AS Project: Who Put the THANKS in Thanksgiving?

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Who put the "Thanks" in "Thanksgiving"?

a.k.a. How is History Made?

A unit integrating "social studies" and "reading and writing" designed to last 3 to 4 weeks for grades 4 and 5.


Stage 1: Identify Desired Results

Overarching Understanding

History is created from a synthesis of first-hand accounts, historical artifacts, official records, and scientific investigation, all tied together by inferences about the motivations/causes and consequences/effects of people's actions. When writing about history, historians makes choices about what to include or leave out of their narratives. Everyone has a perspective. Even a straightforward-seeming event (like thanksgiving) can have multiple interpretations. Understanding historical perspectives makes you better at understanding other people, even understanding yourself.

When an event becomes a national symbol, some of the facts get shrouded by myth, but if we did, we can find the real story.

Related Misconceptions

History is the same as the past.

Everyone has the same perspective on history.

History is all facts.

History does not relate to the present.

Overarching Questions

What is history?

How is it written?

What can history teach us about the present?

What are the benefits and limitations of primary sources in studying history?

Topical Questions

Who were the "Pilgrims"?

How did they live?

Who were the Wampanoag?

How did they live?

What parts of the "First Thanksgiving" story is myth, and what parts are (we're pretty sure) fact?

Why do we have a "myth" of Thanksgiving?

How is our present thanksgiving celebration different from/similar to that first shared meal?

How do modern interpretations of the "First Thanksgiving" differ?



Primary Source, Secondary Source, Perspective (Point of View), Archeology, Myth, Stereotype, Pilgrim, Colonist, Separatists, and Wampanoag.


Students will be able to:

Identify cultural differences between the "Pilgrims" and the Wampanoag

Connect the past to the present by identifying ways in which our Thanksgiving celebration is the same and ways in which it is different from the harvest festival of 1621

Use primary and secondary sources to create a visual/written representation of "What was 1621 really like"

Form and support an opinion on differing modern perspectives on the tradition of Thanksgiving

Vermont Grade-Level Expectations



Stage 2: Assessment Evidence

Performance task description:

You are in charge of creating a museum exhibit for kids of the history of Thanksgiving. Kids are a tough audience so it has to be exciting, interesting and fun, but you'll loose your funding from the Education Department if it's not informative, too! (Part 1) Each person will research and create an exhibit on an aspect of Wampanoag and/or Pilgrim culture. You will have to write a factual report, but then get to make any kind of physical representation you want, to showcase that information. As a class we'll be working on other collective projects (A play, Literature Responses, Opinion Pieces, etc.) that will all be a part of the museum. (Part 2) Before the officials come to see if the museum can be opened up for kids, they have sent over survey of information and critical thinking questions that kids should be able to answer after they have been to the museum. To make sure that all your hard work checks out you each have to be able to answer these questions or we won't be able to open our doors!

The Harvest Festival of 1621 Survey

Critical Thinking Responses

Other Evidence

KWL sheet

Primary Source Graphic Organizer

Wampanoag/Separatist cultural charts

A comparison piece describing past and present Thanksgiving celebrations in the form of a letter inviting an time-traveling Wampanoag or Seperatist to your house for Thanksgiving.

A personal opinion piece on about different modern perspectives about the holiday of Thanksgiving.

Class chart: Thanksgiving Myth-busting

Filmed Readers Theater about Pilgrim's journey, and a response to it

Stage 3: Learning Plan

Context: My lovely cooperating teacher, Ms. Jane Disanto, has just taught a unit on "explorers." As a class we focused on Columbus and his impact on history and then individually each student focused on an explorer they wanted to research, using a series of relatively child-friendly books. The class then made their own booklets, each page answering a question (e.g. Who were his sponsors? Where did he explore? What was his impact?). With the exception of one girl who researched Sacagewea, the other students all researched explorers of the 15th and 16th century. I agreed to undertake the next class project in social studies, leaping to the year 1621 and the land of the Separatists (a.k.a. Pilgrims, Colonists, Settlers, Mythic Forefathers) and the Wampanoags (a.k.a. Native Americans, Native Indians, Widely Stereotyped Original Inhabitants). In my research into America's history I've become increasingly interested in the problems of presenting the study of history as a detective process of finding clues (a.k.a primary resources, artifacts, oral traditions) and piecing them together to create a narrative that you as a historian think is the most likely, useful, or worthwhile story. The history of your own country can often be especially fraught with myths and half-truths created out of vague romanticized notions of being patriotic while obscuring deeper truths about being human, about understanding multiple perspectives, and about actively making decisions that will form tomorrow's history. In my online research I found a website that I thought had been carefully designed to address many of these issues and focus this unit around it. ( Before this lesson I gave the kids a pre-assessment asking the questions: Why do teacher make you study history? How do we even know about history? Do you like studying history, why or why not?

Lesson 1: What is History?


Lesson Plan 1

Lesson 2: Time-Traveling Historians

Travel waaaaay bay to 2009!


I want introduce students to the vocabulary we'll be using throughout the unit, and introduce the concept of primary sources using objects from their own homes, thinking about what you learn and cannot learn through them.

H&SS5-6:9 Identifying different types of primary and secondary sources, and understanding the benefits and limitations both bring to the study of history (e.g., interviews, biographies, magazine articles, and eyewitness accounts).

Lesson Plan 2

Lesson 3: A historian's best friend


I want students to experience the process of constructing history from a historian's perspective, using the necessary but often frustrating process of deciphering primary sources (a historian's best friend).

H&SS5-6:9 Identifying different types of primary and secondary sources, and understanding the benefits and limitations both bring to the study of history (e.g., interviews, biographies, magazine articles, and eyewitness accounts).


