Turkeys & Thanksgiving Traditions: Developing Cultural Literacy Through Analysis & Discussion

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SWBAT propel a whole-class discussion by reacting to examples of established and personal holiday traditions.

Big Idea

Understanding the origins and celebrations of the Thanksgiving holiday create culturally literate students.

Introduction and Welcome: Friday Favorite Poll

10 minutes

To introduce class today, and continue the sense of ownership and student engagement in my classroom, I poll the students on their favorite part of Thanksgiving Dinner. This has the added effect of engaging the students in today's discussion, and giving them at least one talk point for out conversation--their favorite. 

The options in the poll are:

Turkey (light or dark meat)

Mashed Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes

Cranberries (Jellied, Whole, or Chutney)


Pumpkin Pie



The "Friday Favorite" vote serves to build a sense of community and trust within the classroom, encouraging students to share their thoughts and participate in a wide range of discussions, build on others' ideas, express their own ideas clearly (SL.9-10.1). In addition, the practice developing and supply evidence for their claims--even in an informal situation--should translate to students' writing as we develop more critical and evaluative pieces this semester (W.9-10.1b). 

We take the time "out" of class today to provide variety in the material for the students in order to build cultural literacy, yet still address informational reading and speaking and listening skills. Celebration of the "big" holidays strengthens my efforts to build community and trust in the classroom and provide students with an alternate education experience beyond the textbook. Some students respond well to these "breaks" from our day-to-day, and it serves to engage them, drawing those students in to the classroom routine. By noting Thanksgiving, we are also able to recap the ideas we addressed with Puritan writing earlier this year as well. 

A Brief History of the Holiday: In-Class Reading

15 minutes

I ask students to take fifteen minutes to read the "History of Thanksgiving" article from History.com. Students are given a print up of this article in order to prepare for discussion and draw connection between the text and their own experiences with the holiday, determining the central idea of the text and analyzing its development, how it emerges and is shaped, and how it is refined by specific details (RI.9-10.2). I address the objective that we are reading this article for those purposes, sharing it with the students. This print up is used under Fair Use: Directed Self-Study, on 22 November 2013; as such, a printable copy is not included here. 

In planning for today's discussion, I wanted to ensure students had information they could draw from in order to participate in discussion beyond their own reactions to the holiday. When we held our Halloween discussion, while I provided a reading, we did not have time to explore it fully; it was too long to address in class. This reading from History.com is more concise and to the point, allowing students time to complete it in class. 

I provide students with the opportunity to read independently in order for them to gain ownership of, and take responsibility for, the material assigned. Every student works at a different pace, every student appreciates reading in a different manner. Providing students this time to work allows them to work at their own pace and comfort level, but also to have me available if they have any questions or need any clarification.

As students work, I circulate the room to offer advice, answers, clarification, or focus as needed.  


Discussing the Holiday: Whole-Group Discussion

20 minutes

I begin the discussion by asking students what historical elements of Thanksgiving are notably different from their own. From there, I let students propel the discussion, propelling it and reacting to comments and questions from their peers (SL.9-10.1c), but I do have a few questions prepared if conversation dies out:

1. What surprised you about the first Thanksgiving, or about the history of the holiday?

2. What do you still want to learn about the holiday?

3. Do you have any "disaster" stories from Thanksgivings past?

4. Do you have any family traditions?

5. Is there a job that you have to do every year to prepare for dinner?

6. Do you have cooking specialty that is your responsibility to prepare?

By having these questions in my back pocket, I can move the conversation, and give students something to react to, if needed. In addition, the personal holiday questions give students a chance to react to further their peers' answers. 

By holding a whole-class discussion, students can determine the pacing and content, but I can also step in and control those elements as needed. In addition, the students who like to participate get their chance, but I can also engage the students who try to avoid conversation. 

Reading Skill: Understanding a Venn Diagram

5 minutes

As part of today's instruction, I address how to "read" a Venn diagram: understanding its layout, how data can be presented, and how it can reflect paragraph organization.

 Information can be presented in a variety of manners, and much of the comparative information on Thanksgiving is presented in both the "Thanksgiving Traditions" section of the History.com article, and again on the "Thanksgiving by the Numbers" infographic. I ask students to compare these portrayals, determine what is emphasized in each, and why the information may be significant (RI.9-10.7). 

I directly address how to read a Venn diagram in order to ensure the students attention is drawn to information that appears in both places, as well as point out structure that can help their writing. By opening the conversation up to the students, I can then gauge what they find significant, in addition to the information I model for them. 

We wrap up class today with the conclusion of this discussion.