Teaching Thanksgiving: historically accurate and developmentally appropriate

For years I’ve known the story of “The First Thanksgiving” that I (and likely most of us) learned in school is historically inaccurate and white washed. It can be tricky to balance teaching the holiday, cute crafts, classroom/school traditions, and hard history especially in an early childhood setting. In the past, I have focused on thankfulness when teaching Thanksgiving in an effort to avoid teaching inaccurate history but still celebrate the holiday. I have also used the Scholastic News Thanksgiving issues to talk about Thanksgiving long ago and today but have realized they perpetuate problematic stereotypes of the first Thanksgiving story.

This year, I tried something different. I went out on a limb, took a risk, and attempted to discuss the truth behind Thanksgiving with my brave first graders. Our conversation focused around 2 images and the concept of myths.

Students looking at the images while they eat snack getting ready to discuss what they see.

North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has some really great resources for teaching culturally responsive instruction here. I used one article in their list for my lesson: The True Story of Thanksgiving from Muse Magazine. I read the article prior to teaching and used the images in the article to show my students. It isn’t an appropriate text for first graders to read on their own.

First I displayed this image on my Smartboard. There were laughs as soon as I put it up.

I used a protocol for students to turn and talk about the image. The protocol is very familiar to my students because we use it regularly. The protocol is called See, Think, Wonder. Students used the sentence starters, “I see…” “I think…” I wonder…” to discuss the image with a partner. Then I asked volunteers to share what they think is happening in the picture. The class agreed that it shows a big meal, probably Thanksgiving dinner. I asked for evidence that leads them to believe it was a gathering for a meal and they pointed out the big table, all the people, some food and drinks. Then I asked what was wrong and I’m sure you can imagine the laundry list. I guided them to discuss things like which season is it and how do you know, which holidays or celebrations are shown, who might the people be and why don’t we expect to see them together, does this look like the past or present and how can we tell. Each thing we discussed I invited students to point out evidence in the image to support what they were saying.

Next I introduced the concept of a myth as a story that some people think is true but isn’t and we noted that the above picture is a myth because it confuses holidays and seasons, the alien, it looks like its both past and present, and the penguin dancing on the tray.

Then I projected this image which is a portion of a famous painting depicting the First Thanksgiving that shows a very similar scene to the picture shown prior.

We followed the same protocol and discussion prompts: What do you see? What do you think? What do you wonder? What is happening in this image? What is wrong about the image? Students quickly stated this is an old Thanksgiving feast because of the clothes and the turkey on the tray. Things they noticed we wrong were the “judge” on the left side (their word) and what looks like snow on the ground by a red fall bush but the tree has green leaves. One student pointed out the Indigenous man at the table guessing maybe he doesn’t have a home. Which was a great opening to the first important myths about the image: this man does have a home, he is Indigenous meaning he lived on that land before the other people got there (We talked about Indigenous peoples rather than Columbus day in October), he was not the only Indigenous person at this meal there were actually more Indigenous people than there were English people. I briefly talked about how people usually refer to the 2 groups of people as Pilgrims and Indians but that we will call them English and Indigenous because it is more accurate. I then asked who looks like the helpers in this image? They guessed the English were the helpers because that’s what it looks like in the image – another myth. Actually a lot of the adult English people got sick and even died. Most of the English people at the feast would have been children and teenagers. The Indigenous people were the helpers and taught the English settlers how to live on the land. We also discussed the food in the image and the truth is that at this gathering the Indigenous and English wouldn’t have had turkey, they would have eaten fish, duck, venison, corn, and wheat based on the crops at the time. A student shouted out, “I bet the didn’t even call it Thanksgiving!” Yes little friend that is accurate.

We did discuss what happened after this meal, did the Indigenous and English remain friends? My students remembered from our discussion on Indigenous People’s Day that the settlers told them to leave the land and sent them away and were violent toward the Indigenous people. That is as far as we went with this part of the discussion.

I next gave my students the 2019 Thanksgiving issue of Scholastic News and asked them to cross out parts they through were myths. I challenged them to look at the images and read the text but most just looked at the images. Some kids crossed out everything assuming everything is a myth, some looked critically and asked questions of classmates and me. We reviewed the issue by discussing the parts that were historically accurate, things we know are myths, and some things I was unsure about. That’s where we ended the discussion.

