Thanksgiving Lessons and Thanksgiving Activities for Upper Elementary and Middle School Classrooms


If you're looking for Thanksgiving lessons that require students to think, create, and share, then you're in the right place. I'm rounding up my favorite ways to celebrate Thanksgiving in the classroom. These Thanksgiving activities are designed to honor the holiday while teaching students critical listening, speaking, reading, and/or writing skills. In other words, no fluff! 

Your students will love these engaging Thanksgiving lessons, and you'll love that they're already planned for you.

Here's a quick overview of my favorites:

--- Thanksgiving Doodle Poster and Gratitude Leaf Project

--- FREE Listening Comprehension Activity

--- 5 Reading Comprehension Learning Stations

--- Thank You Note Writing and Pockets

--- Parts of Speech Pop Art Turkey Lesson

--- Autumn Poetry Analysis Flipbooks

--- Reading Comprehension Passage


Celebrate Thanksgiving in a meaningful and engaging way! This resource includes two activities. One activity is a Fact Hunt and Thanksgiving Doodle Infographic Poster. The other activity is an expandable gratitude leaf project. 

With these activities, students will learn about the history of Thanksgiving, interesting facts about the day, and make connections to the holiday. They’ll create a doodle infographic filled with facts and a gratitude project. Check it out here.


In this FREE lesson, students will practice the critical skill of listening comprehension while learning about the origin of Thanksgiving as a national holiday. After a mini-lesson on what to listen for and how to take notes, students will listen to a passage about Sarah Josepha Hale two times. They’ll take notes during both readings. Then, they’ll answer questions based on their passage. Finally, they’ll create a festive piece of turkey pop art with designs and shapes based on the answers to the comprehension questions. 

This activity is a perfect way to celebrate the holiday, keep students learning, and integrate art created by Art with Jenny K. into your instruction. Download it for FREE here.


These Thanksgiving-themed reading comprehension centers or stations are not only designed to give students meaningful opportunities to practice reading, they’re also incredibly fun and engaging!

This Thanksgiving Centers resource contains activities and lessons for 5 learning centers. Each center is designed to give students engaging and exciting learning experiences to practice, enrich, reteach, and enhance their learning. Working independently and with their small groups, student will have the opportunity to develop multiple reading comprehension skills.

Great News! The reading centers are also available as a Google Slides resource for students. Find learning stations for grades 4-5 here and grades 6-8 here.


Celebrate the spirit of gratitude and thanks with this Thank You Note Writing mini-unit. This resource is all about gratitude! You’ll find resources to help your students craft a thoughtful and meaningful thank you note and create a fun Thank You Note Pocket. First, students will learn about the critical elements of thank you notes. Then, they’ll complete a brainstorm, pre-write, and rough draft before they write a final copy of their thank you notes. Finally, they’ll create a Thank You Note Pocket to place their note inside.

This resource includes two sets of writing materials. One set is for students in grades 1-3 and the other set is for students in grades 4 and beyond. Learn more here.


Make grammar especially fun on Thanksgiving with this Parts of Speech Pop Art lesson. Students will learn all about turkeys as they identify different parts of speech. Then, they'll turn their answers into art with the pop art turkey coloring page. 

Your students will love this fun and creative lesson that Art with Jenny K. and I collaborated to make. Oh, and the resource includes 11 MORE Pop Art parts of speech activities to use all year long. Click here to learn more.


Celebrate the autumn season with five autumn poem studies in this hands-on and engaging 5-day poetry analysis unit. Each fall poem study includes a 5-page interactive flip book that helps students deeply understand the poem. As students progress through the analysis tasks on each page of their flip books they not only dive deeper into the text, but they also develop an appreciation for closely reading poetry. 

Your students will love the interactive flip books and you’ll love how engaged students are while analyzing poetry. Digital versions included. See them all here.


Here's another fun way to celebrate Thanksgiving in the classroom. Have students read about the Great Turkey Pardon as they practice summarizing skills. Then, watch their learning come alive as they turn their answers into bold art work. Students will literally put the ART into English Language Arts (just the way Art with Jenny K. and I like it.) 

Check out this differentiated set of reading passages perfect for Thanksgiving (and any time of the year) right here.


Well, there you have favorite lessons to celebrate Thanksgiving in the classroom. I hope you found some that your students will love. Don't forget to grab this FREE Thanksgiving Listening passage.

Wishing you a wonderful holiday!
Mary Beth

Social Emotional Learning Activities for Upper Elementary and Middle School Students

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) has been found to promote academic success and increase students' commitment to school. Generally, there are five key components that make up social emotional learning. These competencies include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and decision making. 

