Thanksgiving Activities for ESL students 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.
Activities for ESL students about Thanksgiving
- A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving lesson plan is my best-selling lesson plan and my go-to thanksgiving activity for ESL students in my own classes. I’ve tried to include everything you can get out of the video to teach about Thanksgiving including the first thanksgiving, the meaning of thanksgiving, 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.
Activities Gratitude and Giving
- Gratitude Bundle is a collection of 8 discussion or writing prompts on the topic of thankfulness. Each printable worksheet contains a prompt and illustration about people in their lives they are thankful for, remembering a good deed, and remembering the good things in their lives. Students can respond in writing, discussion, or sketches!
- What Would You Do: Feed the Homeless is a critical thinking activity that asks about giving money to the homeless. How to help the needy is always a controversial debate. Is it better to give direct help or support a charity? How do we decide how much to give? This What Would You Do hypothetical situation lets students discuss these critical issues with a seemingly simple question-would you give money to a homeless person? What circumstances would affect your decision?
Activities about Food
- 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 Thanksgiving Activities for ESL students, and really helps introduce thanksgiving to 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. And it also works for Christmas or any holiday where there’s lots of food!
- 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.
There are a lot of reasons to teach about Thanksgiving and do some activities for Thanksgiving in the classroom. First, Thanksgiving is a major American holiday* and students living in the US should know about it. Second, it’s a great excuse to talk about important themes such as gratitude and family. For lower level students, you can always talk about food! Third, even EFL students with little exposure to American culture have probably heard of Thanksgiving. So it’s never a bad idea to share about the holiday.
So we’ve collected some activities on Teachers Pay Teachers that are perfect for celebrating Thanksgiving in the classroom. Click on the links for more information and to see a preview. These downloadable, printable, Thanksgiving activities come from two books: 60 Positive Activities for the Classroom and What Would You Do?. There’s also an activity from the author of Classroom Community Builders.
This beautiful, hand-illustrated drawing, writing, or discussion prompt asks kids to design a new holiday! There’s a place to name it, and mark the calendar, draw or jot down some traditions, food, and activities for this amazing new day! They can be as creative and imaginative or realistic as they like.
Then, they can compare their holiday to a real celebration or to each other’s. To make it a Thanksgiving activity, have students come up with a holiday centered around gratitude, or food, or the harvest. How will their holiday differ from American Thanksgiving? How will it be the same?
Check out the New Holiday worksheet here.
Who are students grateful for and why? With some directed prompts, and some open ones, the students have to think about what that person adds to their life. This is a great way to find out what students really value in their friends and family, and it puts the emphasis on the reasons we are thankful, rather than the individuals themselves. It’s a perfect way to engender some Thanksgiving Day gratitude!
Check out the writing or discussion prompt here.
Ask students to think about someone who helped them and write a thank you note! This is a straightforward, but flexible activity that also builds positivity in the classroom and promotes Social-Emotional Learning (SEL).
Check out this letter-writing prompt here.
You see a homeless person asking for money. They appear to be in good health and able to work. Do you give them money? This hypothetical prompt gets students thinking about some of the themes of Thanksgiving, including being grateful for what we do have, and the best way to help others.
In addition to the prompt, this critical thinking activity includes suggestions for variables or contexts that might change student answers, follow-up discussion questions, and extension ideas including a writing prompt.
Check out this innovative Thanksgiving discussion activity.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is a great introduction to Thanksgiving, particularly for EFL students who don’t know a lot about the holiday. It covers the Thanksgiving football game, the turkey dinner, the theme of gratitude and friendship, even a name-drop of the Mayflower and Miles Standish!
This lesson plan can be used to introduce the film, guide students through the film with comprehension questions, and then let them check their comprehension with a summary to fill out. Finally there are some discussion questions and ideas for extension.
Got any other go-to Thanksgiving Activities? Share in the comments!
* I know Canada has a Thanksgiving holiday too. However, it’s not celebrated in the same way. In fact, as best I can tell, it’s not as major a holiday as the American Thanksgiving.
One of the things I’m really enjoying is that it gives me a chance to think deeply about how to use the resources in the classroom. As I was uploading this awesome New Holiday Activity I realized that this could be a one-off creative worksheet as the authors intended.
But it could also spark a discussion comparing holiday traditions. You could even use it as the beginning of a project to design a fully-fleshed out celebration. And then use some of the ideas from everyone’s holiday for your end-of-class or end-of-year party!
Expanding the Project
In the activity as written, students pick a name of a holiday, the date, the reason for it, the activities, any traditions, and the food. However, you can follow-up this up by having students draw costumes or decorations on the back. They might even want to draw out parade routes or traditional dance steps.
Now you can have students share their holidays with each other in pairs or small groups. Be sure that the partners are asking each other questions about their holidays. Students can be asking questions in order to improve their partners’ clarity or to help them include more detail.
Questions that help improve clarity might be, “When do the fireworks happen? Why do people put lights on their houses?”
Questions that help the writer add detail include, “Do the dancers wear special costumes? What kind of food do people have? Can the parade happen any time?”
After talking to a partner, students can revise their holiday ideas. Then they can redo the worksheet or even turn their work into a short essay. If possible, you can even have them do presentations on their holidays. Encourage them to include some “traditions” and activities, within reasonable limits.
Another variation is to use this activity to discuss different ways of celebrating an existing holiday. This works well with one students love to celebrate. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Eid al-Fitr , Hanukkah, Easter, and Sukkot, and New Years, Spring Festival come to mind when I think of my students!
In this case, students would write the name of the real holiday, but then think about how their family celebrates it. They may be surprised to discover the many different ways people celebrate the same holiday. It’s also worth having students compare what they think the meaning of the holiday is. Again, there may be more diversity there than you’d think.
The above activity assumes students are all from the same culture or are in homogeneous groups. Alternatively, you can put students in mixed groups and have them compare events that are usually celebrated, such as weddings, birthdays, or retirements. Or they can talk about a type of holiday such as new years or one where we give thanks. What’s the big holiday where kids get presents? Which holiday involves family sharing a big meal? What similarities and differences exist? I’m always amazed when I do things like this with my students how every culture has special rules for the elderly, for example. Grandpa’s chair or the good chair seems to have a parallel worldwide!