“Messy” Thanksgiving

5th grade is the “American History” grade in my school district (and probably most US school districts). As part of our study of the colonies we spent time delving into the first Thanksgiving. For the last week we focused on using multiple sources in research, so we used books, documentary video, and the internet to find out what they REALLY ate at the first Thanksgiving. Based on our research we put on as authentic a Thanksgiving/Harvest Festival as we could. I brought in a barbecue and cooked an 18 pound turkey, and the students were tasked with bringing in the rest. My student from Viet Nam brought in duck, others brought cod, corn, green beans, pumpkin (in the form of pie which the Pilgrims didn’t make – no sugar), bread, cranberries, wild berries, ginger ale (a stand-in for beer) our ESL teacher brought salmon and our school secretary donated venison.


The students wrote about their Thanksgiving experiences and then about what they were looking forward to eating today – and then after our feast about what they had eaten. We noted colors, textures and smells. We took photos and watched video reenactments of the 1st Thanksgiving. Tomorrow we will work on blog posts … not sure how many will get posted, but our writing has been improving … so we’ll see.


The experience was incredible. Most had never had REAL turkey before (processed or “rolled” turkey) or most of the other meats – and my students were totally intrigued by the whole thing. Green beans were new to many, and half had never had pumpkin pie before. 6 have never celebrated Thanksgiving (come from counrties that don’t celebrate as a national holiday). Students from other classes and grades saw our 18 pound turkey cooking and thought it was a chicken … when we explained it was a turkey they got perplexed looks on their faces … like why would you be cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving? We have chicken or tamales or…? Had to explain the whole cooking concept and serving concept … solid messy learning.





When lunch was served … buffet style … students were tentative, but took some of everything. After everyone had been through the line I announced that there was plenty … don’t be shy … come back and have what you want without wasting food. Students came back and back and the food was eaten. The talk was all about how great it all was … never eaten food prepared like this was a common comment. We put the pumpkin pie on hold until late in the day. They loved it. Great conversations … and smiles … and good manners … students displayed joy.

It was a lot of work … but when you do this kind of thing with your students … you usually catch yourself saying, “I should do this kind of lesson more often.”

Learning is messy!

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6 thoughts on ““Messy” Thanksgiving

  1. Happy Thanksgiving. We don’t celebrate it here in good old New Zealand but you post brought a tear to my eye. My wee five and six year olds were just impressed with the sheer size of the turkey – ‘Whoa, massive!’ was their catch call.
    Love your learning is messy always but this one was extra special.

  2. These are the things those kids will remember about school. Nice job man. Food is such a connection with Title 1 kids it seems. They are aware of the celebration and think of their own household meals. Now their knowledge has become broader. Very cool.

    So, does NCLB test cooking skills? oh wait……

  3. I love learning like this! Sharing food and culture is very important, as well as experiencing community together. After all, wasn’t that what the first Thanksgiving was all about, learning a new culture and respect for one another’s differences?