Today, I'd like to focus on ways to help students develop self-awareness. Self-awareness includes one's ability to recognize emotions, have an accurate self-perception, identify strengths, develop confidence, and show self-efficacy. 

Researchers have found that a student's ability to control his or her feelings, thoughts, and behaviors can be linked to academic success. So, let's take a look at some easy ways to help students develop an awareness of their individual characteristics and personal emotions.

All About Me - A - Z

This activity helps students to define and identify a variety of aspects about themselves. They'll create a list about themselves with a characteristic, quality, or emotion for each letter of the alphabet. 

Materials: Piece of paper, pen or pencil


  • - On a piece of paper, have students create two columns. (Or grab a ready-made poster here.)
  • - Have them write all the letters of the alphabet in each column. 
  • - Then, challenge them to write something about themselves for each letter. For instance, they might write "gregarious" for G or "curious" for C. 


  • - Share your own A to Z list with students first.
  • - Create a class list of emotions and descriptive words to get students started.
  • - Assemble students' finished lists in a class book.

Moment of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a great way to build self-awareness. Since mindfulness is all about paying attention to the present moment, it's a great way for students to pause and reflect on how they are feeling, what they are thinking, and what they need in the present. It's simple to do too! 

Ways to take a moment of mindfulness:

  • - At the beginning of class, have students close their eyes and take several deep breaths. Ask students to pay attention to their breathing.
  • - Share a mindfulness quote with students to help focus students' thoughts during a moment of mindfulness.
  • - Pause during instruction and have students do a self-awareness check. Encourage them to be mindful of their thoughts and feelings.

Reflective Journaling

Reflective journaling is a powerful way to help students become self-aware. With targeted writing prompts, students can develop insight into their feelings, make sense of their experiences, and build clarity on their thoughts. When students write about their own experiences and feelings, they become more self-aware.


  • - A notebook and/or computer, pen or pencil, writing prompts
  • - A list of writing prompts that spark self-reflection, these might include: 
  • --- Write about a time when you were proud of yourself.
  • --- List ten things that make you feel excited.
  • --- Reflect on how you have changed this year.
  • --- What is something that you find challenging?
  • (Check out a set of 10 engaging prompts here.)


  • - Have students respond to their prompts as if they are writing a letter to themselves..."Dear me..."
  • - Read students' responses and respond to their writing in the margins. Add questions and positive notes at the end of their writing to build connections and spark further reflections.
  • - Schedule a time each day or week for journaling to make it an intentional part of your classroom community.

Growth Mindset

There are many ways to help students develop a growth mindset. When students develop an understanding that all forms of intelligence are malleable, they are inspired to work toward success. That's why it is so powerful to infuse lessons about growth mindset into instruction. Giving students a moment to reflect on their own mindsets builds self-awareness.


  • - Short lessons or articles about Growth Mindset to help students understand the differences between a fixed and growth mindset.
  • - Series of questions about students' own mindsets.



  • - Share and display inspirational quotes about growth mindset. (I particularly love paper desk tents. They are an easy way to display quotes right on students' desks.)

Emotions Skits

Researchers have noted that there are at least six universal emotions. These include happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust. Help students investigate and demonstrate these universal emotions by challenging them to write a short play or skit that involves a character or many characters experiencing one of the universal emotions.



  • - Review the six universal emotions with students. As a class have students brainstorm what each emotion looks like (how people look when they are experiencing that emotion) and sounds like (what people might say when experiencing that emotion).
  • - Brainstorm situations where people might feel each emotion. Encourage students to share personal situations when they felt a certain way.
  • - Divide students into small groups. Secretly assign each group an emotion.
  • - Challenge students to write a script that their small group could act out for the class that demonstrates that emotion.
  • - Have small groups perform for the class. Have the audience identify the emotion prevalent in the skit.

Self Check-In

Daily feelings check-ins are a great way to build self-awareness. When students are given the opportunity to assess how they are feeling and share their emotions with others, they begin to know themselves more fully. Self check-ins also help normalize feelings. 

  • - Paper with an open grid shape
  • - List of feelings

  • - Pass out the gridded paper to students.
  • - Have them fill the grid with different emotions.
  • - Then, have students display the grid on their desks.
  • - Have them place a token or shape on the emotion that shows how they are feeling at a particular moment.

  • - Once students can recognize their feelings, help them to develop strategies for regulating their emotions.
  • - Encourage students to track their feelings over an entire school day. Then, discuss how feelings change in different situations.


