Before Multicultural Restructuring 

  • Major Objective:  To Learn About the Origins of an Important American Holiday

  • Content Area:  American History (Social Studies)

  • Grade Levels:  K-2

  • Time Period: 30-40 minutes

  • Objectives

1.      The learner will be able to identify several key facts about the first American Thanksgiving.

2.      Working in small groups, the learners will create a flannel-board story about the first Thanksgiving in the United States and will share that story with another group.


Suggested Procedures 

  1. Create an anticipatory set for the lesson.  “Who can tell me what this picture (a turkey) has to do with a holiday we will celebrate this month?”

  2. “Do you know who brought the turkeys to the first American Thanksgiving?”

  3. “These are good guesses.  Let’s listen to a story about the first Thanksgiving to see whose guess came closest to the truth.  Be prepared to tell me something you learned about the first Thanksgiving that you didn’t know.”

  4. Read the following story to your class.

The Story of the First American Thanksgiving 

            In 1620 a small ship named the Mayflower came to the United States, which was then an English colony.  The people on this ship were Englishmen known as Pilgrims and were among the first Europeans to settle the eastern part of our country.  They were Puritans who did not wish to break away from the Church of England.

            Arriving on the bleak, rocky Massachusetts coast in December 1620 in a place called Plymouth, the sick and weak settlers had to spend the winter in extreme hunger.  They had very little food left after a dangerous ocean voyage, and so about half of them died of hunger, disease, and bad weather. Luckily for them, the Englishmen found the natives of this land, Indians of the Wampanoag tribe, to be friendly.  They provided advice, food, and other important help. The Indians, one of whom was Squanto, taught their new neighbors how to build houses, hunt for food, and survive in the wilderness.  The Pilgrims learned much from their friends of the Wampanoag tribe, whose chief, Massasoit, was one of the most powerful native rulers of New England.  The treaty Chief Massasoit signed with them at Plymouth in 1621 was faithfully observed until his death many years later.

            In the spring the Englishmen planted the seeds they had brought with them, along with corn and other crops the Indians taught them to grow.  When autumn arrived, the Pilgrims gathered their bountiful harvest of foods and stored away some for the next winter.

            Everyone was grateful for the harvest, and the Pilgrims said, “We must give thanks for all the good food, our homes, our clothes, our Indian friends and all our blessings.  We shall have a big feast and invite our Indian friends.  We will call it a feast of Thanksgiving.”  Well might they offer thanks; the Indians had helped the Pilgrims survive the terrible conditions in their new land.

            Therefore, Governor Bradford invited Chief Massasoit and his braves to the celebration.  On that memorable day of the first Thanksgiving feast in December 1621, the Pilgrims covered their tables with food from their gardens.  Massasoit’s braves brought turkeys, deer, and other game they had shot with their bows and arrows.  The corn, pumpkins, squash, beans, clams, oysters, and fish provided by the Indians were added to the Pilgrims’ food so that this famous Thanksgiving feast lasted for three days.

            Typical of most of the Indians of the United States, Wampanoags were good hunters; growing crops was not as important to them as killing game.  Unlike the Plains Indians, but like most tribes of the Eastern Woodlands, Wampanoags did not move their homes; they stayed in one place.

            Chief Massasoit and 90 of his braves came in their best dress to celebrate the feast day.  Some of the Indians had wide bands of black paint on their faces.  Some had feathers stuck in their long straight black hair, and some wore furry coats of wildcats hanging from their shoulders; others wore deerskins.

            Before anyone ate, they bowed their heads, offering a prayer of thanksgiving.  That was the first Thanksgiving-a day that is now a legal holiday and one of the most popular holidays in the United States, especially since we do not have to come to school on that day.

            The Indians danced, acted out stories, and played games with the children.  The colonists snag their songs.  In addition, a target was set up, and the soldiers fired at it.  Then the Indians, standing in closer, shot at it with their bows and arrows to see which side would win the contest.  Most important, hearty fellowship and goodwill was felt between the colonists and the Indians.  Peace and friendship had been established on a firm foundation.  Without such a peace, the Pilgrims would never have won a footing on that bleak, rugged coast.  Without it, Plymouth could never have survived.

            Thanksgiving was not a new observance for the American Indians.  We know that several Indian tribes were accustomed to observing several days of thanksgiving throughout the year.  The Iroquois and Choctaw, for example, had an autumn festival known as the Green Corn Dance, which lasted three days.  We are also familiar with the story of how the Wampanoags came to the first Thanksgiving feast at the invitation of Governor Bradford and the Pilgrims.  It seems likely that the three-day period of Thanksgiving to which Massasoit and his Indians went was already customary for them.

