Thanksgiving is almost here, but do you have all those fun Thanksgiving activities for students planned yet? Whether you’re inviting students (or families) to bring food into school for a feast, planning to teach about the Wampanoag Nation or make those adorable handprint turkeys, the November holiday offers up countless avenues for teachers.
So which road should you take? Whether you’re looking for the best Thanksgiving crafts to fill those last few days before break when half of the class has already taken off to go over the river and through the woods to Grandma’s house, or you need some historically accurate activities for a meaningful look at this American holiday, the teachers of Teach Starter have got you covered.
From football math games to turkey writing activities, plus some thankful activities perfect for the season, this list has everything you need for teaching about Thanksgiving and throwing a classroom party for the holiday! Read on for fun Thankgiving activities for elementary school and middle school students.
Fun Thanksgiving Activities for Students
Don’t get us wrong: Hand turkeys are a lot of fun, and we love a good craft activity for the classroom (see below for some of our favorites)!
But before we dig into turkeys and thankful trees, teaching the important history and traditions of Thanksgiving is also critical. It helps your students learn historical empathy, as well as developing their social and emotional learning around gratitude and thankfulness.
As a class, you might want to discuss:
- Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving?
- Which Thanksgiving traditions have been added and changed over time?
- What other viewpoints might there be about Thanksgiving?
Get the conversation going in your classroom before diving into some fun Thanksgiving crafts, reading and writing center activities, and more ways to celebrate the November holiday at school.
Sequence How to Make a Pumpkin Custard
Pumpkin pie might as well be the official dessert of Thanksgiving — after all, it’s estimated that Americans eat 50 million of the sweet treats on turkey day! But pumpkin custard is arguably just as good, and it’s so easy you can even make it with your students — no oven required.
Best of all, using a simple 4-step pumpkin custard recipe, you can work on sequencing the process with younger students, calling on students to explain what you do first, then, next, and lasts.
Churn Butter in Science Class
One of our favorite science class activities for the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving makes use of another popular holiday food — butter.
Churning butter isn’t something most of us have to do before a big meal, but it’s a great way to teach students about the state of matter as they watch the liquid cream slowly turn to a solid state, its physical properties changing. Encourage students to record their observations through the churning process.
If you’re teaching about the days of Colonial America or the Industrial Revolution, you can also add a history element to this lesson, talking to your students about what life was like before refrigeration and electricity, when butter was churned by hand!
Write a Class Cookbook
Do you have older students who are learning procedural writing this school year? Put a real-life spin on how-to writing with the creation of a class cookbook just in time for the holiday.
Students can write how to make their favorite sandwich or snack and share the “how to” with their classmates. Gather the recipes together and print out a booklet for each student to take home to share with their families.
Save Tom the Turkey!
Add some giggles to your turkey gobbles with these delightful writing activities about Tom the Turkey!
Students will get a chance to practice their persuasive writing skills and practice problem-solving as they help the turkey escape his fate as the center of a Thanksgiving dinner. Each student will write a letter convincing you why Tom Turkey should not be eaten on Thanksgiving day. Younger students can also color an accompanying disguise a turkey printable. Want to take things a step further? Combine this activity with a writing task about the presidential pardoning of the turkey.
Play Football Math Activities
An estimated 138 million Americans watch at least one football game every Thanksgiving, and chances are plenty of your students will spend at least a little bit of time parked in front of the television to catch the holiday gridiron game. Some may even spend a part of the holiday throwing the pigskin around their backyard.
Bring the official game of Thanksgiving into your classroom activities with some football fun. Give any of these football-themed activities a try:
- Football Escape Room — Estimating Products
- Football-Themed Multiplication Mystery Pictures
- Football Addition Tarsia Puzzles
Make Your Own Thanksgiving Day Parade
Teachers at Antioch Elementary School in Dalton, Georgia shared this fun classroom activity to get students ready for the big Thanksgiving Day Parade! After a classroom read-aloud of the book Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet, students designed their own balloons to be hung parade-style across the bulletin board!
