When you teach a language, you’re teaching a lot of vocabulary and grammar. Vocabulary is the words we use and grammar is how we organize them in a way so that people understand what we’re saying. Keep on reading for all of my favourite ESL Thanksgiving activities and games.
Foreign English teachers, especially those teaching abroad are often expected to be a kind of cultural ambassador as well. Not just teaching a language, but showing students what life is like in their countries. And of course, even if this isn’t explicitly expected, language is intertwined with culture and it’s hard to separate the two.
Thanksgiving is a popular holiday in the USA and Canada, and many countries around the world have a roughly equivalent holiday as well (Chuseok in Korea for example). It can be an interesting class for the students to do some ESL Thanksgiving activities to share a little bit of what this holiday means to them. Plus, your students will certainly encounter some new vocabulary words that they’re never seen before (Gobble, gobble!).
Let’s get to some of my favourite ESL Thanksgiving activities, along with online games, worksheets, lesson plans, Thanksgiving stories and ESL vocabulary that you can try out with your students today.
ESL Thanksgiving Games and Activities
Okay, so let’s get to what you’re looking for: fun activities and games that are related to Thanksgiving!
#1: What are you Thankful For?
As the name implies, Thanksgiving is a time when most people reflect on what they’re thankful for. Of course, to some, it’s just a time to watch football and eat too much! But, it can be an interesting class to have students think about their lives and what they have.
Here’s how you can do it:
- Introduce the topic of Thanksgiving to your students, perhaps by sharing a personal story of what your family does.
- Give students some thinking time about this question and allow them to write a few notes.
- Put students into small groups of 3-4 students and allow them to have some time for free talking.
- Finally, invite some students to share some thoughts with the entire class.
- If you want to do some follow-up, students can write a paragraph about things they are thankful for. Or, for homework, they could make a short YouTube video answering this question.
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 78 Pages - 03/22/2021 (Publication Date)
#2: Thanksgiving Bingo
Let’s get real here, who doesn’t love Bingo, right? Basically, everyone loves a good Bingo game.
You can make up a Thanksgiving-themed one for your students, but you may have to pre-teach them some vocabulary. I usually choose around 30 words that I have on a PowerPoint. Or, even better, elicit Thanksgiving-themed words from your students and write them on the board. Give students a blank bingo grid, and they can make their games.
And because I’m all about teaching, even on “fun” party days in class, I don’t do the regular Bingo where you just say the word, but instead, I describe the word and students have to choose the correct one. Learn more here: ESL Speaking Bingo.
Quick teaching tip about Bingo: Get students to just cross off each word with an X, instead of scribbling it out entirely so that you can check answers at the end. And of course, bring a small prize for the winner of each round!
#3: What Am I? Thanksgiving Guessing Game Online
#4: Thanksgiving Charades
If your students know a decent amount of Thanksgiving vocabulary, you could consider playing charades with them. If they don’t, then do an activity where your students can learn this vocabulary. For example, this listening comprehension one seen below. It’s a very fun game for a “party” class!
Divide the class into two teams. Then, have one student draw a word out of the hat and they have to act it out within a certain amount of time while their team guesses what it is.
Learn more about it here: Charades for ESL Students.
You may also consider doing this by drawing as well (Pictionary). Keep on reading for the perfect Thanksgiving charades words list under “ESL Thanksgiving Vocabulary.”
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 30 Pages - 09/20/2023 (Publication Date)
#5: Listening Comprehension (Thanksgiving Themed)
If you want your Thanksgiving lesson to include some actual learning value, then you could consider showing students this listening comprehension video about Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, use a listening lesson plan to get the most value out of it.
The basic steps are:
- Set the context by having students talk with a partner (or the entire class) about what they know about Thanksgiving. Beginners can just say some words that they associate with this holiday.
- Assign some simple true/false questions based on the listening. Students answer, then compare with a partner and the whole class.
- Assign some more difficult comprehension questions for the second time listening. Students answer and again compare with a partner and then the whole class.
- Some sort of follow-up activity related to Thanksgiving. It could be another activity on this list, or get creative and use something else!
Of course, it’s possible to do this kind of activity with any other holiday, including Easter or Halloween.
#6: Thanksgiving Dinner Game
If you’ve taught lots of Thanksgiving vocabulary to your students, particularly related to food, then you’ll want to consider playing this memory circle game with them. In a smaller class of fewer than 10 students, play all together. Or, in a bigger class, you can divide students up into small groups.