I hope you've found a few ways to help students develop self-awareness. Incorporating lessons that target social emotional learning is essential in today's classrooms. If you're looking for ready-made resources, check out this set of 10 SEL reading passages and this set of 6 Self-Awareness Activities

Thanks for stopping by!
Mary Beth

Engaging Writing Lessons for Reluctant Writers

Let's face it...classrooms are often filled with reluctant writers. (And if we're being really honest, reluctant teachers of writing). For many students (and teachers) writing is intimidating and often paralyzing. 

It makes sense. There's no real formula for "good" writing. There's no equation for putting together an excellent written piece. The pure openness of writing is often what makes it so overwhelming. Students struggle with where to begin and often where to end, and many times, teachers are right there with their students. Teachers also wonder where to begin and where to end their writing instruction. That's why I'm sharing 5 easy ways to help students love writing

Check out my tried and true ways to make writing FUN. Yes, fun!

Just like everything else in life, the more we work at something the better we get....and the better we get at something the more fun we have! So, it's essential to find lots of ways to get students writing. If we want it to feel fun, then providing students with opportunities to take chances and be creative is the way to go. 

I've found that providing a range of writing tasks, lessons, and units keeps writing interesting for students. The variety also gives students more chances to feel successful. 

If you're looking for fun ways to get students writing often, you can...

Teaching students about each genre of writing is essential. The best way that I've found to do this is through focused units. When students progress through a structured writing unit that takes them step-by-step through the writing process, they have great success. However, here's the most important part: do NOT make these units excessively long. I've worked with well-meaning teachers who had students writing a personal narrative for a month (or longer). Yikes! Can you imagine how exhausting and boring that must be for students? I've found that the sweet spot for writing units is 2 weeks. Yes...just two weeks from the introduction of the genre to students sharing their work with one another.

Find a collection of 12 different 2-week writing units to teach all year long right here.

There are many benefits to concise and focused units:
  • --- Students stay engaged throughout the unit.
  • --- Shorter units mean that more units on different genres can be taught all year.
  • --- Students have more opportunities to share their writing.
  • --- Students grow as a community of writers.

Along with focused (and fairly short) writing units, I've found that mini-lessons are extremely powerful in writing instruction. Rather than overwhelming students with a multitude of things they need to do well while writing, it's much more powerful to select one or two components for students to work on with their writing.

Mini-lessons make writing fun because they make writing more approachable. Students can learn one specific element of writing without feeling like they need to get everything right. I've found that writing mini-lessons help students feel more successful, and that's always fun!

You can use mini-lessons:
  • --- During a focused writing unit.
  • --- As an introduction or extension to a creative writing lesson.
  • --- Along with a piece of literature.
  • --- With individual students to address a specific skill.
  • --- During writing workshop.

It's of the best ways to make writing more fun is to celebrate reading. Great readers make great writers. I've found that setting aside time to read aloud to students (like during their daily warm-ups), is a wonderful way to talk about writing and what writers do. For instance, while reading a book out loud, I might pause and say, "Wow! Did you all hear that metaphor? So cool!" Making it casual and low-pressure helps students begin to appreciate writing. When they become consumers of great writing, they too become stronger writers.

Some of my favorite books to read out loud to big kids are:

Choices are key to making any task more fun...especially writing. Since writing is often based on one's own experiences and not everyone has the same experiences, giving students choices about what they write about is so important. When students can decide to respond to a prompt that they connect with, the task is instantly more fun. 

I like to provide students choices with...
  • --- This or That Writing Prompts - This set of 101 prompts lets students decide what they'd like to respond to.
  • --- Choice Boards - Writing choice boards like the one is this FREE download are a perfect way to give students choice.
  • --- Silly Response Ideas - Give students a choice regarding HOW they respond to a prompt. For instance, they might want to write their response behind their back or on top of their head.


I hope you've found a few ideas to add to your own writing instruction. If you're looking for ways to get students excited about sharing all their writing, check out this idea for hosting a literacy café.

Thanks for stopping by,
Mary Beth

* This post contains affiliate links.

Valentine's Day Activities for Big Kids

Teachers everywhere know that Valentine's Day always seems to bubble over with anxious anticipation and candy-fueled excitement for many students. There's a unique buzz in the air as students in upper elementary and middle school classrooms navigate Valentine's Day celebrations. That's why I love finding fun ways to harness all that energy with educational games and activities. Capitalizing on all of the excitement is a perfect way to engage students. 

I've put together a list of my favorite Valentine's Day activities and games for big kids. I hope you find some that your students will love!

BONUS: Many of these ideas work for virtual instruction as well!

