Thanksgiving Activities for High School

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Thanksgiving turkey on dinner table.
Thanksgiving turkey on dinner table. (Image: TrudyWilkerson/iStock/Getty Images)

The fourth Thursday in November is a traditional American holiday, created to commemorate the first bountiful harvest and the feast shared by Native Americans and early American settlers. Thanksgiving games and activities are often reserved for younger children, but even busy, sophisticated high school kids benefit from activities that provide time for reflecting about the holiday and its meaning.

Expressing Thanks

Writing letters with pen and paper is a lost art, but an old-fashioned thank-you letter is a way to demonstrate thankfulness. Ask each student to write a letter to somebody they appreciate, such as a family member or friend, or a teacher. Teens can also start a daily gratitude journal and use it to write a short paragraph about "One good thing that happened today." High schoolers can also express thanks with a group community service project such as serving a meal to a homeless shelter or visiting a nursing home.

Host a Pie-Eating Contest

Teens love the fun and hilarity of a pie-eating contest. Pumpkin pies are traditional contest fare, but you can also use apple or other seasonal pies. Ask local businesses or organizations to provide prizes or gift certificates. Instead of a pie-eating contest, have a corn-on-the-cob contest in which kids eat corn with their hands behind their backs. If your activity is outdoors, kids get a kick out of playing toss the egg. The group is divided into pairs, then each pair tosses a raw egg back and forth, taking a step back to increase the distance after each toss. The last team with an unbroken egg wins.

Fun and Games

A word find requires no advance planning; the only supplies required are pencils, paper and a timer. Announce a Thanksgiving-related word such as "Thanksgiving," "cornucopia," "cranberries," "gratitude," "leftovers," "celebrate," "Massachusetts" or "Mayflower." Ask participants to find as many words as possible, then set the timer for 3 or 5 minutes. To make the game more challenging, require that each word has a minimum of three, four or five letters. A guess-the-drawing game is fun for kids of almost any age. To make the game Thanksgiving specific, create cards with words and terms such as "sweet potatoes," "Thanksgiving dinner," "Pilgrims" or "Thanksgiving Parade." Teens take turns drawing the picture while opponents guess. Set a timer for 2 minutes. If the group is large, divide it into teams. High school kids can also play Thanksgiving charades, acting out historical figures such as Miles Standish or Governor Bradford; contemporary events like pardoning the turkey; or holiday movies.

The Journey

Encourage students to describe how they think they would feel if they made a journey to an unknown place. Ask them what it might be like to share the close quarters of a sailing ship with more than 125 people, on a journey that took nearly two long months. Discuss how the leaders were selected. Provide copies of the Mayflower Compact and discuss the ramifications of this important historical document. You can also ask teens to draw up their own Mayflower Compact with a list of "just and equal" laws. To practice interviewing and writing skills, divide the group into teams of two. One team member is a newspaper reporter, and the other is a Mayflower passenger. The reporter asks questions about the journey across the ocean and reasons for leaving England.

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