The History of Thanksgiving

Kathryn Gregory
Multiple Subject Teacher

Students will research the history of Thanksgiving based on the perspective of the Native Americans and the Pilgrims and then interview each other to learn about each story.

Grade Level: 4 - 6th

Subject: Social Studies

Length of Time: 30-40 Minutes

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Common Core Alignment

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.5.7 - Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.5.9 - Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

Objectives & Outcomes

Students will read a short passage then conduct an interview with a classmate in order to learn about the story of Thanksgiving.

Materials Needed

  • Copies for ½ the class of “Biography of Squanto" (attached)
  • Copies for ½ the class of “History of the Pilgrims" (attachhed)
  • Copies of “An Interview from the First Thanksgiving" (attached)
  • Pencils


Opening to Lesson

  • Hold a class discussion about Thanksgiving and what the students know about it.
  • Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving?
  • What do we do for Thanksgiving?
  • What is the history behind the first Thanksgiving?
  • Explain that the first Thanksgiving comes from a story about a specific group of Pilgrims who struggled to adapt to the new land in North America. They met a Native American man named Squanto who helped them to learn how to live off the land and survive.
  • Note to teacher: There is a lot of controversy about this topic and how it is taught in schools. Most historians agree that the interaction between Squanto and the Pilgrims is as reported in this lesson. However, while it seems that this group of pilgrims and this group of Native Americans did have a peaceful relationship at this time, both before and after the first Thanksgiving there were terrible wars and battles in which many lost their lives. The overall relationship between European Settlers and Native Americans was not at all peaceful. It is recommended that you discuss this with your class and if at all possible, do a follow-up lesson about what happened to the Pautuxet and Wampanoag tribes before and after the pilgrims came and about why the pilgrims came in the first place.

Body of Lesson

  • Pass out “The History of the Pilgrims” to half of the class and “The Biography of Squanto” to the other half of the class.
  • Have students read their story individually and then either individually or in partners, answer the interview questions that go with their story.
  • Pair students with a partner who read the other story.
  • Have students take turn interviewing each other to answer the questions on the worksheet. (They may not copy each other’s worksheets, this must be an oral activity).


  • As a class, discuss the relationship that occurred between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag and Squanto.
  • Lead a discussion including these questions.
  • Why do you think that Squanto helped the Pilgrims when Europeans had done such horrible things to him and his family?
  • Why do you think the Pilgrims wanted to live in a new place?
  • Why do you think it is called Thanksgiving?
  • Who are some people in your life that help you?
  • How can you show them that you are thankful?

Read our guide on Teaching Holidays in the Classroom.

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Assessment & Evaluation

Students will complete the attached worksheets. Teacher will also assess and check for understanding during the discussion at the closing of the lesson.

Modification & Differentiation

The teacher can work with students in small groups for those who need extra assistance. If students have trouble with the text, the teacher can pair up students with similar books so that they can read the text together.

Learn more on how to teach students about holidays & history.

Download Attachments

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