You can make the parade concept work for your upper elementary classes too with a fun Thanksgiving activity — download everything you need here for students to plan their own Thanksgiving Day Parade!
Write Thankful Acrostic Poems
Take thankful Thanksgiving activities one step further and make them a chance to practice poetry!
Have your students make “Thankful” acrostics, writing out something they are thankful for that starts with each letter of the word.
For more Thanksgiving writing practice, your students can study our Thanksgiving Word Wall Vocabulary and complete one of the following in their writing centers:
- A Thanksgiving poem
- A story about a past Thanksgiving
- An informative piece about the meaning and traditions of Thanksgiving.
Serve Up Fruit Pie Fractions
We all have our Thanksgiving table favorites from the bird to the fixings. Celebrate the dessert part of the classic holiday meal while learning about fractions with a fun Thanksgiving math idea!
Make Paper Roll Turkey Crafts
Grab those toilet paper tubes and construction paper. It’s time to talk turkey! Turkey crafts, that is …
- A selection of Thanksgiving/fall colored construction paper or cardstock
- Paper roll holder (we used a paper towel roll cut in half for our two turkeys, but you can also use toilet paper rolls!)
- Glue stick
- Googly eyes
How to Make a Paper Roll Turkey
This one is super simple!
- Draw the shape of two large double-pointed ovals and two small double-pointed ovals. You may like to pre-print these onto the paper for your class.
- Cut out the shapes for each piece of colored paper.
- Creating a pattern, overlap each shape, and paste them together in an arc shape to create tail feathers.
- Staple your tail feathers to your paper roll.
- Cut a tiny triangle for a beak and two little feet.
- Paste your beak, feet, and eyes onto your paper roll. Fold the feet so that your turkey can stand up.
Why not staple these turkeys to your Thanksgiving bulletin boards for a cute Thanksgiving display?
Design Zentangle Turkeys
Another twist on the old turkey craft is this funky turkey printable! Not only is this a fun Thanksgiving classroom activity, but your students can practice drawing different patterns and do some mindful coloring to destress with our zentangle art template.
Cut out the template and paste it onto a colored piece of cardstock or construction paper. Choose your funky glasses, color, and attach!
Create a Classroom Thankful Tree
To help your students appreciate all that they have to be thankful for, create a class Thankful Tree with all the things that the kids are thankful for this year.
How to Create a Thankful Tree:
- Create a tree trunk using paper on a display wall or bulletin board. Alternatively, you could use a real tree branch standing up in a pot.
- Provide students with one or more of the leaves for them to write about something they are thankful for.
- Stick the leaves onto the ‘Thankful Tree’ wall display, or hang them up on the real branches using a hole-punch and string.
- Students may also like to add photographs and pictures to the Thankful Tree display.
To make things easy, we created a Thanksgiving Thankful Tree Leaves Template.
Make Thankful Turkeys
Instead of a thankful tree, you can stick with turkeys for this social-emotional lesson too. Have kids write out what they’re thankful for this year on the feathers of their turkey!
Write Gratitude Cards
These bear hug gratitude cards are “beary” cute, and they’re also a nice way for your students to say thank you to someone special in their lives — be it a classmate, a family member, or someone else who they are grateful for.
This is a great time to talk about signal words and cause and effect, putting together sentences that link someone else’s actions to something that your students are grateful for.
Students can take their gratitude cards home to hand out on the holiday.
Complete Thanksgiving Day Word Searches
Give your fast finishers something fun to do and help them brush on their turkey day terminology with this Thanksgiving activity: Word search!
Use the Teach Starter Word Search widget to create a quick printable word search with our pre-populated Thanksgiving vocabulary list, or add your own words. You can also use this fun football word search to bring another holiday activity into the mix.
Looking for even more Thanksgiving activities and ideas? Check out our Thanksgiving collection that’s been stuffed with curriculum-aligned activities, printables, and more!
Banner image via Shutterstock/phBodrova