Things I’ll do differently next time:

  • Tell my students up front we will be talking about something tricky that makes a lot of people nervous
  • More time for students to reflect on new learning
  • Talk about cultural appropriation and why it is not ok to dress up like Indigenous people
  • If I choose to use the scholastic news again, we will read it together so they analyze the text and not just the images.

I know that it is scary and uncomfortable to have these discussions with adults and I’m not going to lie, my stomach was in knots for the whole 45 minutes this discussion went on in my classroom with 6 year olds. Depending where you are in your journey toward educational equity and culturally responsive teaching you may need to just stop what you used to do and try something low risk.

Low risk ways to celebrate Thanksgiving :

  • STEM activities such as Balloons Over Broadway or How to catch a Turkey
  • Crafts like disguising a turkey (this can be extended using chatterpix to make a short video of kids telling why the turkey shouldn’t be captured)
  • Focusing on turkeys
  • Focusing on Thankfulness
  • Compare and contrast foods

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I’m still processing and reflecting on the conversation I had with my students. What feedback for growth do you have for me? How do you celebrate Thanksgiving in your classroom?

Protols for Learning with Littles

A big part of teaching littles is having clear and consistent routines. A big part of teaching in the 21st century is deep thinking. Combining these 2 can be tricky for an early childhood educator. Littles need direct instruction and modeling in clarity to be successful in deep thinking. Setting clear and consistent thinking routines have gotten my students to think more deeply across the curriculum. And be able to share those thoughts with one another.

Thinking routines and protocols ensure equity in your classroom by structuring they way students respond to prompts. Protocols and routines allow for every child to think and respond. Not just those who raise their hands. It’s also provides access to deeper thinking through clear steps and predictable routines.

Turn and talks are great and all but sometimes littles need more to get going. After reading the book Making Thinking Visible, I added some new routines to my classroom. Then I was inspired to seek more protocols to add to our tool belt of routines.

I see, I think, I wonder

In this protocol, students look at an image or the cover of a book and complete each of the statements. Students can respond to the sentence stems orally or through writing (teacher’s choice). I like this protocol because it is predictable and focuses littles on what we want them to notice through observations. It also allows them an outlet for their natural curiosity. I have used this protocol to introduce a new book, launch a science unit, and as a close reading activity. I have also extended this protocol with a digital image displayed on my smart board. I began with the image zoomed way in and asked students to complete the statements with a partner. Then, I zoomed out a little and asked them to make their statements again. We repeated this a few times until the image was whole. This protocol has become so routine in our classroom that I hear students using it during partner reading!

What makes you say that?

This one has become second nature to me. I respond to my students frequently with this little line. I like it because it is a subtle shift from asking, “why?” and doesn’t sound accusatory. When I responded with,”why?” students automatically thought they were wrong and changed their answer. When I respond with this question, they explain their thinking and reasoning that led them to their conclusion. It even pushes them toward finding and sharing the evidence they used to answer the question. Add this one to your back pocket now!

I used to think… Now I think…

This one is so easy to add to any nonfiction read aloud or unit!  Students start by activating their prior knowledge (I used to think…) and then focusing on finding something new in a text or video (But, now I think…). I have used this as a conversation starter, turn and talk, and response in a notebook. I have included this protocol in reading nonfiction, a math video on a new strategy, and split up as part of a launch to a science or social studies unit. I like this protocol because it sets a purpose for reading or viewing. Even for students who may be dinosaur experts, they are focused on finding that one new bit of information they didn’t already know while you read that nonfiction book.

I’ve also added some routines from other sources.

Chalk Talk (not sure where this one came from)

This is a fabulous and tricky protocol for littles! During Chalk Talk, students write their thoughts, ideas, or what they know about a topic on a large chart paper. When I do this, I give every student a different color marker so I can tell who’s is who’s. After completing their response on the chart paper, students then read what their classmates wrote and respond to others. During a Chalk Talk, students are not supposed to talk to each other, their marker is supposed to do the talking for them. This is where it gets tricky for littles. Littles need to stretch their words out loud so they can hear the sounds. Littles need to orally rehearse their writing prior to recording it. Littles struggle to write words and sentences others can read. I love this protocol because it challenges littles to focus on the reader when they write. I find my students are more concerned about recording exact sounds and writing neatly when we do a Chalk Talk than when they write a during writer’s workshop. I provide access to this protocol for my littles by allowing them to use their voices to help them write but encourage them not to talk to their friend and by allowing them to choose between sketching or writing. And they CAN do it, with practice and gentle reminders. I have used this protocol with students as a number splash (where they have to show a number in multiple ways – a math routine in my district), classroom rules, problems and solutions that might occur at school, relationship building activity for morning meeting, recording ideas for personal narratives, and responding to a read aloud. Sometimes I do 1 chalk talk and focus on responding to others, sometimes I have multiple chalk talk charts at once and focus on sharing ideas and debrief later.

