A Celebration of Gratitude

The purpose of this site is to assist educators and parents in teaching their children gratitude - and how to be thankful for what we have. This is done by teaching lessons centered around the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians. A few lessons and ideas are posted here that come from a unit for 1st and 2nd graders that was prepared by Amy Christensen and Amanda Wilkinson, completed as part of the requirements for ELED 4050 Fall Semester, 1999, Jay Monson, course instructor, USU.

Lesson Plans:

Background Information

In the early 1600's, a group known as the Separatists lived in England. They were people who wanted to worship God, study the Bible and pray, but the English laws did not allow the Separatists to worship as they desired. They were to follow the laws or be silent.

  • Secretly they worshiped, despite English laws. They were hunted down, tormented, and locked up for many months because they continued to worship as they chose.

  • Eventually, they heard about freedom of religion in Holland, and planned to escape. After much hardship, England decided to let them leave.

  • Now called Pilgrims, they lived in Holland for 12 years, but left because they couldn't stand the hard life, and couldn't work their own trades. They wanted to find a Kingdom of God for their posterity to practice religion freely.

  • They had had enough, so they hired the Speedwell and the Mayflower to carry them across the Atlantic to a new land in America.

  • The Speedwell had many leaks and had to turn back. The Mayflower took in their passengers, making their total passenger list over 100. The Mayflower was only 90 feet long and had three levels. They sailed a total of two months and three days, cramped and hungry.

  • On November 11, 1620 the Mayflower spotted land. They landed in Province town, Massachusetts. For over a month, they sent crew of men to find the perfect place for them to build their colony. When they finally found a place, they called it Plymouth.

  • Right away they started building homes and a Common house to meet in, knowing that winter was near.

  • Unfortunately, a violent storm hit when the houses were not yet finished. The Pilgrims were forced to stay on the cramped Mayflower for their first winter in the new world. After this winter was over, over half of them had died.

  • The Pilgrims eventually made a good friend who helped them. His name was Squanto. He showed them where fish swam, how to hunt deer, and showed them how to plant corn. Squanto lived with the Pilgrims for the rest of his life.

  • Squanto was a Native American from the Wampanoag tribe. He was kidnaped earlier in his life and taken to England. This is why he was able to communicate with the Pilgrims. His friend Samoset also spoke English.

  • Translating for Massasoit, the Wampanoag chief, and other tribe members, a peace treaty was made between the Pilgrims and the Native Americans that lasted for fifty years.

  • With the help of the Native Americans, there was plenty for everyone to eat that first summer, and there was also plenty to last for the next winter.

  • The Pilgrims had so much to be thankful for. They gave thanks for good friends, new homes, freedom of religion, and plenty of food in a three day celebration with their Native American friends.

Today we continue the celebration of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans, and call it Thanksgiving.

The Mayflower Passengers



  1. The student will be able to understand the reasons why the Pilgrims and other passengers came to America.

  2. The student will be introduced to the Mayflower and what the Pilgrims went through in order to come to America.



  • Books describing the Mayflower

  • Chart paper and marker

  • Journals for writing



1. Ask the children to explain the word "Pilgrim." List their ideas on chart paper for later discussion. Have the children tell what they know about the Pilgrims. Then read them a story about why the Pilgrims wanted to come to the new world. Three good sources are: A Day of Thanksgiving, by Ruth Roquitte, The Thanksgiving Story, by Alice Dalgliesh, or The First Thanksgiving, by Linda Hayward.

2. After reading the story, have the children list the reasons why the people on the Mayflower came to America (religious freedom, a better life, etc.). Explain to the children that a Pilgrim is a person who travels to a far off place because of their religion. (Stress that not all of the passengers were Pilgrims)

3. Have the children talk about the hardships the passengers endured on the long voyage to America. Have them talk about what the children on board the Mayflower did to pass the time. Have them brainstorm some suggestions of what these children could have done, remembering the period in time and conditions of travel.

4. Have the children write in their journals about what they know of the Mayflower and what a pilgrim is. Also have them list things they would like to learn more about.



Check for understanding while you are discussing with the children. Incorporate words such as Mayflower, Pilgrim, voyage, etc. in your spelling words for this week. Also, check their journals for understanding, and to determine what things to teach from this point on after reading and learning what they already know.

The Wampanoag Indians Helped the Pilgrims

(part one of a continuing lesson)


  1. The student will be able to recognize the hardships the Pilgrims faced when trying to adjust to a new and different environment and lifestyle.

