Thanksgiving Upper Elementary Teaching Ideas

The holiday season is here! Over the years I’ve learned to not only embrace the craziness, but use it to my advantage. My students are crazy for anything holiday themed, so November is “Thanksgiving Month” in my classroom. Anything fall or Thanksgiving is a hit, and it gets us through what would normally be a time of academic burnout.

Project-based Learning

Every year I visit every grocery store in town and walk out with tons of grocery ads. I let someone at customer service know what I’m doing and I either get a strange look or they’re really excited about the idea. I started this Math PBL several years ago and last year finally made it a digital download in my store (you can find it here). It’s a great way to cover the mathematical practices while reviewing some of our decimal, measurement, and geometry standards. The download includes instructions on how to implement each part, the student pages, and ways to connect the project to other subject areas.

November Project Based Learning Ideas from April Smith on Vimeo.

Find the lesson plans by grade level for Plan Thanksgiving Dinner here.


Have your students write about Thanksgiving.

In my classroom, it’s not about how students write, it’s about how we use their writing. My students write in a variety of formats- letters, journals, blog posts, formal essays, and even emails to each other. We use all of our writing pieces to further develop our writing through revision and editing. Bring your students one step closer to their writing goals by writing about fall or Thanksgiving traditions. If your students have trouble writing about this, read them a fun mentor text to give them some ideas to write about.

And yes, I read picture books to my students. Who doesn’t love a picture book? It takes 5-10 minutes to read, and now they have a ton of ideas for their writing!

Teach your students about gratitude.

It’s not often that we can align manners and social skills with our curriculum. Use November and Thanksgiving as an excuse to teach your students about gratitude. Read and write stories about gratitude. You can also find entire teaching units on teaching gratitude during the month of November. I’m betting that your students need to be reminded about gratitude at this point in the school year, especially the ones that have Christmas celebrations/presents/goodies coming soon.

Make those Social Studies Connections.

It seems like I’m always trying to stuff my reading and writing lessons full of Science and Social Studies to make up for the limited time we have for these subjects. Take the time to really focus on Social Studies this month. You can have your students create pages in their interactive notebooks for information on the history of Thanksgiving. You can also do a variety of projects centered around the history of Thanksgiving.  I implore you to line up those Social Studies and Language Arts standards this month, all around the topic of Thanksgiving.

Make the old stuff new.

Everything is fresh and new when it’s holiday-themed. Take those standards you’ve been working on and practice them in a Thanksgiving-themed way. For Halloween, we did candy corn order of operations practice (this is a freebie here if you want to grab it for next year, or use it now). Be creative and come up with a new spin on what you’ve already been working on. If you’re looking for something already made, check out this Thanksgiving word problem resource. It’ll be a hit with your students!

Enjoy it!

Lastly, enjoy the time you have with your students. Put aside all the stress that comes along with cramming in a ton of standards when you have even less time because of the holidays, and get to know your students better. Remember, this is the time of year when we need to remember what gratitude is too!