Thanksgiving Activity Ideas
The fall season is a great time to teach the history of Thanksgiving, culture, and foods to your high school and middle school students. Students enjoy learning that the Thanksgiving holiday is more than just about the Thanksgiving dinner, and it can be a great learning opportunity to teach about Thanksgiving traditions and life skills. Let’s take a look at a few activities for the Thanksgiving season.
History of Thanksgiving Foods Lesson
Did you know that the first Thanksgiving did not include turkey but pheasants as the protein and turnips instead of potatoes?
Grab your students’ attention with this engaging slideshow that includes guided notes, student questions, and a video about the history of pumpkin spice.
This is a perfect way to lay the groundwork for other activities, including cooking Thanksgiving foods. Students learn about the origins of the pumpkin, when turkey was first introduced, what was eaten at the first Thanksgiving feast, and more. Students also get to create their own Thanksgiving meal in a “What’s for Dinner?” activity, which is a fun way to get students thinking about meal planning, a perfect Thanksgiving activity.
Thanksgiving Recipes for Students
These fun Thanksgiving activities include recipes that are doable for middle and high school students. The recipes include:
- Creamed Corn
- Cranberry Sauce
- Homemade Apple Cider
If you don’t want to take on a big meal, another option is to do a potato challenge! Give students two potatoes each and have them create and execute a recipe. We have an entire lesson for this, and it is a fun activity for culinary and family and consumer science students. Have judges come and taste-test the potato dishes and choose a winner! It’s a perfect activity to teach cooking methods and tie into the month of November. This will teach the history of the potato, one of America’s favorite Thanksgiving foods.
A Chili Cook-Off is excellent for Thanksgiving week or anytime in the month of November. You can plan an entire week with a chili cook-off. Students:
- research chili
- create invitations for staff to be taste testers
- mise en place and cook the chili
- gather the appropriate accouterment, get the score sheets and kitchen ready for the event, and more.
- work in groups of 2 or more, depending on your class size. If you need to rotate the groups that make the chili, we have a chili cook-off lesson that includes a reading and questions about chili that the non-cooking group can work on while the others cook.
Here is a list of chili recipes if you want to allow your students to choose their recipes from the internet. This site includes white chicken chili, pumpkin chili, black bean chili, and other types of chilis. They can research fun ideas for making their own twist on chili.
We have a Chili Cook-Off Project that is ready to go for you to use in your classroom. It includes reading about chili, questions, instructions for the project, a scoresheet, a rubric, and more! You can give the winners a spatula with a ribbon on it, or these inexpensive chili cook off prize ribbons.
Make Homemade Apple Cider- this is a great option because it is an affordable food lab for the classroom, and it makes the whole hallway smell delicious. Grab the printable recipe here!
- 12-15 medium-sized apples (a mix of sweet and tart varieties)
- 1 orange
- 2-3 cinnamon sticks
- 4-5 cloves
- 1/2 cup brown sugar (adjust to taste)
- Large stockpot
- Cheesecloth or fine-mesh strainer
- Large bowl
- Clean bottles or jars for storing
- Prepare the Apples:
- Wash and roughly chop the apples. You can leave the skin, seeds, and cores intact, as they contain flavor and pectin, contributing to the cider.
- Add Oranges and Spices:
- Cut the orange into slices (with the peel on) and add it to the pot with the chopped apples. Add the cinnamon sticks and cloves.
- Boil the Apples:
- Fill the pot with enough water to cover the ingredients. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer uncovered for about 1-1.5 hours, or until the apples are very soft and mushy.
- Mash and Simmer:
- Mash the apples and oranges using a potato masher or the back of a spoon. Continue to simmer for another 30 minutes to an hour. This helps extract all the flavors from the fruit.
- Strain the Cider:
- Let the mixture cool slightly. Place a large bowl under a fine-mesh strainer or wrap cheesecloth over a large bowl. Pour the mixture through to strain out the solids. Use a ladle to press down on the mixture to extract all the liquid.
- Sweeten the Cider:
- Pour the strained liquid back into the pot. Add brown sugar and stir well. Adjust the sweetness to your taste.
- Reheat (Optional):
- If you prefer your cider to be warm, gently reheat it on the stove. Be cautious not to boil it.
- Store the Cider:
- Once cooled, pour the cider into clean bottles or jars. Seal tightly and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. For longer storage, consider freezing portions.
- Serve and Enjoy:
- Serve the cider chilled or warmed, garnished with a cinnamon stick or slice of apple if desired.
Your homemade apple cider is now ready to be enjoyed! This recipe allows you to savor the natural, wholesome flavors of apples and warm spices.
Teach about Native Americans and Their History
Teaching about Indigenous people is one of my favorite Thanksgiving activities. It is a great opportunity to teach about the contribution of the first people as well as to teach about true indigenous foods with ingredients from the native land.
This lesson also includes a slideshow, questions, and guided notes. A Fry Bread recipe is also included, which is a popular recipe among some reservations. It is a post-contact recipe but still holds a lot of meaning for some native populations. We live near the Seneca Nation reservation, and Chris has students who get really excited about making fry bread and other foods that are found on their reservation.
We love this video about indigenous foods, and it comes with questions in our lesson!