The first person starts the game off with, “At Thanksgiving dinner, I’m going to eat ____.” The next person repeats what the first person said, but adds their own food on to the list.
Each following person has to repeat all the foods in the exact order. If they make a mistake, they sit down and they’re out of the game. Continue on until only 1 person is left standing.
More details here: Memory Circle Game.
#7: Thanksgiving Puzzles
Who doesn’t like a good word search, hidden message, etc.? If you want to have a quieter activity to do related to Thanksgiving, consider making your own puzzle. I use the following resource which makes it quick and easy to make your own custom puzzles, hidden messages, mazes, etc.
#8: ESL Thanksgiving Task-Based Learning Activities
If you’re looking for some new ideas for ESL Thanksgiving Activities, then you’ll want to consider task-based learning seriously. There are a million and one tasks that students could do related to Thanksgiving, including making a poster, doing a presentation, planning a Thanksgiving meal and more.
This style of language teaching and learning has a lot of advantages, including the following:
- It’s very student-centred
- Communication along students is central
- Students are free to learn the forms and vocabulary they need to, as well as use any sort of language resource they may already have
- It’s ideal for giving meaningful feedback to students
- And lots more!
If you haven’t tried out some of this kind of teaching, Thanksgiving may be the best place to start! Find out more about it right here:
#9 Thanksgiving ESL Game: Hot Potato
Hot potato is one of the best ESL vocabulary games that I know of! The way it works is that students pass a “potato” around the class, and when the timer goes off, the person holding it has to do something.
In this case, you’d want to show students a flashcard with Thanksgiving vocabulary on it. Total beginners would just have to name the picture, while higher-level students could make a complete sentence that includes the word.
Does it sound like it’d work for your English learners? Find out more about this fun ESL game here: Hot Potato Vocabulary Game.
#10: ESL Thanksgiving Dialogue Substitution
If you’re doing an ESL Thanksgiving lesson, it probably has a dialogue of some sort in it. Have you ever noticed that students often mindlessly read this without really paying attention to what’s in it? I don’t blame my students because I’ve usually given them no reason to pay attention.
However, one way to get way more value out of this kind of activity is to use this simple activity that takes out some of the key vocabulary words and gets students to fill in the blanks as they’re reading. In this case, you’d want to remove key Thanksgiving vocabulary. More details here:
#11: Thanksgiving Themed Picture Prompt
If you have a feeling that your students have probably learned many vocabulary words related to the topic you’re teaching them that day, then you may want to use a picture prompt as a quick warmer activity.
The way it works is that you’d choose a picture of a Thanksgiving scene. Maybe a family eating a turkey dinner or something similar. Then, you could elicit words or sentences to describe the picture. This helps students to activate any prior knowledge they may have about Thanksgiving vocabulary. Learn more here:
#12: ESL Conversation Lesson
It’s easier than you might think to plan an ESL conversation lesson for just about anything, including this holiday. Have a look here for the simple steps to follow:
#13: ESL Thanksgiving Discussion
If you teach more advanced learners, you could have a small group discussion (for a larger class) or a class discussion about Thanksgiving. If you’re teaching in a country that celebrates Thanksgiving, then you could talk about the actual holiday itself and what students’ plans are. For example, recent immigrants to Canada or the USA.
However, if you teach in Asia for example, talking about what’s going on for your student on Thanksgiving Day could be a total flop! After all, to them, it’s just a normal work or school day. Instead, you could find out what their local holiday is for giving thanks or the fall harvest. For example, Chuseok is the rough equivalent in South Korea.
Then, have a discussion about that holiday and what are the similarities and differences between North American style Thanksgiving. But, you’ll want to pay close attention to these tips for making it even better:
#14: Task-Based ESL Thanksgiving Activities
If you think about it, task-based learning lends itself extremely well to holidays. For example, you could choose a specific holiday, Thanksgiving for example and then have groups of students do some research about one particular aspect of it: food, history, or changes in how people celebrate from the past to now. Or, “Thanksgiving” in other countries, etc.
Or, you could have each group choose one specific holiday that’s celebrated around the world and do some research on that.