Fact Hunt - Make learning about Valentine's Day super fun with a fact hunt. Type up some facts about Valentine's Day (or find some right here). Then, hide the facts around the classroom or school for students to find and add to their notes. This activity works well in a socially distanced classroom as well!

Doodle Poster - Doodles make learning so engaging. Encourage students to create a doodle poster with their collection of facts that they found on the fact hunt (above) or they can conduct their own research. You can even take the doodling a step further and host doodle challenges with Valentine's Day objects. Find my favorites here.

Rebus Valentine - Did you know that some of the very first Valentines ever sent where rebuses? That's why this FREE activity is a perfect way to celebrate the day. Students can create their own rebus valentines and even add an artistic element with this writing activity.

Jumbled Jokes - I love this activity! First, find a Valentine's Day joke. Then, jumble the punchline. Create directions for students to unscramble the punchline. Finally, share the directions for unscrambling out loud. This activity practices listening and following directions skills while bringing a few giggles to the classroom. Find a set of jumbled jokes with directions right here. (This is perfect for virtual learning.)

Anti-Love Letter - Skip the mushy sentiments associated with Valentine's Day and challenge students to craft an anti-love letter. Your students will love creating a break up letter and sharing it with their classmates. You can find my favorite way to teach this lesson (inspired by conversation hearts) right here.

Broken Hearts - Review vocabulary on Valentine's Day with heart puzzles. Simply write a vocabulary word on one side of a heart shape and its definition on the other. Cut apart the heart shape to create a unique puzzle. Pass out the separated words and definitions to students. Then, challenge them to find their matches before teaching their word to the class.

Pictionary - Playing a few rounds of Pictionary is always a hit with older students. Simply divide students into teams. Then, give one member of each team a word to draw while their teammates guess. You can find a list of words for students to draw here.

Cupid Says - Inspired by Simon Says, Cupid Says is a fun game to play any time during Valentine's Day. Make it especially fun for older students by letting them be "cupid" and give the directions.

True or False - Help students learn about Valentine's Day by playing a game of True or False. Share facts with students and have them decide if the statement is true or false. You can even take this activity a step further and have students research their own facts to share with students. Save time with this set of fact and fiction statements.

Wacky Libs - This lesson begins with students reviewing parts of speech. Then, with a partner, students will complete a Mad-Lib-inspired activity for a Valentine's Day history passage. The room will erupt with laugher as students read through their Wacky Libs (and they won't even notice that they are learning)! 

Timed Writing Prompts - Gather some fun writing prompts with a Valentine's Day theme for students. Then, add a time limit for students to complete their writing. Students will love racing the clock as they practice writing skills. Find timed writing prompts here.

Heart Racer - This game is so much fun! Gather a list of spelling words. Then, group students into teams of 4 or 5. Have teams line up behind a single piece of paper and a single pencil. Then, have teams work together to quickly spell out the word on the paper one letter at a time. Students should take turns adding a letter and then going to the end of the line. They'll need to move quickly to be the first team to spell the word correctly. This game is guaranteed to be a heart racer!


Well, there you have it...some of my favorite ways to celebrate Valentine's Day while keeping kids learning. If you're looking for a set of creative writing activities to add to the mix, find a set of 5 right here.

Thanks so much for stopping by!

Mary Beth

P.S. Don't forget to download this FREE Valentine's Day lesson!

Virtual Classroom Activities for Zoom or Video Conferencing Platforms

Games are a tried and true way to engage students. Whether teaching in-person or remotely via a live session like Zoom or Google Meets, teachers know that games, brain breaks, and icebreakers are an awesome way to get students actively involved in learning. With the ever-changing landscape of education, I thought it might be nice to compile some versatile activities that challenge students in really fun ways. Best part? They can work in a virtual or an in-person setting!

These activities encourage students to listen, solve problems, be creative, and practice critical skills. They're designed to be easy to do with little to no prep. You can easily add one of these games to any distance learning lesson as a warm-up, closure, community building activity, or lesson extender. Oh, and of course, they're perfect for in-school learning as well!


⭐How Many? Give students a category and then challenge students to see how many different things they can fit within that classification. At first students will respond with obvious ideas. However, as they brainstorm, their ideas will stretch and their creativity will grow. Students can jot their ideas down on scrap paper and earn points for each unique response when they share out.

Here are some categories to get started: occupations, things that are slimy, things that roll, animal noises, articles of clothing

⭐Listen Carefully: Read a short passage out loud to students. Then, have them answer questions based on what they can remember. Make it especially fun by awarding points for every answer that students get right. You can change up this activity by reading two versions of the same story. Mix up some of the details in the second version for students to listen for.

