Teaching Thanksgiving in the ESL Classroom

Teaching Thanksgiving in the ESL Classroom

Holidays are a great way to break out of the normal classroom routine, grab your students’ interest, and introduce some culture to the ESL classroom.

Thanksgiving at the TrollsWith Thanksgiving just around the corner, it’s a great time to think about ways to incorporate this fun and meaningful holiday into your classroom.

Short lessons (15-20 min)

You may not have time to put a lot of focus on Thanksgiving with all of the other material you have to cover, but don’t worry!  You can still have a fun time with it by doing a short lesson and incorporating what you have learned into the rest of the day’s classroom activities.

Start out the class by introducing some Thanksgiving vocabulary, either with a story, a worksheet, or a fun game/activity (check out the resources below for ideas!).

Make sure to briefly introduce the history and culture of Thanksgiving to your class Click To Tweet, as well, so that they have some context for the vocabulary.  If you only have a little bit of time, you may not even want to delve into the history of Thanksgiving.

Simply giving your students an idea of the significance the holiday holds in American culture, and the way that it is typically celebrated can give them just enough context without overwhelming them with information.

Throughout the rest of your class, keep using the vocabulary and incorporating information about Thanksgiving into other parts of your lessons.  Teaching a new grammar pattern?  Use a few Thanksgiving-themed sentences to demonstrate it. Reviewing vocabulary?  Play a Thanksgiving-themed game.

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Art projects are also a great way to incorporate Thanksgiving into your classroom.  (see the resources list below for plenty of ideas).  Make sure that students understand the significance of the craft they are making.

If you are doing a turkey craft, make sure to take a few minutes to introduce what the turkey’s connection is with Thanksgiving – don’t take it for granted that your students will recognize it as a symbol of the holiday.

Whole Class Lessons (1-2 hours)

If you are going to be taking a break from the normal routine and dedicating an entire class – or multiple classes – to Thanksgiving, then you’ve got a lot more freedom to enjoy, but a lot more planning to do.

Depending on how advanced your class is, and how much time you have, you may or may not want to dive too deep into the history of Thanksgiving.

For young learners who may not have any idea who Native Americans are or why the Pilgrims were coming across the ocean, introducing the history can end up being more confusing than enlightening. Instead, you will likely have a much more fun class by focusing on the culture and traditions surrounding Thanksgiving.

For more advanced learners, finding some simple stories and easy reading is a great way to get them familiar with the history.  Look for readings geared toward introducing Thanksgiving’s history to ESL learners.  There are some worksheets in the resources list below that will be a great place to start.

Regardless of how in-depth you decide to go into Thanksgiving’s history, once you have introduced the basic concepts and vocabulary, let your students have some fun with it.  Incorporate a game and/or craft, reinforce what you have learned with a worksheet or by reading them a story, and then come up with a fun activity to wrap it all up at the end.

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Here are a couple of great ways to wrap your lesson up at the end of class:

  • Have students make pilgrim hats, headdresses, and/or turkeys as an art project, and then use those crafts in a simple play that they act out at the end of class.
  • Have the class write a story to retell the history of Thanksgiving in their own words.
  • Have a Thanksgiving “dinner” at the end of one of your classes. Arrange the desks into one large table, and ask students to bring in snacks from home to share with everyone.  Take time before you eat to go around the table and have everyone say something they are thankful for.

For more lesson plans, activities, art projects, and worksheets, check out these resources:

Lesson Plans

everythingesl –  A good start for a lesson plan, including links to printables and some suggestions for reading materials for your students.

eslkidstuff  – Another well-thought-out and thorough lesson plan, lasting about an hour, and geared toward younger learners.

Activities and Worksheets

esolcourses  – Worksheets for various levels, and focusing on various themes: reading-based, vocabulary, grammar, etc.

islcollective – A great collection of colorful, interesting, and unique Thanksgiving-themed worksheets.

bogglesworldesl  – Lanternfish has a fun collection of Thanksgiving activities and worksheets for a variety of age levels.

everythingesl  – A great basic story describing the history of Thanksgiving.  Geared toward more advanced ESL learners.

eslholidaylessons  – Another great reading activity focusing on Thanksgiving’s history.

Arts and Crafts

parenting – This collection of adorable Thanksgiving-themed crafts is a little more unique than the typical hand-turkey that we all know and love.  Most projects are a little more involved, too, but worth it if you have the time.

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allcrafts –   Scroll through these pictures for some great craft ideas and instructions – everything from super simple to super involved.


night.net –  Some fun and unique ideas for Thanksgiving-themed kids’ games.

kidactivities.net – A list of fun, kid-appropriate Thanksgiving games that could easily be adapted for the ESL classroom.

womansday.com – Most of these games are a little bit more involved and require some prep on your part, but if you have the time, they are tons of fun and a great way to reinforce vocabulary and concepts.

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