The First Thanksgiving Celebration

Learning Objectives

  • Students will use literature to gain insight into the lives of the Wampanoag people and their participation in the first Thanksgiving celebration.
  • Students will present information on different aspects of the Wampanoag lifestyle.


  • chart paper for KWL chart
  • children’s literature on the Wampanoag (see suggested books in this lesson)
  • paper for each group
  • pencils and markers

Essential Question

Why should we remember the Wampanoag people when we celebrate Thanksgiving?

Background Information

The Wampanoag have lived in the coastal area of Massachusetts and Rhode Island for thousands of years. When the first European settlers arrived in Massachusetts in 1620, the Wampanoag lived off the land by farming, hunting, and fishing. During the spring season, entire villages moved to the seashore to fish and plant crops such as corn, squash, and beans. In the autumn, they moved into the forest where they hunted wild game. Wampanoag homes were made of woven mats that were stretched on wood frames so that people were able to break camp by taking the mats and leaving the wooden structures behind for their return.

The first group of European settlers, who are known as the Pilgrims, set up their village on land that had been abandoned by the Wampanoag. Several Wampanoag Indians assisted the Pilgrims during their first year in Massachusetts. They instructed the Pilgrims on where to hunt for food and how to grow crops. When the settlers’ crops were harvested, approximately a year after they arrived, the Pilgrims shared a meal with Wampanoag people who had helped them. This is what is known as the first American Thanksgiving celebration.


Day 1

  • Students will discuss what they know about the history of Thanksgiving and what they would like to learn about it.
  • Students will be assigned to cooperative groups, and individual roles will be established within each group.

Day 2

  • Working in their groups, the students will read and share books on the Wampanoag and gather information for an oral presentation.

Day 3

  • Students will make oral presentations to the class.
  • Students will describe what they learned about the Wampanoag.


Write Wampanoag on a board and ask students if they can explain what this word means. Record the responses. Briefly explain that the Wampanoag were the Native people who helped the Pilgrims when they first arrived in America.


Day 1

  1. Using three sheets of chart paper, create a KWL chart with each letter as a heading. Explain that K stands for what you know, W is what you want to know, and L is what you learned. Ask the students what they know about the Thanksgiving story. Record each version under the K. Review the information on the chart. Ask, "Have we included any information about the Wampanoag?" After completing the K chart, ask the students what they want to know about the Wampanoag. Record students’ responses on the W chart.
  2. Tell the students that they are going to work in research groups to learn about the Wampanoag. Divide students into groups of four and assign a task to each group member.

Narrator: reads selections about the Wampanoag to the group
Note Taker: takes notes about what is being read
Time Keeper/Group Presenter: keeps the group on task and presents information
Recorder: records the information on sheets of paper

Day 2

Students meet in their assigned groups. Review the cooperative tasks for the groups and give each group a reading selection. Once the narrator has read the selection and the note taker has taken notes on the reading, the group decides what information is important to include in its presentation. The recorder writes this information on the paper. If time allows, the students may illustrate their favorite part of the story and share the illustrations with the whole class.

Day 3

Each group presents what it learned about the Wampanoag to the entire class. Once all of the groups have presented their findings, the L chart is completed during a class discussion about the new information that was learned.


Review the information from the K and W charts and compare it to the information that was included on the L chart.
Ask the students: "Did you learn new information about our celebration of Thanksgiving?"

Extension Activities

  • Have students compare and contrast information from two selections used in the group activity by creating a Venn diagram.
  • Prepare a class feast with traditional Wampanoag food. Refer to Plimoth Plantation’s website on Wampanoag and Pilgrim food.
  • Ask the students: "When you celebrate Thanksgiving this year will you tell your family about the Wampanoag Indians at the first Thanksgiving? Why? Who do you usually thank when you celebrate Thanksgiving? Did this lesson give you an idea of any other people to thank?"

Suggested Books

  • Flanagan, Alice K., The Wampanoag
  • Kessel, Joyce K., Squanto and the First Thanksgiving
  • Metaxas, Eric, Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving
  • Penner, Lucille R., Eating the Plates: A Pilgrim Book of Food and Manners
  • Peters, Russell M., Clambake: A Wampanoag Tradition
  • Riehecky, Janet, The Wampanoag: People of the First Light
  • Sewell, Marcia, People of the Breaking Day
  • Swamp, Jake, Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message
  • Waters, Kate, Giving Thanks: The 1621 Harvest Feast
  • Waters, Kate, Samuel Eatons Day
  • Waters, Kate, Sarah Mortons Day
  • Waters, Kate, Tapenums Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy in Pilgrim Times

Additional Resources