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Four Thanksgiving Stories to Start Conversations in the Classroom

In American classrooms, Thanksgiving is widely celebrated each year with stories of how Native Americans met English colonists and shared a large feast to symbolize gratitude for the passing year and hope for a prosperous year to come. While most students learn about this early on in their academic careers, the lessons behind the holiday are often surface level and skim over the important topics that are intrinsically intertwined with immigrants settling in the United States four hundred years ago.

This year for Thanksgiving, we want to empower educators to ignite critical thinking in their classrooms around other aspects of the Thanksgiving story that have shaped our country into what it is today. Through literature, classrooms can uplift voices and foster open discussions that allow students to explore what this holiday is all about. Read on to discover four stories to explore this Thanksgiving with your students.

1. Stories of immigration

At its core, Thanksgiving tells one of the first stories of immigration in the United States. Aside from the many indigenous communities across the country, most Americans have ties to immigration, and it is one of the reasons our country is known as a melting pot of diverse cultures and perspectives. Because immigration impacts each and every one of us, it is important to discuss the immigrant experience in classrooms too.

Books like We Came to America by Faith Ringgold and Count Me In by Varsha Bajaj give students firsthand insight into the many emotions that come with immigrating to a new country. By telling these stories, students can begin to understand more about what makes our country so special and empathize with those who have immigrated to their communities.

2. Stories of Native Americans

Native Americans are a central part of Thanksgiving and the American legacy. Read books in your classroom that cover important aspects of Native American history and culture as well as individual experiences from Native voices. Books like The Very First Americans, The Star People: A Lakota Story, Hiawatha and the Peacemaker, and We Are Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know are a great place to start in exploring indigenous stories.

As you read books about Native Americans, you can also use this time to discuss with your class the Native land that you live on and the tribes that are from your state. Consider inviting a member of the indigenous community in your area to your classroom so he or she can share more with your students and give them an appreciation for the rich history and traditions of those in their state.

3. Stories of traditional foods

When people first think of Thanksgiving, images of massive feasts and tables filled with turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and cranberries often come to mind. Food was what brought the Native Americans and English settlers together on the first Thanksgiving as they shared in a three-day harvest feast that fed more than one hundred people. Read stories like The Night Before Thanksgiving by Natasha Wing to explore the different foods traditional to this American holiday.

Traditional foods are important to any culture and can be a deeply personal way to show others that you care about them. After learning more about the foods that were present on the first Thanksgiving and the dishes that are customary today, open up the floor to your students so they can share foods that are important in their families. You can also read A Taste of the World: What People Eat and How They Celebrate around the Globe so students can get a better idea of how foods differ across cultures.

4. Stories of gratitude

Gratitude and Thanksgiving go hand in hand, as this holiday is a time to gather with loved ones and enjoy a beautiful meal together. Thanksgiving is a nice reminder for people to pause, reflect, and express appreciation for everything in their lives that they are grateful for, big or small. Teaching students from a young age about the importance of giving thanks can help them to integrate a gratitude practice into their routines as they get older too.

Read stories in your classroom like Thanksgiving Is for Giving Thanks and We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga to learn more about how Thanksgiving and gratitude are intertwined. After reading these books, take time to allow students to reflect on their own lives and share with classmates or journal on the importance of giving thanks—on Thanksgiving and throughout the entire year.

At Participate Learning, we are thankful to play a part in building the next generation of empathetic, compassionate global leaders. For more information on how you can further incorporate Thanksgiving into your classroom this year, check out this blog post. Want more classroom resources? Visit our web page, or connect with us on Twitter @ParticipateLrng.

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