In the end, students could make a video, lead a class discussion, give a presentation or do something else to share what they’ve learned. Do you want to know more about this style of teaching and maybe try it out for your ESL Thanksgiving lessons? You can do that right here:
#15: Flip Chart Review Game
#16: Chain Spelling for Thanksgiving Vocabulary
If you want an easy game for reviewing key Thanksgiving words with your students then consider chain spelling. It has the serious advantage of requiring no preparation or materials and makes an excellent time-filler. Find out everything you need to know about it here:
#17: Thanksgiving Songs and Chants for Kids
One of the best ways to teach new vocabulary to kids is through songs. Even if you’re not musical (like me), there are lots of great songs and chants on YouTube so not to worry! Have a look and you’re sure to find something that’ll work for you.
#18: What are you Cooking?
Let’s be real—Thanksgiving is all about the food, right? If that’s the case for you, then you may want to consider trying out this fun food-related activity.
The way it works is that students have to think of ingredients for another group who then has to prepare a 3-course dinner. In this case, you could set up a scenario where they have to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner but turkeys and chicken were in short supply and unavailable.
Want to give it a try with your students? You can find out all the details right here: What are you Cooking Food Activity?
#19: ESL Telephone Game
Who doesn’t love an ESL game or activity that requires nothing in the way of preparation or materials, right? Telephone is one of those such games and the other nice thing is that it can be easily tailored to include sentences related to Thanksgiving.
Want to find out more details about how to use it in your classes? Check it out here:
#20: I’m an Alien Warmer Activity
I love to pretend that I don’t know anything about Thanksgiving and then have my students explain it to me! This is a nice way for students to activate prior knowledge they may have about a topic before jumping into the lesson. Check it out:
#21: Thanksgiving Vocabulary ESL Board Game
A fun way to review new Thanksgiving vocabulary and also to find out about students’ experiences with holidays is to use a board game. Fill the board with either hints about words or questions about holiday experiences. It’s easy to make your own game in just a few minutes. Find out all the details here:
#22: Running Dictation
Just ask my students and they’ll tell you that I love surveys, board games and running dictation! What they have in common is that they’re interactive, and engaging and cover a range of skills in a single activity.
In this case, find or write a conversation between two people talking about Thanksgiving traditions in their family. Then, students have to work together to dictate the conversation and once they’re done, they have to put the conversation into the correct order. Find out more here:
#23: Thanksgiving Reading Lesson
It’s super easy to plan an entire lesson based on a reading passage about Thanksgiving. Perhaps it’s someone talking about their upcoming plans. Or, two people having a conversation about some favourite memories. Then, follow these simple steps:
#24: Turkey Craft Project
If you’re the crafty type (or have students who are), consider doing a fun art project. Look on Pinterest for lots of ideas for all ages but one simple one that I to do is have students colour in a turkey outline. Then, on each part of the wing, they can write something that they’re thankful for. When they’re done, they can bring their project home or post them around the classroom.
Of course, besides colouring, students can design their own turkey from construction paper or other materials and do a very similar thing.
#25: Turkey Bowling
A fun activity that some families like to do for this holiday is turkey bowling. In this case, they’d use a frozen turkey, but this isn’t necessary. A plastic turkey or odd-shaped object works just as well. Either way, decorate the “ball” to look like a turkey and have some fun bowling! It’s a random kind of game that students love.
#26: Flag Football
If you’re able to take your students outside, then consider playing some flag football. After all, in the USA, Thanksgiving and football go hand in hand! You’ll have to teach students the basic rules first and get your hands on a football but then get outside and have some fun.
#27: Thanksgiving Story Chain
Start a Thanksgiving-themed story, and have each student contribute a sentence to continue the narrative. The story can become humorous and creative as it progresses.
#28: Turkey Feather Hunt
Hide paper turkey feathers around the classroom, each with a vocabulary word or phrase related to Thanksgiving. Students find the feathers and explain the meanings of the words they find.
#29: Gratitude Jar
Have students write down things they are thankful for on slips of paper and place them in a “gratitude jar.” Share some of these during the activity to foster a positive atmosphere.
#30: Thanksgiving Mad Libs
Create Thanksgiving-themed mad libs with missing words (nouns, verbs, adjectives) for students to fill in. Then read the hilarious and creative stories aloud.
#31: Thanksgiving Crafts
Engage students in making Thanksgiving crafts like paper pumpkins, cornucopias, or handprint turkeys, all while using English to describe their creations.
#32: Thanksgiving Jokes for Kids
#33: Thanksgiving Scavenger Hunt
Organize a scavenger hunt with clues related to Thanksgiving. Each clue leads students to the next location, building vocabulary and problem-solving skills.
