-12.1 SL.9-10.1 SL.11-12.1 RH.9-10.1 RH.11-12.2 

Eboni Hogan

Content Specialist

Eboni has extensive experience in curriculum development, with a focus on culturally-responsive and arts-based approaches. Having spent years creating academic content and providing professional development to teachers, she now curates themed playlists meant to provide educators with valuable, time-saving resources.

Teaching Thanksgiving Resources

American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving Teaching Guide | National Museum of the American Indian

Information and activity ideas for grades 4-8 teachers.


Are You Teaching the Real Story of the "First Thanksgiving"? | Education World

Positive teaching strategies for discussing this topic in a classroom. 


Ten Ways to Make Your Thanksgiving About Social and Environmental Justice | Eve Bratman

Though some of the information is dated, this article includes some suggestions for redefining the Thanksgiving holiday as a time for charitable work and activism.