Lesson Plans, Books, and Videos to Help You Teach About Thanksgiving

And do so in a socially responsible way.

Thanksgiving Lesson Plans

Over the past few years, many of us have made a commitment to change the way we teach Thanksgiving. We’re rejecting narratives that romanticize the relationship between the Pilgrims and Native Americans and ditching activities that appropriate Native culture at the same time they stereotype it (feather headdresses made of construction paper, anyone?). But replacing those lessons with material that includes Native perspectives has proven to be more challenging than we expected. So we gathered all kinds of resources (lesson plans, books, videos, and more) that you can use to teach Thanksgiving in a socially responsible way. Take a look:

Lessons, Guides, and Activities

Thanksgiving Mourning

For many Native Americans, Thanksgiving is a painful reminder of everything they lost with the arrival of Europeans. Instead, they observe a Day of Mourning. In this lesson from Teaching Tolerance, students in grades 6-12 have the opportunity to examine and reflect on Native perspectives on Thanksgiving.

American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving

From the National Museum of the American Indian comes this guide for teachers. Inside, you’ll find essential background information along with ideas for your grade 4-8 classroom, including how to teach new perspectives all year long.

Thanksgiving Interactive: You Are the Historian

Plimoth Plantation has outstanding resources for teachers for incorporating the Wampanoag perspective. Our favorite is this interactive simulation that allows students to find out for themselves what really happened at the famous 1621 celebration. 

Books

Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message

This children’s version of the Thanksgiving Address (a message of gratitude still spoken at ceremonial gatherings held by the Iroquois Nation) beautifully conveys Native beliefs—messages of love and gratitude and appreciation for the earth. Own Voices author and appropriate for elementary.

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving

This offering from National Geographic presents a more balanced version of the three-day celebration that took place in 1621. And with its stunning photography, maps, and interesting facts, your students are certain to learn something new. Appropriate for upper elementary and middle school.

Videos

One Word: Thanksgiving

In this episode of the “One Word” series from The Cut, Indigenous people respond to a single word: Thanksgiving. Their responses are both powerful and haunting. Appropriate for middle to high school students.

Miss Native American U.S.A. Reflects On Thanksgiving

Autumn Rose Miskweminanocsqua Williams’s reflection on identity and empowerment is an important message for students of all identities. Both videos serve as needed reminders that American Indians are still here. 

Other Resources

Parent Letter

If you anticipate pushback on families (and that can happen if you cancel the annual Thanksgiving play), then you’re going to want this letter. It does a great job explaining the why behind the shift and how it fits into a larger anti-bias framework. 

Q&A

This one’s for us. The National Education Association interviewed the Director of Native American Student Services for Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS) and a member of the Keetowah Cherokees, Dr. Star Yellowfish. She gives practical advice for meaningful ways educators can teach about Thanksgiving, as well as what to avoid.  

Native Land

Now is a great time to show your students (and maybe even learn yourself) whose land you’re on. On this interactive map, you can enter your address and get more information about individual Indigenous nations, languages, and treaties.

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Plus, Books by Indigenous Authors.

Posted by Kimmie Fink

Kimmie is an editor at WeAreTeachers. She has 13 years of classroom teaching experience and a master's degree in curriculum and instruction.

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