Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

Ideas for Thanksgiving Lesson Plans

By Sarah Maze, M.S. Ed., Guest Blogger

Thanksgiving is a special time of year because it reminds us all to pause and be thankful for what we have, including our students! Can you think of a better way to celebrate this holiday in your classroom than by incorporating books related to Thanksgiving to continue teaching valuable reading skills? In today's post, I'll describe how you can purposefully incorporate leveled guided reading books between D–G in your upcoming Thanksgiving lessons.

If you're looking for a way to practice adjectives with first graders, Thanksgiving Dinner is a great level D narrative text from the Kaleidoscope Collection that includes many adjectives. Common Core Language Standards include using frequently occurring adjectives and expanding all types of sentences, so try the following steps to incorporate this book.

  1. Review adjectives as describing words, and ask students to list adjectives that describe a pumpkin (e.g., round, orange, heavy).
  2. Set a purpose for reading: We are going to read Thanksgiving Dinner. As we read, listen and look for adjectives, or describing words, that describe the food on each page.
  3. Read Thanksgiving Dinner.
  4. Ask students to name some of the adjectives they heard or saw on the page. If this is difficult for students, name one of the foods on a page and ask students which adjectives described it.
  5. Ask students if they can think of any other adjectives to describe each food.
  6. As a review and center activity, write the names of each food mentioned in the book on index cards and place them in a pocket chart. On a different color of index cards, write the adjectives. Have students work in pairs or small groups to match the adjectives to each noun.
  7. To help students expand sentences with adjectives, ask students what foods they eat on Thanksgiving. Encourage them to respond using the following sentence stem: I eat ___ on Thanksgiving. Then give students time to brainstorm adjectives that describe each food they mention. For example, a student who mentioned rolls could expand his or her sentence to say, I eat warm, fluffy rolls on Thanksgiving. To improve writing, have students illustrate their sentences to hang around your classroom.

Describing the connection between two individuals, events, or pieces of information in a text is an informational Common Core State Standard, which is why Corn from the Kaleidoscope Collection is a useful informational text that you can use with students to achieve this literacy standard. This level D nonfiction book describes the contributions from different people that allow us to set corn on our tables. This title is available as a big book as well as in Spanish. Here are steps you can use with this leveled reader in your Thanksgiving lesson plan.

  1. Activate students' prior knowledge by asking them what they know about corn: Where does corn come from? Have you ever seen how corn grows?
  2. Set a purpose for reading: As I read Corn, I want you to listen for each person's job that helps corn reach our dinner table.
  3. Read Corn.
  4. Prior to the lesson, write the word for each person mentioned in the book (farmer, worker, man, etc.) on index cards. After reading the book, spread the cards and have students select the card with the first person referenced in the book (farmer). Then have kids say what that person does (grows the corn). If this is too difficult, you can make another set of cards that has each person's job written so that students can match the person to their contribution.
  5. To help students make predictions, ask students what would happen if a specific person was missing. For example, What would happen if the worker didn’t pick the corn? Have students share what they think would happen if a person didn't do their job. This will help them think critically about the impact it could have on others.

Retelling is another important literature standard in which students should include key details, such as setting, characters, and major events. Wishy-Washy Corn from the Joy Cowley Early Birds Collection is a narrative story on the subject of corn and available in a big book. This level G fiction book is best for first graders, and it pairs well with the previous I referenced. Try the following steps to encourage making predictions and help students practice retelling.

  1. Show students the cover of Wishy-Washy Corn and ask them to make predictions about what will happen in the book.
  2. Set a purpose for reading: After reading together, I’m going to ask you to retell the story, so make sure you pay attention to the setting, characters, and important events.
  3. Read Wishy-Washy Corn, but stop at page 7. Ask students to predict what they think Mrs. Wishy-Washy will see when she gets to the field. Be sure to give them a sentence stem if needed: I predict Mrs. Wishy-Washy will see ___. I think this because ___.
  4. Finish reading the book.
  5. Have students share their ideas about what happened to the corn. The author doesn’t include this in the text, but students can make inferences by looking at page 6.
  6. To practice retelling the story as a class, have students help you make a story chart by having each child illustrate and write a sentence for the event that takes place on a page. As a variation of this, you can also use sentence strips for each key detail of the story, which students can put in the correct order.
  7. After you've practiced retelling as a class, encourage students to retell the story with a partner.

If you're looking for an engaging fable to help students learn an important lesson, I would recommend The Ungrateful Tiger for your Thanksgiving lesson. This level I book is helpful in first or second grade as a big book or Spanish version, too. Continue reading for steps to use this interesting leveled book about a tiger that breaks a promise after someone comes to its rescue.

  1. Ask students what it means to be grateful. Then ask them what they think ungrateful means by focusing attention the prefix un-. Give students an example to understand the idea of antonyms, such as tie and untie. Then ask, How do you act if you are ungrateful? Do you like being around ungrateful people?
  2. Show the cover of the book to introduce the narrative text and say, Today we are going to read a book about an ungrateful tiger. How do you think the tiger will act? What lesson do you think he will learn?
  3. Set a purpose for reading: Fables teach us a lesson about life. As I read this fable, listen for clues about the lesson that the author is trying to teach.
  4. Read The Ungrateful Tiger.
  5. Ask students for key details in the text that demonstrate how the tiger was ungrateful.
  6. Encourage kids to think critically about the message that the author is trying to teach. Refer to page 16 and examples from the text and illustrations that show how the tiger's actions give evidence.
  7. Facilitate a discussion with students by asking, What are some things you are grateful for?
  8. As a follow-up activity, describe each character's traits and ask students to give examples of actions that show each trait within the text. For example, the boy is compassionate because he tries to help the tiger. The owl is wise because he is able to trick the tiger into jumping back into the hole.

Language Common Core State Standards require students to use sentence level context as tool to understand the meaning of unfamiliar words, and informational standards require students to ask and answer questions to determine word meanings. A paired text that you should use with The Ungrateful Tiger is Being Grateful. This is one of many informational texts that serve as a resource to improve vocabulary and broaden comprehension skills. Whether you're looking to use the English or Spanish version in your classroom, follow these steps to help kids clarify word meanings.

  1. Introduce the topic of the book by asking students what they know the meanings of grateful and thankful. Ask students if these words are synonyms or antonyms.
  2. Set a purpose for reading: Today we are going to read Being Grateful. As I read, I want you to look for clues in both the text and photographs that help you understand what these words mean.
  3. Read Being Grateful.
  4. Make a chart on the board with a column for clues running horizontally, and two vertical columns. One of the vertical columns should have grateful as the heading, the other vertical columns should have thankful as the other the heading. Have students find clues that help them understand the meanings of each word. Be sure to include the page number for each clue that kids find. Don't forget to encourage the use of the glossary for this activity.

These five books support numerous literacy standards and strategies, but they're also very special books that can fit in your Thanksgiving lesson plans. By using books that are appropriate for the upcoming holiday, you can easily incorporate fun activities to practice required state standards. Be sure to come back soon for engaging ways to connect standards while using leveled readers!


Sarah is an elementary school teacher who has taught kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and fifth grade. One of her most unique experiences was teaching orphans in Tanzania, Africa for a year. If you like what you read here, be sure to read more by Sarah on our blog.