Holidays in schools often present a culturally and historically skewed version of the past. While Thanksgiving is embraced as an opportunity to cut out construction paper headdresses and host a classroom potluck, it could be a legitimate opportunity for learning about culture, competing viewpoints, and the process of constructing history.
To this end, the Plimoth Plantation offers “Thanksgiving Interactive: You are the Historian,” an excellent interactive online resource and accompanying teacher’s guide. The online resource frames Thanksgiving as the historical offshoot of the 1621 harvest festival that was attended by English colonists and the Wampanoag People. The resource and guide were created through the collaboration of teachers, historians, and members of the Wampanoag community.
Interested teachers should approach the interactive resource through the teacher’s guide, which hyperlinks to the suggested online resources for each activity. There are 5 lessons in the guide:
- Separating Fact from Myth: This lesson uses a KWL chart to prepare students to explore the fabricated history of Thanksgiving. Students will recognize their own preconceptions and learn to critically account for the preconceptions of others when approaching any text. The “Separating Fact from Myth” lesson plan features an online and offline guided inquiry.
- Identifying and Analyzing Primary Sources: This lesson analyzes the only known eyewitness description of the historical root of Thanksgiving: a letter written by Edward Winslow in 1621. Students will learn about primary sources with a primary source organizer and then work as detectives to critically evaluate the Winslow letter.
- Making Educated Guesses Using Cultural Clues: This lesson introduces students to the difficult concept of “culture” through interactive resources on the English colonists and the Wampanoag People. The Wampanoag resource is very well thought out. Its interactive tools are displayed as a circle of stones that provide clues rooted in oral histories. Students go offline to complete a Venn diagram comparing cultural clues that may have influenced how the participants would have interacted at the harvest festival.
- Considering Multiple Points of View: In this lesson, students will complete guided online and offline activities to explore different points of view. For instance, in one exercise, each student creates a timeline of the previous school day—emphasizing events that were personally meaningful. Students are asked how the timelines differ. This leads to a discussion of an interactive timeline of the first Thanksgiving from the viewpoints of the English colonists and the Wampanoag People.
- Culminating Performances: Students finalize their KWL charts, create a museum exhibit about the first Thanksgiving, and critically evaluate modern popular manifestations of the holiday. Students are encouraged to take action and challenge the “traditional” Thanksgiving ceremony.
The lesson plans are created within the TfU framework. Curriculum standards are listed in the guide.
Hope this is useful,