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Lesson Plan

Myth and Truth: The "First Thanksgiving"

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Myth and Truth: The "First Thanksgiving"

Grades 6 – 8
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Three 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Traci Gardner

Traci Gardner

Blacksburg, Virginia


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two

Session Three

Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • develop strategies for critically examining the origin and characteristics of myth.

  • develop an awareness of the diversities, similarities, and values in various Native American cultural and story traditions.

  • develop awareness of racist and biased language and its impact on readers over centuries.

  • develop strategies for examining messages for racial and cultural bias.

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Session One

  1. Students can complete the prereading questions as homework, as an in-class freewrite before the reading, or in oral class discussion.

    • What difference does it make who writes a story as long as they tell the "truth"?

    • How can you tell when a story is true? What would indicate a story wasn't true?

    • Have you ever read something that was presented as nonfiction but that you knew was fiction?
  2. Spend ten to fifteen minutes going over students' responses to the prereading prompt. Write their answers on chart paper or an overhead. (You'll return to these answers later in this lesson, so save their responses.)

  3. Read "Of Plymouth Plantation" by William Bradford. As students read, ask them to pay particular attention to the way that Bradford talks about the Native Americans that the colonists encounter. Identify the tribe of Native Americans that Bradford and the colonists interacted with as the Wampanoag (pronounced wham-pan-og, syllables rhyming with Pam, Can, and Log). For more information on the Wampanoag, see the Boston Children's Museum's teacher resources on The Wampanoag.

  4. After reading, ask students to write two questions of their own for the class to consider: one question that is answered in the text and an "I wonder why" question. Use a writer's notebook or response journal for this writing.

  5. In small groups, have students share their questions and discuss answers. Monitor student discussion by circulating among the groups.

  6. If students have not raised the issue themselves, ask them to consider the implications of vocabulary such as savage, skulking, and aloof in relationship to the following questions:

    • What might readers conclude about the Wampanoag or about William Bradford, the writer?

    • What are the implications for a European audience, for an audience that had never met the Wampanoag or other Native American people, and for a Native American audience?
  7. As a postreading activity, ask students to think about Bradford's discussion of the "First Harvest," which we would think of as the "First Thanksgiving." Give them these guiding questions: What do you notice about Bradford's report that fits with your ideas about the first Thanksgiving, and what seems unusual or seems to have been left out?

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Session Two

  1. In full-class discussion, have students share their thoughts on the "First Thanksgiving" in light of Bradford's report. Write their ideas on the board or on chart paper. The idea is simply to brainstorm a list for now.

  2. Pass out the Common Myths about the "First Thanksgiving" handout and Myth and Truth: The "First Thanksgiving" Presentation Rubric, or show the list on an overhead projector. As you read through the list, encourage students to connect items from their brainstorming list with the myths on the sheet.

  3. Demonstrate the "myth-breaking" process (outlined on the handout and below) by answering the three myth/truth questions about the first myth on the handout: "The Wampanoag brought popcorn to the first Thanksgiving feast." See the Plimoth Plantation Web page No Popcorn for background on the myth.

  4. Divide students into four to five groups, assigning each group a myth from the sheet. Give groups a variety of resources in which they might uncover truths about common myths about the Wampanoag and the pilgrim settlers. See Resources & Preparation for suggested resources.

  5. Each group completes the following assignment, preparing to share their findings with the entire class:

    • Explain your myth answering these two questions:

      • What is a truth in this myth?

      • What are other truths behind this myth that might contradict it?
    • As a group, you may use any of the materials available to help you understand and explain the myth.

    • Prepare a five-minute presentation to the class that explains your understanding of the myth, using creative drama, visual aids such as posters, music, illustrations, or an oral presentation.
  6. As students work in their groups, circulate and monitor student progress. Let them know a few minutes before the work period will conclude so that they have time to wrap up their thoughts.

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Session Three

  1. Give students five to ten minutes to make last-minute preparations and to practice their presentation.

  2. Have groups present their myth to the entire class, sticking closely to the five-minutes-per-group guideline that you've established.

  3. Once all of the groups have presented, return to the original prereading questions:

    • What difference does it make who writes a story as long as they tell the "truth"?

    • How can you tell when a story is true? What would indicate a story wasn't true?
  4. Read through the student responses, and conclude the lesson with a discussion of their original perceptions of "truth." Which observations do they still agree with? Which would they change? What would they add?

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  • Monitor student interaction and progress during group work to assess social skills and assist any students having problems with the project.

  • Use the Myth and Truth Presentation Rubric to assess group presentations.

  • Assign an independent analysis and critique writing task to students which allows them to apply their skills individually. The following general Thanksgiving Critique assignment would work well:
    Critique the pictures in a Thanksgiving children's book or a Thanksgiving poster or advertisement which depicts traditional, stereotyped Pilgrim and Wampanoag figures. Critically analyze the images, noting the myths and underlying truths that are evident in the depiction.
    Be sure to focus students on a particular image to ensure that they do not become overwhelmed by the idea of critiquing all the image in a book. For instance, you might ask students to write about the cover of a children's book.

  • As a class, develop a list of questions or strategies for examining future readings and texts for racial and cultural bias (thus summarizing and applying the information from the lesson).

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