  2. The student will be able to describe some of the natural resources the Wampanoag Indians showed to the Plymouth settlers.


  • Chart paper

  • Squanto and the First Thanksgiving by Teresa Celsi

  • Picture books showing the way the Pilgrims lived

  • If possible, various vegetables, seeds, tools, etc. for the children to explore


1. Discuss with the children what life was like for the Pilgrims that first year when they arrived in Plymouth. On chart paper list their responses. Ask guiding questions when necessary to help children think about shelter, food, clothing, feelings, health, etc.

2. Remind the children that the Pilgrims had been living in cities in London where there were shops, doctors, and other goods and services.

3. Read the book Squanto and the First Thanksgiving. On the same chart listing the hardships the Pilgrims faced, record the children's responses to the question, "What did the Wampanoag Indians teach the Pilgrims?"

4. Use pictures from resource books to show children what the various vegetables, fish, seafood, animals, and homes looked like.

5. If possible, let the children explore vegetables, seeds, tools and utensils that the Pilgrims may have used. 


Check for their understanding by listening closely to their answers to your questions. The main point of this lesson is to help them understand the hardships the Pilgrims faced and how the Wampanoag Indians helped the them. If possible, have them write in their journals what they learned about the lesson - then check these for understanding.


Showing Gratitude for the Wampanoag Indians

(part 2 of the previous lesson)


  1. The student will be able to recognize the hardships the Pilgrims faced when trying to adjust to a new and different environment and lifestyle.

  2. The student will be able to describe some of the natural resources the Wampanoag Indians showed to the Plymouth settlers.


  • Large poster paper for each group

  • Chart paper

  • Crayons


1. Have the children work in groups to create murals showing the Wampanoag Indians teaching the Pilgrims ways of using natural resources.

2. Help the children with examples if they need it: hunting, fishing, gathering clams and mussels, planting corn, etc.

3. When the groups are done, have each one of them dictate a description of their mural.

4. Write their descriptions on chart paper, and display them with the murals.

5. Have each group show the rest of the class what they drew and wrote down.

6. Close the lesson by summarizing what each of the groups came up with, and remind the children that they need to be thankful for what they have.


During the activity, walk around the classroom and notice what the children are drawing. If they are drawing pictures that have to do with the above examples, then they are understanding. This is also a good time to notice how others are working together in a group setting.

Five Kernels of Corn

During that very hard winter before the first Thanksgiving, it is recorded that food became so scare in some settlements that the daily ration of food per person per day was five kernels or corn. In order to remember those harsh times and maintain their gratitude for the plenty they now enjoyed, some New Englanders started the custom of putting five kernels of corn on each plate at their feast



I Am Most Grateful For These Five Blessings




















Special thanks to Diane Schaelling for providing this resource

Five Kernels of Corn



  1. The students will understand how the Pilgrims had to suffer through a long hard winter.

  2. The students will learn about being grateful for what they have.


  • Canned corn

  • Paper plates

  • Five grains of corn article from "The Glory of the Sun" by Sterling W. Sill

  • Five kernels worksheet (attached)

  • Arrangements with cooks


1. Arrange with the cooks to have the children come to the lunch room early.

2. Give the cooks the cooked corn and paper plates.

3. Line the children up and have the cooks pass out only 5 kernels of corn each.

4. Once they have all sat down, explain to them that this is all they get for the entire day, so they may want to save some of it.

5. After a few minutes, tell the children that they really will get their regular lunch, but you wanted them to experience what it was like for the pilgrims.

6. Summarize the story of the five kernels of corn by explaining to the students how at one time this was all the Pilgrims had to eat - per person - per day.

7. Talk to them about being grateful for what we have.

8. After their regular lunch, have the children fill out the worksheet about their five blessings.

9. Tell them to remember how the Pilgrims suffered, and that they had the first Thanksgiving after their first successful harvest - to show gratitude for what they had been given.


Go over their worksheets to see what kinds of things they are thankful for. If they have put things like toys, sports, money, etc. then they haven't gotten the point! Make sure to discuss what kinds of things the Pilgrims were grateful for, like food, clothing, homes, etc.


Special thanks to Diane Schaelling for providing resources for this lesson

The First Thanksgiving


  1. The student will review prior information on the first Thanksgiving, and will learn more information about it.

  2. The student will explore and understand what the first Thanksgiving was like in 1621.


  • Books regarding the first Thanksgiving

  • Chart paper to write ideas on

  • Paper and crayons

Lesson: (This lesson could be taught over several days)

1. Have the children review the stories they know about the first Thanksgiving. Read stories to them describing how the Wampanoag Indians helped the Pilgrims. Another good source would be Squanto and the First Thanksgiving, by Joyce Kessel and Lisa Donze.