#34: Thanksgiving Would You Rather Questions
Check out these fun questions for some interesting discussions:
#35: Thanksgiving Idioms, Words, and Phrases
Have a look at these handy words and phrases to use around the holidays:
Thanksgiving for ESL Students FAQs
There are a number of common questions that people have about teaching Thanksgiving for ESL students. Here are the answers to some of the most popular ones.
What is some Thanksgiving Vocabulary for English Learners?
If you’re looking for some of the most common ESL Thanksgiving words that you can use in these activities, or teach your students, here they are:
- Roast turkey
- Pumpkin pie
- Native American/Canadian
- Yam/Sweet potato
Do you have any more suggestions for ESL Thanksgiving vocabulary? Leave a comment below and we’ll add it to the list! And also be sure to check out this online quiz:
What is the History of Thanksgiving?
The history of Thanksgiving is that it originated as a harvest festival. However, the first Thanksgiving was thought to have been celebrated by the Pilgrims in the New World in October 1621.
What is Thanksgiving ESL?
Thanksgiving for ESL learners can be tough to explain to people who’ve maybe never heard of this holiday. However, there are some Thanksgiving stories, games, activities, videos and more that you can use to explain this popular North American holiday to language learners.
How do I teach ESL students for Thanksgiving?
To teach ESL students for Thanksgiving, a nice lesson is on being thankful. Ask students what they’re thankful for. Then, teach the history and culture of Thanksgiving and explore if they have a similar holiday in their country.
What is the significance of the Thanksgiving turkey?
The Thanksgiving turkey is a symbol of the main dish served during the holiday feast and is often the centerpiece of the meal.
How do people express gratitude on Thanksgiving?
People express gratitude on Thanksgiving by sharing a meal with family and friends, giving thanks for what they have, and often saying what they are thankful for.
What is Black Friday, and why is it associated with Thanksgiving?
Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving when many stores offer significant discounts, marking the start of the holiday shopping season.
Are there any Thanksgiving traditions or customs in your home country?
This question encourages students to share their own cultural traditions related to giving thanks or harvest celebrations.
What do you think is the most important lesson we can learn from Thanksgiving?
Students can express their opinions on the significance of gratitude, sharing, and spending time with loved ones during Thanksgiving.
How would you explain the concept of Thanksgiving to someone who is not familiar with it?
Encourage students to provide a brief explanation of Thanksgiving and its cultural significance.
ESL Thanksgiving Worksheets
Are you looking for some Thanksgiving ESL worksheets that you can use with your students? Here are some of our go-to sources that you’ll want to check out:
Thanksgiving ESL Lesson Plans
If you’re looking for a complete ESL Thanksgiving Lesson, then these games and activities probably aren’t what you need. Instead, you’ll want to check out these free, downloadable lesson plans for children or adults.
ESL Thanksgiving Story
Do you want a simple thanksgiving story that’s suitable for ESL students? Here are a couple of our favourite resources:
ISL Collective (Beginners-Intermediate)
ThoughtCo (Advanced, and there are also ESL Thanksgiving activities for adults here)
Online Thanksgiving Games for Elementary Students
Do you want to try out these fun online Thanksgiving games? They’re perfect for kids. Check out our top picks:
Did you Like these Thanksgiving Games for Adults (and Children)?
- Amazon Kindle Edition
- Bolen, Jackie (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 94 Pages - 05/30/2015 (Publication Date)
Yes? Thought so! Then the book you’re going to love is this one available on Amazon: 39 No-Prep/Low-Prep ESL Speaking Activities for Teenagers and Adults. The key to interesting, engaging English lessons is a wide variety of activities and games and this book will help you do just that.
If you want to put the focus back on your students and get them talking and having fun while learning English, this is the book you need in a big way. The good news is that the book is available in a variety of formats: audio, digital and a physical copy.
Listen to the book while you exercise, or take it to your favourite coffee shop for lesson planning on the go. Keep a copy on the bookshelf in your office and use it as a handy reference guide. It really is that easy to have better English lessons.
Check out the book on Amazon, but only if you want to get yourself a serious dose of some ESL teaching awesome in your life:
ESL Thanksgiving Activities: Join the Conversation
What’s your go-to ESL thanksgiving activity, game or worksheet that you like to use with your students? Did you try out one of the activities on this list, or do you have another go-to source? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. We’d love to hear from you.
Also be sure to give this article a share on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter. It’ll help other busy teachers, like yourself find this useful teaching resource.
p.s. If you’re looking for other holiday activities, you’ll want to check out the following:
Last update on 2023-09-30 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API