Lesson Plan 3

Lesson 4: Finding Cultural Clues


My objective for the students is that they explore tools available for researching the culture of the Pilgrims and Wampanaog to create a bigger picture of what life was like in 1621. Historians use cultural clues to make the bare simple facts come to life. This will also help them in the future of the unit when we look into different perspectives on the celebration of Thanksgiving as a holiday.

H&SS5-6:9 Students show understanding of how humans interpret history by… Identifying attitudes, values, and behaviors of people in different historical contexts.

Wampanoag.jpg Tribalmain.jpg Wetus.jpg Play1.jpg

Lesson Plan 4

Lesson 5: It's up to you.


My objective is to provide a clear picture of where this unit is headed and what I expect from them, including an independent research project on an aspect of Wampanoag or Pilgrim culture. I will review what we have learned so far, introduce the whole timeline of the evolution of Thanksgiving holiday to put it in wider context of relevance for them, and introduce the Reader's Theater piece about the Pilgrim's journey, a way of learning about their story that may be more exciting for them.

-H&SS5-6:10 Students show understanding of past, present, and future time by…

Constructing time lines of significant historical developments in the nation and world, designating appropriate equidistant intervals of time and recording events according to the order in which they occurred.


Lesson Plan 5

Lesson 6: Independent Research

Tampenum's Day by Kate Waters


My objective is to foster student ownership of learning. We will be working on research and I will introduce the writing of an informational paragraph in class, but the rest of the work will be done at home, with the end goal of creating memorable physical representations of their investigations for our "museum", and presenting it to our guests.

Sarah Morton's Day by Kate Waters

Writing Standard 1.19: Research. Informational Writing: Reports

W5: 8 In reports, students organize information/concepts by…

  • Using an organizational text structure appropriate to focus/controlling idea
  • Selecting appropriate information to set the context
  • Using transition words or phrases appropriate to organizing text structure
  • Writing a conclusion that provides closure
  • Obtaining information from more than one source, when appropriate
  • Listing sources at end of a report, if appropriate

W5: 9 In reports, students effectively convey a perspective on a subject by…

  • Stating and maintaining a focus/controlling idea (purpose) on a topic

W5: 10 In reports, students demonstrate use of a range of elaboration strategies by…

  • Including facts and details relevant to focus/controlling idea, and excluding extraneous information
  • Including sufficient details or facts for appropriate depth of information: naming describing explaining comparing, use of visual images

Lesson Plan 6

Lesson 7: The Play


My objective is to reach more students by using a more interactive method of presenting material on the complex path that led the Separatists to America. They will be forced to imagine what it was like, work together to create minimal set design and costume, and to listen to each other to answer response questions.

H&SS5-6:8 Students connect the past with the present by

  • Investigating how events, people, and ideas have shaped the United States and/or the world; and hypothesizing how different influences could have led to different consequences

Lesson Plan 7

Lesson 8: Different Perspectives


I want the students to understand that this is not just an issue stuck in the past. Thanksgiving (like Columbus Day) still has controversial repercussions in modern society. The past affects the present and depending on a person's perspective, they can be very different interpretations of the same event.

H&SS5-6:9 Students show understanding of how humans interpret history by…

• Identifying multiple perspectives in historic and current events (e.g., How might one of Santa Anna’s soldiers describe the events at the Alamo? How might an American soldier describe the same events?).

• Identifying attitudes, values, and behaviors of people in different historical contexts (e.g., What values justified denying women the vote?).

Lesson Plan 9

Lesson 9: Project Test/ Writing Test


My objective for them is to learn from the research of their fellow classmates, and then use that information plus what they have learned over the course of the unit to write a well thought-out paragraph about one of the two essay options.

Assessment Open-book Test, Individual Writing


Students will use the information from their fellow classmates reports to answer basic informational questions. They will then be able to use their tests, and any other knowledge that may be in their head, to individually write a paragraph, either about how modern Thanksgiving would have to change to be more like the "First Thanksgiving" or on the different perspectives about "Thanksgiving" and their opinion on the matter.


The open-book portion of this assessment, even though I took the time to go over in which reports to find each questions with the class and had them write that down, it took them the better part of an hour to finish just fact-finding. The class as a whole is not good a sifting through information to find what they are looking for (this perhaps has much to do with the fact that they are not used to taking notes or highlighting usefully). It was unfair to them and I could not really grade those, so I made sure they all had time to work on their Writing Test, which was remarkable in how diligently and thoroughly many of the students wrote. My regret here is only that I did not give students time to just present their projects to each other in a more relaxed fashion.


Students set up "The Museum" the day before, making a wall of "I'm Thankful for..." and wall with "Museum Rules."

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving was a half-day, so right after gym the students all changed into their costumes (even though we decided not to perform the play live- just for fun) and stood behind their projects. Mrs. Madison's second grade class (our reading buddies) came to visit first. They watched the play on DVD, looked around at all the projects, and listed politely (if a bit uncomprehendingly) to Vincent Royce, a students father who agreed to come in a share his native-american style canoes. A handful of other parents had shown up as well, adding to the festive atmosphere. After Mrs. Madison's class left, our neighboring fourth and fifth grade classes came by. We showed our DVD again and got a lot more laughter (they were not shy) and a lot more interest in Mr. Royce's presentation. One of my students also performed an interpretive Native American Dance that went along with her project (Her mother made her an outfit, she recorded a Proxy-Connection: keep-alive Cache-Control: max-age=0

ng and danced to it, it was quite impressive). I came up with the "clever" idea of using water color crayons (which make just excellent face paint) to decorate the hands and faces of students who finished looking at projects. This got, well, a little out of control, but the day was almost over, our friends had to leave, and we got to have out "Classroom Thanksgiving" (crock-pot soup and muffins and sparkling cider) while listening to music. Many things could have been better planned, but still I think it turned out well.