            The first Thanksgiving observance was held in December 1621, but it was not an annual affair as it is today. On July 30, 1623, Governor Bradford proclaimed a second Thanksgiving when a ship was sighted, heading for port carrying much-awaited, much-needed supplies from England. This second Thanksgiving Day was in no way connected with the harvest, but, later on, a day was set in the month of November that became associated with the gathering of the crops.  Today Thanksgiving is a legal holiday in all the United States.

  1. After reading the story, ask your students:

    1. “Which of our guesses came the closest?”

    2. “What did you learn from the story that was new information for you?”

    3. “Did any of the material in the story surprise you?”

  2. Next, structure small groups so that each group will create a flannel-board story of the first Thanksgiving in this country.  Be sure that the stories include the Mayflower, several Pilgrims, several Indians, some crude homes for the Pilgrims, corn and other crops, and the Thanksgiving table laden with food.

  3. As possible follow-up or extension activities, consider having your class learn the songs “Thanksgiving Story” and “Indian Hunting Song” and listen to “Dances of Indian America.”


       The lesson plan outlined previously is to be presented as part of a sequence of activities in US: A Cultural Mosaic; the entire set of 238 activities is designed to

1.      help children see that the similarities among people are those traits that make them members of the human family, and that differences among people are those characteristics that make people special and unique; and

2.      help children develop an understanding and appreciation of themselves and other persons in the communities.

The Thanksgiving lesson has a number of positive attributes: it illustrates the importance of friendliness and support from Native Americans-in this case, members of the Wampanoag tribe-to the survival of the Pilgrims.  In addition, it shows some of the diversity that existed and still exists among Native Americans; it also presents some basic information about the Pilgrims and their first American Thanksgiving.

On the other hand, the lesson could be improved:

  1. It could be incorporate some invitations for inquiry: Who can find out when Thanksgiving became a national holiday?  Has anyone written a biography about Chief Massasoit?  In the years after they celebrated Thanksgiving together, did the Pilgrims and members of the Wampanoag tribe come in conflict with each other?

  2. The lesson could make use of student partners to increase active student participation during the lesson; students could share the information they learned from the story with their partners before the teacher asks a few to share in front of the entire class.

  3. The story might have been entitled “The Second American Thanksgiving” to emphasize that Native American groups had had celebration feasts prior to 1621, at which they likely thanked the “Great Spirit” for their good fortune.  This would not diminish the historical significance of the first Thanksgiving the Pilgrims had in American but would help to dispel the idea that “American” history begins with the European experience in what would be called the Americas. These observations and others will be incorporated into the revised lesson sequence below.

The lesson should develop the understanding that even though Thanksgiving has been a national holiday since 1863, there are religious communities in the United States that do not celebrate it.

After Multicultural Restructuring 

  • Major Objective:  The Development of a Culturally Pluralistic Attitude

  • Content Area:  Interdisciplinary

  • Grade Levels: K-2

  • Time Period: 60-120 Minutes

  • Objective:  The learners will identify and develop an appreciation of the way several different groups celebrate their own version of Thanksgiving.

Suggested Modifications 

  1. Implement the “before” lesson with the modifications mentioned above-namely, to (a) call the story “The Second Thanksgiving in America,” (b) make use of partners to increase active participation and of cooperative learning groups to facilitate the flannel-board activity, and (c) incorporate invitations for inquiry to encourage critical thinking and self-directed learning.

  2. Follow-up the presentation of “The Second American Thanksgiving” with lessons in which students learn about the following;

    1. The Jewish festival of Succot.  Explain why many people believe that the Pilgrims patterned their Thanksgiving festival after Succot, which is described in the Bible as a festival of thanksgiving and rejoicing, related to the harvest.

    2. The Moon Festival, which is celebrated by some Chinese people in the autumn.

    3. The Octoberfest, which is celebrated in Germany at the end of the harvest in late September and early October.

  3. Specific suggestions regarding lesson content and materials for the Succot, Moon Festival, and Octoberfest are included in US: A Cultural Mosaic (pages 178-186), and in additional appendixes in the document.

Final Comments 

            Note that in the “after” treatment in this comparison, we not only changed the major objective but also transformed a single lesson into a more elaborate lesson sequence. However, we also changed the Thanksgiving lesson itself in ways that make it more congruent with the goals of multicultural education.

            US: A Cultural Mosaic is filled with thoughtful sequences that promote cultural pluralism (multicultural goal 3), intergroup harmony (multicultural goal 4), an expanded multicultural/multiethnic knowledge base (multicultural goal 5), and the propensity and ability to think with a multicultural perspective (multicultural goal 6).  Because it works consistently to enhance the students’ sense of group and individual self-esteem, the entire collection contributes to education equity.  Other sequences in the volume that are related to the Thanksgiving story include

  • A Crosscultural Look at Some New Year’s Celebrations

  • A Crosscultural Look at Some Independence Days

  • A Crosscultural Look at Some Special Religious Days

  • A Crosscultural Look at Some Days of Appreciation


           US: A Cultural Mosaic is clearly a resource worthy of your attention.