Snowball Toss (SOS from Discover Education)

This protocol is “snow” much fun! It’s also a great way to use some of that scrap paper that builds up in your room! In this protocol, students respond to a prompt on a piece of scrap paper, then you gather in a circle, ball up the paper and toss it in the middle like a snowball. Students then grab a paper snowball open it up and read then respond to what their classmate wrote or respond to a new prompt and repeat as many times as you want! This one has some of the same challenges as Chalk Talk when it comes to students writing and being able to read each other’s writing. I provide the same choice (sketch or write). I have added my own spin to this protocol by having students respond with “I agree” or “I disagree” statements or if the snowball they picked has a sketch then they have to respond with a sketch. This is a newer protocol for me, but the kids are loving it! We used it to discuss the Eclipse of 2017 and as a response to a character strength we were discussing as part of Positivity Project. I’ll be using it again this week with a lesson on time! Watch for me to tweet it out @AubreyDiOrio.

Back to back/Front to front

I picked this one up from a tweet by my friend Nathalie Ludwig.

We use this one ALL. THE. TIME. In this protocol, students get up, find a partner, and stand back to back. The teacher asks a question and provides think time. Students cannot respond to the question until the teacher says, “Front to front.” Then each time you have a question, say, “back to back” and students find a new partner. This is a great way to change up your turn and talk with some movement and different partners. This protocol adds equity for your students with differences through built-in think time. I have not had an issue this year with students always picking the same few friends or talking at the same time, but you can add some control by assigning kids as either ketchup or mustard. Then littles have to find someone to complete the pair and you can have ketchups talk first, mustards talk second. I use this protocol to respond to a read aloud, as a morning meeting activity to discuss a character strength, to share a math strategy, to compare judy clocks, share a hypothesis, and SO MUCH MORE!

Glows and Grows

Glows and Grows is a protocol for collecting feedback. Glows are something great and Grows are areas for improvement. This one is accessible to students because they grasp on to the word Glow as a positive and Grow as something to get better. It encourages them to take a growth mindset and look for something that could be better. Through this protocol, I’ve noticed students focusing on kindness and helpfulness rather than looking for the work that is the best. I have used this protocol to collect feedback from experts during a PBL, with writing or reading partners, and student-led conferences.

My favorite part of having thinking and learning protocols is that they can be applied to any subject area and once my students get used to them, I don’t have to give a ton of directions. I just say, “we are going to do a Chalk Talk. Please write about ____.”

Have you tried any of these protocols with your littles? Have you used other ones? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below!

Hacking PBL – book reflection

I wanted to compile my books snaps and other creations after reading Hacking PBL in an easy to see format. 

Hack 1

Hack 2


Made with Padlet

Hack 3

Displaying Is it PBL worthy?.jpg

Hack 4

Planning PBLs

Things I’m doing that are in the same family as PBL: STEM/STEAM, Genius Hour!

MUST be flexible!

Hack 5

Hack 6


On my todo list- try shifting the ownership of assessment to the students. It will look different in kindergarten but I think it can be done. #innovate4littles #kindersCAN

Hack 7


Things I’m doing:

2 stars and a wish – students do this with parents at student led conferences but I can shift the protocol to be used by them to eachother. Students share 2 positives or compliments and 1 thing they want to do better.

glows and grows – I use this protocol when reflecting with my class as a whole group. Since they are familiar with it they can use it with peers. I ask for or  share things in a lesson or activity that glowed and things that can grow.

Hack 8

Hack 9

Student understanding can be measure by more than a standard test. Student performance can measure understanding in a deeper way than a standard test. Your assessment should look and feel like the instruction. Understanding shouldn’t be measured 1 way 1 time.

Hack 10

Students should be sharing projects with the world because realistically that’s what people do. This is a good time to harness the power of social media. It’s important to help children build a positive digital footprint early. When using social media it is importanto teach digital citizenship frequently.