2. Have the children make a list on the board of how the Native Americans helped the Pilgrim settlers that first year, and then have them each draw a picture depicting something the Pilgrims were taught by the Wampanoag's (display on a bulletin board).

3. Talk about the Thanksgiving celebrated by the Pilgrims and their Native American friends. Discuss WHY it was celebrated.

4. Talk about what the first thanksgiving feast was like, and have them make a chart comparing Thanksgiving then and now (guests, menus, entertainment, cooking methods, sources of food, preparation, etc.). A good source to read could be Oh, What a Thanksgiving, by Steven Knoll.

5. Have the children decide and prepare (in cooperative learning groups) some of the recipes that may have been used at the first Thanksgiving, such as pumpkins, beans, corn, etc. (See activity section)

6. Using the recipes, have a tasters table where everybody gets to sample something that everyone had made.

7. As a closing activity, have the students discuss things that they are thankful for that the Pilgrims perhaps did not have.


Check for assessment at each level of activity, by checking for understanding during your discussions. Go over the pictures and foods prepared to determine if the children understand what the first Thanksgiving was really like. 

"Gratitude Learning Centers"

This lesson should be taught in three separate centers, each lasting between 15-20 minutes. Have aids or parents help with the centers. Have the children assigned in groups that will rotate around the centers when the time is finished. The idea of the activities is to help the children feel gratitude for what they have.

(These are a brief description of each activity, with the full descriptions following.)


Center #1 =

The students will learn about many of the different things the pilgrims had to do that were a hardship for them, but that come very easily for us today. After reading a story and discussion, the students will experience making butter by shaking cream in little jars. After they have made their butter they can taste it on crackers. The focus will be placed on the difficulty of having to make their food from scratch, compared to being able to 'buy' it from a store.


Center #2=

This center will have numerous books (about gratitude) placed for the children to explore. After sufficient time to read, the students will be given paper on which to draw something they found in the books that the pilgrims or Native Americans were thankful for. On the other side they will draw something they are thankful for. Later, their pictures could be bound and made into a class book.


Center #3=

At this center, the students would have the opportunity to do a role play that had to do with a story about the pilgrims and Native Americans. Then they would be able to compose a peace treaty on weathered parchment paper (for authenticity). They would discuss the importance of peace treaties, and how we should be grateful for the country in which we live (no wars, etc.)



Gratitude Center # 1


Making Butter


Ask the children what kinds of things they are grateful for. Then ask them what kinds of things they think the pilgrim children were grateful for. When the discussion leads to 'food' ask them how they get their food. Discuss how easy it is to just go to the store and buy what you need. Talk to them about how the pilgrims had to get their food (by making it). Them discuss how hard they think it would be to make and prepare all of your food. Go into detail about the basics, like flour, butter, cheese, and anything else they wanted to eat.

After you have had enough time to talk about the hardships the pilgrims had in preparing their own food, let the kids know that today they are going to experience how to make their own butter. Also, explain to them that they need to follow your directions carefully in order to make their own butter.



1. Fill baby food jars (or small prescription bottles) half full of whipping cream and screw the lids on tightly.

2. Show them how to shake the bottles in order to whip the cream.

3. After about five minutes the cream will be whipped, and after another couple of minutes, lumps of yellow butter will form. Continue shaking until most of the cream has formed into a ball.

4. Rinse off the liquid whey and add a little salt, if desired. Then spread the butter on crackers for tasting.



Let each child keep their butter and container to bring home. If time allows, read a Thanksgiving book to them while they are shaking their butter - or after they are done. Make sure to focus on the idea that the pilgrims had to work hard for what we get easily, and that we should be thankful for what we have. Close with discussing how thankful we should all be for the things that the pilgrims had to work so hard at.



Gratitude Center # 2 

"Showing Gratitude"



Sit with the children in a half circle and discuss with them the different

things that they are grateful for. Then lead the discussion into the things they thought the pilgrims might have been thankful for, and why they were thankful for them.



1. Hand each of the children (or pairs) a couple of books describing the first Thanksgiving, the pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians.

2. Tell the children to find their own personal space (give them boundaries) and read through the books to find out exactly what the pilgrims were grateful for.