Native American Food Recipes:
Learning about the three sisters is a great way to teach about indigenous foods.
The “Three Sisters” is a traditional Native American agricultural technique involving the interplanting of three main crops: corn, beans, and squash. Various indigenous tribes across North America have widely used this method for centuries, as it provides a balanced and sustainable way of cultivating food.
- Corn (Maize):
- Corn serves as the “big sister” in this trio. It provides a natural support structure for the beans to climb. The tall cornstalks also offer shade for the squash, helping to retain moisture in the soil.
- Beans are the “middle sister.” They have a unique ability to convert nitrogen from the air into a form that is beneficial for plants. This enriches the soil, providing essential nutrients for the other crops. Additionally, beans climb up the corn stalks, reducing the need for additional trellises.
- Squash is the “little sister.” Its large, leafy vines cover the ground, creating a natural mulch. This helps to retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. Additionally, the prickly vines of squash act as a natural deterrent to pests.
Together, these three crops form a symbiotic relationship known as companion planting. They work together in a way that benefits all three, creating a more productive and sustainable agricultural system. This agricultural technique is not only efficient in terms of space and resources but also nutritionally balanced. Corn provides carbohydrates, beans offer protein, and squash contributes essential vitamins and minerals.
The Three Sisters method not only showcases the ingenuity of indigenous agricultural practices but also reflects a deep understanding of the natural world and sustainable farming techniques. It is an important part of Native American cultural heritage and a testament to the wisdom and resourcefulness of these communities.
Native American Recipe
Three Sisters Stew
Yield: 4-6 servings
- 1 cup dried corn (hominy), or you can use canned hominy
- 1 cup dried beans (such as kidney beans or black beans), soaked overnight and drained
- 1 medium-sized squash (such as acorn or butternut), peeled and diced
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Water or vegetable broth
- Optional: herbs or seasonings like sage, thyme, or chili powder for flavor
- Prepare the Hominy and Beans:
- If using dried hominy, soak it overnight in water. Rinse and drain before using. Do the same with the dried beans.
- Cook the Hominy and Beans:
- In a large pot, combine the hominy and beans with enough water to cover them by a few inches. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until both are tender. This can take a few hours, especially for dried beans.
- Sauté the Onions and Garlic:
- In a separate skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and sauté until they become translucent. Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute.
- Combine Ingredients:
- Add the sautéed onions and garlic to the pot with the hominy and beans.
- Add Squash:
- Add the diced squash to the pot. If the liquid level is low, add enough water or vegetable broth to cover the ingredients.
- Season and Simmer:
- Season the stew with salt, pepper, and any additional herbs or seasonings you’d like to use. Let the stew simmer until the squash is tender, usually about 30-45 minutes.
- Adjust Seasonings and Serve:
- Taste the stew and adjust the seasonings as needed. Serve hot.
You can also have students research pre-reservation recipes and have them do a research slideshow on them. This is a unique way to incorporate culinary arts and American history.
Community Service Project: Acts of Kindness
Encourage students to perform acts of kindness in their community, whether it’s volunteering at a local shelter or organizing a food drive. Allow your students to come up with fresh ideas about ways to serve their community. If you teach culinary arts, perhaps you make food for staff as a thank you. You can also consider a pumpkin pie drive and sell pies to raise money for a local charity or organization.
Check out our Pies Lesson, which will help you teach about the history of pies and how pies are made to set the foundation for a pie drive. Chris does one every year and they not only learn how to make different pies but they raise a lot of money for the senior class and families in need during the holiday season. These Thanksgiving activities can help build empathy and community.
Have your students write positive notes on the pies as a beautiful way to brighten spirits and to give them a sense of giving. This project often becomes one of the students’ favorites throughout the school year.
Making thankful hand turkeys is not just for elementary school! Older students like making hand turkeys and writing what they are thankful for in each feather. It is a cute way to decorate your classroom for the season, and you can have them focus on food and cooking. This holiday is a perfect time to have kids remind themselves of all that they are thankful for, including family members, friends, things that they own, school and more.
More Holiday Ideas for Culinary Arts and Family and Consumer Science
If you are beginning to think about the Christmas and holiday season, check out our blog post about making holiday cookies with your students. It includes a lesson that has the history of holiday cookies as well as recipes, and activities for students.
In conclusion, engaging middle and high school students in Thanksgiving activities can be a transformative educational experience. From organizing great ideas such as a pie sale to raise funds for charity, to delving into the rich tapestry of indigenous foods, and exploring the historical significance of Thanksgiving meals, there are myriad ways to instill a sense of gratitude and cultural awareness.
These activities not only deepen their understanding of this celebrated holiday, but also cultivate empathy and a spirit of giving back. By incorporating these diverse and meaningful activities, we can inspire a sense of community and a lifelong appreciation for the traditions that make Thanksgiving a time of reflection, learning, and compassion.
Remember, these lesson ideas are not only educational but also offer opportunities for students to reflect on gratitude, empathy, and the diverse cultural tapestry that makes up our society. By incorporating these activities, we can enrich our students’ understanding of Thanksgiving and its broader significance. Happy Thanksgiving!
*This blog post may include affiliate links.