2-Day ESL Thanksgiving Lesson for All Levels

While Thanksgiving is celebrated in both the United States and in Canada, the holidays take place one month apart and have different histories.

The two-day lesson below is better geared towards a celebration of American Thanksgiving, but feel free to adapt it for a Canadian Thanksgiving lesson as well.


Day 1: What Is Thanksgiving?

The first day of this lesson is all about introducing Thanksgiving to your students. Remember: Some of them may have never heard about the holiday, so it’s important to present all angles of the celebration. For the most part, on Wednesday you’ll be looking at the celebration; on Thursday, you’ll be delving further into the history of the holiday.

First, present Thanksgiving. Use images to show different ways of celebrating, and ask students what they know about the holiday. Help students arrive at a definition that adheres to the following idea:

Thanksgiving is an American holiday that celebrates the harvest. It’s a day for giving thanks. Most Americans celebrate with a big family meal featuring roast turkey.

You can also show lots of fun thanksgiving clips from the FluentU library.With FluentU, you can get your students fully enthused about special cultural days and more with relevant native content at your fingertips. 

For ESL Beginners

Once you’ve presented the general notion of Thanksgiving, delve further into traditions using a worksheet. This will also allow you to present Thanksgiving vocabulary to your students.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Encourage students to explore the vocabulary as much as possible, using images of Thanksgiving feasts to help them to participate orally as well as in their worksheets. Once they have an idea of the elements that should be on the Thanksgiving table, students will be able to more easily move on to the next step of the lesson.

For Intermediate ESL Learners

Try encouraging students to participate in class with this reader, which uses a playacting format to explain some of the traditions of Thanksgiving. After going through the reader, encourage students to give some ideas of what they think Thanksgiving is all about based on what they’ve read and what they already knew.

Feel free to use a vocabulary sheet, either one from the beginners section or from the “other resources” section below, to reinforce the acquired vocabulary.

You can then ask intermediate students to complete this Thanksgiving acrostic or this Mad Libs-type exercise to practice their new vocabulary words.

For Advanced ESL Students

Present Thanksgiving using this funny farmer vs. turkey video. After having seen the video, ask your students to explain what they think Thanksgiving is about—based on the clip and their own experiences. You could also use pop culture references to introduce the Thanksgiving meal, like scenes from “Friends” or other television shows featuring the holidays (like these 10).

Once you have gone over the basics, give students this Thanksgiving crossword as an exercise to reinforce the information they have learned.

Decorating the Classroom for Thanksgiving

Finish off the class by creating Thanksgiving decorations for the classroom, which will be used for the celebration tomorrow.

Be sure, as you’re decorating, to encourage your students to speak to one another in English. Present the crafts that you have chosen in English, including the tools they will need to complete them. Also propose the right structure so that students can ask for the materials they need as they work.

Thanksgiving Homework

Give students a writing exercise for homework, answering the prompt, “What am I thankful for?” Be sure to take at least 3-5 minutes to introduce the prompt and define the word “thankful” as needed. Be aware that, culturally speaking, the idea of saying what you are thankful for is not something that is immediately apparent for everyone, so take your time with this explanation.

You could make it a bit more interesting for the students by using this Thanksgiving lined paperThis “thankful turkey” worksheet is a fun way to include an art project as well.

Other Resources for Your Thanksgiving ESL Lesson

Here are a few other great resources to explore Thanksgiving traditions:

Day 2: The History of Thanksgiving

On the second day of the lesson, you’ll explore the history of Thanksgiving in greater detail.

History of Thanksgiving Videos

Start out with a video; choose one that will suit the level of your class from the following options:

Be sure to discuss the elements of the video after (or during) viewing as needed.

Thanksgiving ESL Reading Comprehension Activity

Next, encourage students to delve a bit deeper with reading comprehension exercises. For this, you have a few options:

  • This reading explores the first year that the Pilgrims spent in the New World, and this reading talks about the Wampanoag tribe. You may wish to give one reading to each half of the class if you are working with an advanced group, then have them share their findings with one another.
  • This history of Thanksgiving is a bit dry, but it presents all the facts clearly, making it a good resource when paired with interesting and thoughtful reading comprehension questions.

Share What You Are Thankful For

Finally, encourage students to express what they are thankful for. Either ask them to read what they wrote for homework or ask them to share orally. Explain that this is a tradition that is usually done around the Thanksgiving dinner table.

If allowed by your school, you could end with a class party, at which point the sharing would take place. For a class party, consider including some traditional Thanksgiving flavors, like cranberry sauce on crackers, pumpkin cookies or small turkey sandwiches.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday to explore with your ESL students, as in addition to teaching American culture, you get to spend time focusing on gratitude—a value that benefits all!

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