Give this activity a try with the passages in this set of FREE Brain Bursts. Add your information below and then check your inbox!

Silly Silent Spelling: Practice spelling words in a super silly way. Explain to students that you are going to be giving them a practice spelling test (definitely NOT the real thing). Just like a typical practice test, they'll listen for the word and write it down. However, here's the catch: you're only going to silently mouth the words. Students will need to read your lips to figure out what word they will need to write down. Of course, figuring out a word from a silent cue is not easy. That's what makes this fun. Students will write down some wild guesses as they spell their way through this game.

One Word: Pose a fun question to the class and have them all think of a one-word answer. Then, give every student a chance to share their responses as you call on each of them. Here are some questions to get started:

--- If you were a type of dessert, what would you be?

--- Where do you feel happiest?

--- How would a soccer ball describe its day?

--- Where is somewhere that you would like to visit?

--- What would be the perfect gift for you? 

Mystery Item: This activity is quick and easy to play. To prepare, write 5 or 6 clues about an object. Make the clues gradually increase in their specificity. Then, read the clues to students as they jot down their guesses for the mystery item until you reveal the answer.

Memory Game to play in the classroom

Punchline: Start telling a joke to students, and then have them guess the punchline. Find a ton of jokes for kids here.

Strike a Pose: Explain to students that they are going to pretend that they are in a photograph. They will need to imagine that the photo was taken at the height of the event. All they have to do is strike a pose after you give them a situation. For instance, you might say, "haunted house," and then students would freeze in a pose that shows them frightened or terrified. 

Here are a few situations to try: Dentist Office, Roller Coaster, Last Day of School, Scary Movie, Food Fight, Race

Timed Writing Activities: Engage students with a creative writing prompt. Then, "amp up" the fun factor by adding a timed element. Challenge students to race the clock as they write as much as they can in a fixed time period. Find my favorite prompts here.

writing prompts for virtual classroom

And Then...: This is a listening game for the entire class. Students will need to listen to and add to a growing story. You'll start the story with an opener like, "At the zoo, I decided to open the lion's cage, and then..." Next, you'll call on a student to explain what happened next. That student will add one line and the phrase "and then" before selecting another student to add to the story. 

Listen and Draw: Students love this activity! To prepare, create a simple illustration filled with shapes and designs. Then, write out the directions for students. Have students complete the activity on a piece of paper. Read each direction to students and challenge them to replicate the illustration you instructed them to draw. (These are included in the exclusive freebie below.)

Listen and Draw Activity

Class Pet: Pretend that you have a new class pet. Explain to students that they will need to guess the type of animal. Students will need to ask questions and write their guesses on a piece of paper when they think they have figured out the new class pet.

Add the Ending: Engage students as they practice writing and storytelling skills with this activity. First, students will listen to the beginning of a story that you read to them. Then, they'll take over the writing and complete the story. The story starters are a fun way to motivate students to write. 

Alien, Tiger, and Cat: Here's an improvisational theatre game that works perfectly on a video conferencing platform. Explain to students that they can be one of three things: an alien, a cat, or a tiger. If they choose to be an alien, they need to hold their pointer fingers next to their head (like antennae) and say "bleeb, bleeb." To be a cat, they need to rub their wrist along their face (like a cat cleaning itself) and say "meow." Finally, to be a tiger they need to push their hand forward with a claw stance and roar. On your cue, every student will choose and act like an animal. The goal is to get everyone to choose the same animal (which is nearly impossible, but fun to try).

Rapid Recall: Create a list of random words. Then, read the list of words to students. As you read the words, you might have students put their hands on their heads so that you know for sure that they aren't taking notes. Once you've read the words to students once or twice, wait about a minute before letting students write down every word that they remember. (Find ready-made lists in this complete resource.)

Finish the Fact: Share the beginning of a fact with students. Then, challenge them to complete the fact. Have them share their guesses before revealing the complete fact. Find a collection of random facts here.

Want a free set of virtual classroom activities designed to be NO PREP and NO COPIES? Just add your name and email below.

BONUS: Here's one more idea:

Paper Airplanes: Help students practice following directions by challenging them to fold a paper airplane by following your directions. To get started, choose a paper airplane design to have students fold. (Find a ton of ideas with steps here.) Then, have students take out a piece of paper. They'll need to listen carefully to each of your directions to make their paper airplane. 

Wishing you tons of fun in your (virtual) classroom,
Mary Beth

Games and Activities to play with Zoom

Zoom Activities that students love! 15 fun and creative activities for video conferencing platforms. Students can play the games at the beginning of class or as a virtual classroom closure.

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