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The First Thanksgiving

Context for this Lesson

Teaching Strategies: 

Focus Question(s): Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving? What was the first Thanksgiving like?



"Do you think you help me with something? A good friend of mine, Martha the Moose, has a serious problem." Take out a folded up letter (artifact) and read letter: “My name is Martha, and I am a moose. I have a problem. I have heard from my human friends that Thanksgiving is coming up, and I have no idea what that means. I heard there are good things to eat. Could you explain to me what Thanksgiving is? Yours sincerely, Martha T. Moose”

  • What is Martha asking us to do?
  • How can we help Martha?
  • How do we find out more about the first Thanksgiving?

Transition: What do you think about traveling back in time to the very first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts? I have a time machine we can use!"

Narrative Pantomime

Pantomime setting up the traveling machine around students. Have a student open the door for you and explain that before you go on your trip that you need to discuss some important guidelines for time travel. "We want to wear clothes so we can dress like the Pilgrims, people who came to America looking for religious freedom. What do you think we should wear so that we might look like a Pilgrim?" Have students pantomime putting on different kinds of clothing. "Remember we want to see what happened on the first Thanksgiving and see if we can remember so we can tell Martha Moose all about it. We have to stay together—we can’t leave anyone behind. Can everyone agree to stay together? Good--then let’s go."

All students pantomime putting on seat belts, oxygen masks, push all the buttons.. etc. Count down from ten and travel. "Look out the window as you go. Wow we are soaring through the sky. We are traveling back through time. Our traveling machine sure moves fast." Count down from ten and land. Review rules about staying together. Open the door.



Teacher steps into role as Constance Hopkins, a Pilgrim who lives in Plymouth. Constance takes the students in a small rowboat. She tells the story of traveling to the New World in the Mayflower.

Details to include in role play:

  • The difficult journey in the Mayflower: seasickness, lack of clean water to shower or wash clothes, the rats, and storms,
  • While you are by the ocean do some fishing.
  • Visit the village of Plymouth. Take a tour of the building structures, the Longhouse, see the gardens which Squanto and the chief Massasoit had shown them how to plant corn and keep it fertilized. Use your dead fish to fertilize the corn in the ground.
  • Explain about how helpful Squanto has been, that they are peaceful friends with the Native people of their new home. They have decided to have a large feast and celebration to celebrate their friendship and the rich harvest of the land. Would the visitors like to come?
  • Students hunt for turkeys and deer. They pick gourds, corn, and berries for the feast. Prepare the meal.
  • Finally the dinner has arrived. Everyone sits together at long tables. Eat the food. Everyone tells what they are thankful for.
  • Students sleep on the floor in mattresses stuffed with hay in the longhouse.

Transition: "Look at the time, we better head back. Do we think we know enough to explain to Martha why they had the first Thanksgiving?" Sit in circle and travel back to Alaska. Repeat flight from beginning and landing. Take off Pilgrim clothes and pack them away. Put away the traveling machine.


Describe: What did we do on our trip? What did we see?

Analyze: Why were the Pilgrims and the Native Americans celebrating Thanksgiving?

Relate: Why do you think we still celebrate Thanksgiving today?

"Let’s write our letter back to Martha T. Moose and tell her our information. I’ll be sure to give her out letter when I see her this afternoon. She will be very happy you kindergartners were able to help her out."