Pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce!
And, don’t forget the turkey!
Isn’t Thanksgiving great?
It’s one of my favorite holidays, and not just because of the delicious food.
We gather with friends and family and share what we’re all grateful for. A tradition I love sharing with my ESL students.
9 ESL Thanksgiving Lesson Activities You’ll Gobble Up
The holiday presents several opportunities for interesting and educational conversations with students of all ages.
While it’s important to acknowledge the historical aspects of the holiday, your students can also benefit from talking about what they’re thankful for. Plus, it’s a great chance to teach lessons related to food, family, cultural differences and consumerism.
Today, we’ll look at nine different Thanksgiving activities you can use to teach your students about this wonderful holiday!
1. Thanksgiving Vocabulary Through Stories
Traditional Thanksgiving vocabulary words, such as “apple pie” and “gravy,” can be introduced on the board with pictures and practiced with vocabulary games, like word searches, word scrambles and crosswords.
If you’re looking to shake things up a bit, try teaching vocabulary through stories. This allows you to highlight key vocabulary relating to the holiday and showcases various aspects of Thanksgiving, such as its history, traditions and its more modern significance.
Here are two stories you might like to use with your students to introduce useful vocabulary:
“The Origin of Thanksgiving”
This is a three-part story that details the history of Thanksgiving. It provides a summary of the holiday’s origins and how it’s often celebrated. Throughout the story, there are several words and phrases you might highlight, such as “feast,” “pilgrim” and “wild turkey.” This story is great for any age group and is probably best for students at an elementary or intermediate level of English.
“The Case of the Missing Turkey Leg”
Great for younger, intermediate level students, “The Case of the Missing Turkey Leg” is a story of a family having a Thanksgiving dinner that doesn’t go quite as planned. It’s also chock full of awesome Thanksgiving vocabulary words, such as “gravy,” “peas,” “homemade,” “pecan pie” and “carve.”
2. Grateful Tree
This is one of my favorite Thanksgiving activities. It’s simple, easy and hands-on. Before class, get a small tree branch and cut out several leaves from fall-colored construction paper.
During the lesson, distribute three paper leaves to each student. Instruct your students to write down one thing they’re grateful for on each of their leaves. Then, ask them to share what they’re grateful for and explain their choices. Once they have shared, let them hang their leaves on the tree branch, thus making the Grateful Tree.
This is a fun project and can be done as part of a larger Thanksgiving lesson or as a stand-alone activity. And if you want to take it a step further, create some nice Thanksgiving decor to go along with your activity.
3. Thanksgiving Meal Prep
For lower level students, you can focus on different types of holiday food being served. Before the lesson, print out an image of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
In class, students should work individually or in small groups to try to successfully name and label each food item in the image. Take time to go over the correct answers and any questions they may have.
Want to have them practice what they’ve learned? Let your students work individually to create their own Thanksgiving dinner menus. What would they serve if they were hosting Thanksgiving at their home? Save time to let everyone share their menus at the end of the lesson.
4. “Friends” Thanksgiving
I bet you didn’t know you can teach English using the hit TV series, “Friends.“
Choose one of the “Friends” Thanksgiving episodes to play for your students. Before showing it in class, watch the episode at home to create a list of comprehension or discussion questions. I recommend providing a worksheet with several points students are required to pay attention to.
Depending on the episode chosen, you might include questions such as:
- What traditional Thanksgiving foods does Monica serve?
- What’s wrong with Rachel’s trifle?
During the viewing of the show, encourage students to write down their answers to the questions. At the end of the lesson, save time to go over the answers and consider asking some general Thanksgiving follow-up discussion questions, like:
- What are you grateful for?
- What food looks the tastiest?
- What food would you never try?
If you like the idea of teaching students English through pop culture, try adding FluentU to your classroom lessons.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
5. Truth Versus Myth
Prepare a list of facts and myths about Thanksgiving. Make sure you mix them up and don’t make the myths too obvious.
In class, students must read, understand and decipher which statements are true and which are false. Encourage your ESL learners to work in pairs or small groups.
The first group to correctly guess which statements are fact and which are myths “wins” and can be given a Thanksgiving-appropriate prize. Save time at the end to go over the right answers with everyone.
6. Thanksgiving Idioms
There are dozens of idioms that use Thanksgiving-related vocabulary words. Take some time to introduce the most common idioms to your students. To prepare, create a worksheet where students must match the idiom with the correct definition. You can have students do this individually or by working in small groups.
This is a fun activity as learners must take their best guess at what the idioms mean. Go over the correct answers with the whole class.
Take this activity a step further by asking them to use the idioms correctly in their own sentences. These sentences can be written or spoken, depending on how you want to structure the lesson.
Here are some idioms you can teach your students:
- To go cold turkey
- To be stuffed
- To stuff your face
- To count your blessings
- To talk turkey
- To gobble up
- The gravy train
- As easy as pie
7. What I Am Grateful for Essay
For your older or more advanced students, assign a writing and presentation task. If needed, it can be a multi-class period lesson plan.
In the first period, explain the topic for the essay, which is “What I Am Grateful for,” modeled after National Public Radio’s “This I Believe” segment.
In the essay, students should detail what they are grateful for following the traditional short, personal essay structure. Ask them to include an introduction, supporting anecdotes, examples and a conclusion. I would recommend setting a word count of 500-750 words and a hard deadline. If you have time left in the first lesson, let them begin outlining their essay.
In the second class-period, give each student a chance to read or present their writing to everyone. Encourage proper public speaking and reading etiquette and remind them about clear pronunciation, annunciation and pace.
Tip: Turn the reading of the essays into an event. You can bring refreshments for people to enjoy while they listen to their classmates’ stories.
8. Perform a Thanksgiving Skit
Divide your students into small groups. Each group should write a short Thanksgiving skit based on their own knowledge of the holiday, or the idea of being grateful. Skits should be at least five minutes and no more than ten. Each student in each group should have a speaking role, so that they can practice their English.
I recommend letting students write their skits in one lesson period and having them perform the following class period. This way, if they need to bring any props from home they can do so.
9. Black Friday and Consumerism
Another nice option for older and more advanced students is a discussion of that other popular American “holiday,” Black Friday.
As a class or in small groups, read Black Friday—American Consumerism at Its Finest. Check your students’ vocabulary comprehension with regard to more obscure words, such as:
- Stuffing their face
Follow the reading and vocabulary instruction with a round-table discussion on consumerism.
Recommended discussion questions:
- What is Black Friday?
- Is there anything similar to Black Friday in your country?
- What is ironic about Black Friday coming the day after Thanksgiving?
- What do you think “bigger ticket items” means?
- Do you think the author is exaggerating when he says “As American consumers, we are more interested in bargains than investing time with our families”?
- Do you agree with the author when he says “…it’s not my fault; society has made me this way”? What role has society played in your development as a person?
- If given the chance, would you go shopping on Black Friday? What would you buy? Would you buy something for yourself or someone else?
Thanksgiving can be an excellent lead-in to various conversations and discussions about American history and culture. These lessons should help you engage with your ESL students in meaningful, but fun ways.