3. After sufficient time, have them come back and discuss what they found.

4. After discussion, give the children each a large piece of paper and crayons.

5. Explain to the students to fold their paper in half, on one side they will draw what they are thankful for, then on the other side they will draw what the pilgrims or Indians were thankful for.

6. After their pictures have been completed, you may want to bind them into a class book to keep in the library.



Close with a discussion about the various things that they drew - and why.

Stress to the children that we all need to be thankful for what we have, and we should not take for granted what we have. Focus on what the pilgrims and Indians had to do in order to survive, and then discuss how those things come easily for us.


Gratitude Center # 3

Peace Treaty Role Play



Tell the students that they are going to role play a peace treaty that may have been signed between the Wampanoag Indians and the Pilgrims. Assign them the various parts, then give each student a copy of the play.



Narrator (Teacher or proficient reader): One day an Indian walked straight into Plymouth. He went right up the street to the common house. The astonished Pilgrims ran out.

Samoset: Welcome!

Pilgrims: He speaks English!

Samoset: Yes, my name is Samoset. I learned some English words from English fishermen. I am from the north. The Indians who used to live in this place were almost all killed a few years ago by a terrible sickness. Tomorrow I will return to trade with you.

Narrator: When Samoset left, the Pilgrims gave him a knife, a ring, and a bracelet. Samoset liked the presents. The next day, he returned with five tall Indians carrying beaver skins to trade with the Pilgrims. Soon, Samoset came again with an Indian named Squanto. Squanto spoke even better English than Samoset.

Squanto: I speak English well because I learned it when I was in England.

Narrator: Just then, the Pilgrims looked up and saw an astonishing sight. A warrior chief was standing on a hill across the river. Behind him were sixty brightly painted Indians.

Pilgrim 1: Is this a war party?

Narrator: The Pilgrims were greatly outnumbered.

Edward Winslow: Come! We will give our gifts to these people!

Narrator: Edward bowed to the chief and gave him many gifts.

Edward Winslow: King James of England wishes to salute you with love and peace. I hope we will be friends. Will you please come meet our governor and make peace with him?

Massasoit: I will meet your leader, but only if you stay here with my people while I am gone.

Edward Winslow: I will stay.

Narrator: Twenty men went with Massasoit to Plymouth. Captain Miles Standish met them on the shore. A group of men carrying guns stood behind him. They took Massasoit to a half finished house up the street. Governor Carter came in, and the two men kissed each others hands. They arranged the treaty.

Governor Carter: We agree to live in peace with Massasoit and his people, the Wampanoag Indians. When we come to visit each other, we will always come without weapons. Any Pilgrim who harms a Wampanoag Indian will be punished. 

Massasoit: Any Wampanoag who harms a Pilgrim will be punished.

Governor Carter and Massasoit: If any outsiders harm each other, we will defend each other.

Narrator: This was a wonderful treaty. The friendship between the Pilgrims and the Indians lasted for more than 50 years. The Indians taught the Pilgrims how to survive in this lands, they helped them to plant and hunt. 



Ask the children why they think Squanto knew English (he was kidnaped as a child and taken to England). Do you think Squanto had reasons to be thankful? What do you think he was thankful for? What did the Pilgrims have to be grateful for because of their peace treaty with the Indians? What is different about the way that we show our gratitude today? What are you grateful for in your own life? Did the Pilgrims have these things? If possible, have the children write their own peace treaty on parchment paper.


Gratitude Learning Centers (part 2)

These centers are a continuation of the previous days activities, set up in the same way. Children will be assigned to 3 different groups, and will rotate around the different centers. Allow between 15-20 minutes for each center.


Center #1=

This center will open with a discussion about the different things children like to do in their free time. Then they will talk about what they think the pilgrim children did when they weren't working or being schooled (books could be read at this point). Then the students will make a toy (ring on a stick) from scratch that the pilgrims made. While making the toy, the discussion will focus on how the pilgrims had to make their things, while today they can just be 'bought' at a store. They will be able to experience first hand how the pilgrims had to work for what they wanted and needed.


Center #2=

This center will be arranged so the children can play a board game called "Colors of the Wind." The cards pertain to being thankful and grateful for what our earth gives us, and requires the children to think about what they are grateful for. As an optional activity with this game, a short 3 minute clip could be watched showing the song "Colors of the Wind" with Disney's "Pocahontas." The song describes how we should be thankful for - and take care of - our earth. A discussion could be centered around the words of the song and what they mean.


Center #3=

This center will have the children sit around a circle and read a book about cranberries. Then they will experience how to make cranberry sauce, and get to take some of it with them to taste. The focus will be on preparing food from scratch, such as the pilgrims and Indians had to.



Gratitude Center # 1

Pilgrim Toys



Talk to the kids about what kind of toys they like to play with, (don't let it get out of hand!). Then ask them where they get those toys. Lead the discussion into what kinds of toys they think the pilgrim and Indian children would have played with, and talk to them about where they would have gotten their toys. Let the children know that whatever the pilgrim and Indian children wanted to play with, had to be made. Go over the hardships of how they had to make everything, and now we just have to go to a store to buy what we need. Explain to them that they are going to make a toy that the pilgrim or Indian children may have played with when they were done with their chores and schooling.



Materials needed for each student:

  • one pencil (or sticks)

  • one 8" string

  • one 1" pre-cut end of a cardboard tube

  • optional: contact paper to cover the tube


1. Let the children decorate their cardboard tube with crayons or cut-out paper.

2. Tie one end of the string to the cardboard tube (make a hole with a puncher).

3. Tie the other end of the string to one end of the pencil or stick.

4. Cover the tube with contact paper, if desired.

5. To play, hold the stick vertically in one hand.

6. Gently swing the ring up over the end of the stick and try to catch it.

7. The object of the game is to catch the ring on the stick.




While making the toy, talk to the children about what kinds of materials they think the pilgrim and Indian children would have used to make this toy. After their toy has been made, discuss with the children the hardships the pilgrim and Indian children had to face. Make sure they get the idea that they need to be grateful for the things they have, and how easy it is for them to get the things they need. Focus on how the pilgrim and Indian children had to work hard for the things they had, and how they had to work with the materials around them in order to have things they needed.



Gratitude Center # 2

"Colors of the Wind" Game



Talk to the children about the earth and the different things it provides for

us (food, water, clothing, beauty, etc.). Discuss with them how the Indians protected and preserved the earth and everything around them. Help them understand that the earth will take care of us by giving us the things we need - if we take care of the earth in return. Tell them they are going to play a game that will help them be grateful for the things around them.




1. Get out the "Pocahontas" game by Disney (adapted to center around gratitude).

2. Team the students up, so each player has a marker.

3. Play the game by spinning the spinner and doing what the spaces say.

4. The cards have been adjusted to go along with 'gratitude.'

5. The game is over when every child has made it to the finish.



After the game is done, play the "Pocahontas" video clip of "Colors of the Wind" by Disney (about 3-5 minutes). Tell the children to listen closely to the words of the song. After it has been played, talk to them about what they felt the song was saying. The discussion should be led to the idea that the earth needs to be taken care of, and we need to be thankful for what it gives us - just as the Indians are. Close with talking to the kids what they learned about being grateful about the earth - and have them come up with ideas that they could do to help protect the earth, and how we could show our gratitude. If time permits, let them write down what they come up with - or draw pictures.



Gratitude Center #3




Read to the children different books about cranberries. Have them sitting in a semi-circle around you. Then explain to them that they are going to get to see how cranberry sauce is made.



1. During the reading of the book, have a burner set up with a saucepan.

2. Put in cranberries and a little bit of water.

3. Add a small amount of sugar to sweeten.

4. By the time the book is read, the cranberries should be on a low boil.

5. If the sauce does not finish cooking by the first group, explain to the children that they will get some after all of the centers have been finished.

6. After the sauce has thickened and most of the cranberries are dissolved, scoop some into small cups with a spoon for the children to taste.



The main focus of this center is to show the children that many things can be made from scratch, just as the Pilgrims had to make their things from scratch. Talk to them about how we should be grateful for the things we have - and that we can just go to a store to buy what we need - instead of making it.



Big Holidays Celebration, by E. McKinnon

Molly's Pilgrim, by Barbara Cohen

Oh, What a Thanksgiving, by Steven Kroll

Pilgrim Courage, by E. Brooks Smith

Sarah Morton's Day, by Kate Waters

Thanksgiving, by Miriam Nerlove

The Coming of the Pilgrims, by E. Brooks Smith

The Pilgrims First Thanksgiving, by Ann McGovern

The Plymouth Thanksgiving, by Leonard Weisgard

The Thanksgiving Book, by S.O. Higgans


Special thanks to Diane Schaelling of Edith Bowen Laboratory School for providing assistance and resources in compiling this unit.

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