Thanksgiving (jigsaw reading)


age: 16

level: A2

group size: 12

I designed this 45-minute-lesson especially for this group as they asked me to learn about Thanksgiving in the USA. It is a mixed-ability group, i.e. there are five students with developmental disorders (dyslexia, dysgraphia, or both). The group likes to go off the coursebook and talk about topics they are interested in. Luckily, I have enough freedom to do that.

Pre-reading (10’)

Do this Kahoot! to raise students’ awareness of the topic and vocabulary.

stop the game to ask questions or explain and discuss new words

While reading (25’)

Tell students now they are going to get some information about what is celebrated at Thanksgiving. The texts they will read are slightly different and focus on various aspects of Thanksgiving.

Give each student a text. (Text A should be given to slower students, as it is the shortest and the easiest one.) Students who have the same text sit in a bunch and read their texts (I got 4 groups of As, Bs and Cs). After reading the text, they have to answer questions they can from the list. When they have finished, get them to leave their groups so that they can answer all the questions on the list. (I got 4 groups of ABC)

Circulate to help them if they need and to check answers.


Find your group (A, B or C). Take a pen and sit down with your group.

Read your text.

Don’t worry about new words right now.

Discuss the answers with your group.

Only answer questions theat you can.

Don’t worry if you don’t have the answer to all the questions.

Stand up and form new groups, find students who read different text from yours. (or T groups them)

Answer all the questions now.



Thanksgiving Day is the fourth Thursday in November. It is a federal holiday, so schools, banks, and government offices are closed. Thanksgiving was the first holiday celebrated in America. It was first celebrated when the Wampanoag Indians and the pilgrims got together for a three-day feast and festival of fun.

Who were the pilgrims?

The pilgrims were a small group of people who sailed to North America from Plymouth (England) in order to start a new life. They sailed on the Mayflower ship and landed on in America. They wanted religious freedom.

What do they eat?

Today, families celebrate Thanksgiving by eating turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, yams, corn, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and an NFL football game are special Thanksgiving Day events.


What is Thanksgiving?

It is a bank holiday celebrated in November. The first Thanksgiving was in 1621 when the pilgrims invited the Indians to a three-day feast to celebrate the autumn harvest. Thanksgiving Day traditionally kicks off the ‘holiday season’ in the United States. The day was set in stone by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939 and approved by Congress in 1941. In fact, more people in the US celebrate Thanksgiving than do Christmas. Thanksgiving Day is secular (not church) holiday in a country that officially separates church and state so this probably makes sense.

Why do they eat turkey?

Pilgrim Edward Winslow wrote a letter about that now-famous meal in 1621 which talked about a turkey hunt before the dinner. Another theory says the choice of turkey was inspired by Queen Elizabeth I who was eating dinner when she heard that Spanish ships had sunk on their way to attack England. Queenie was so happy with the news she asked for another turkey. Some say that early US settlers (pilgrims) roasted turkeys as they were inspired by her actions. Others say that because wild turkeys are native to North America, they were a natural choice for early settlers.


What is Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is a very American public holiday. It means that schools, post offices and government offices are closed. It is celebrated in November every year. There are two versions of the origins of this holiday. One is thanks for the early settlers (pilgrims) arriving in America safely. On December the 4th, 1619, a group of English pioneers arrived at a place called Berkeley Hundred, in Virginia. The group made a promise that the day of their arrival should be a “day of thanksgiving” to God. The second version is the thanks given to Native Americans (Indians) for teaching the pilgrims how to catch eels and grow corn in Plymouth, Massachusetts. In 1941, President Roosevelt made Thanksgiving a federal holiday.

What do people do at Thanksgiving?

The main event of any Thanksgiving is the Thanksgiving dinner. It is traditional to have baked or roasted turkey with cranberry sauce, and gravy, so it is not a good time to be a turkey. Pumpkin pie is the most common dessert. The Thanksgiving holiday weekend is one of the busiest times of the year for traveling. It is a four-day or five-day weekend vacation for most schools and colleges, and many businesses and government workers get three or four days off. Thanksgiving is also the time when Christmas preparations begin. When Thanksgiving finishes, stores fill their shelves with Christmas goods.


Answer this list of questions.

When is Thanksgiving celebrated?

How long is the holiday nowadays?

When will be this year’s Thanksgiving Day?

Why was it first celebrated on 4th December 1619?

Who were invited to the celebration?

How long was the first celebration?

Can you send a letter on Thanksgiving day?

Can you go to a bank on Thanksgiving day?

What do people celebrate at Thanksgiving?

What’s more popular: Thanksgiving or Christmas?

Why did the pilgrims travel to America?

What veggies do people eat at Thanksgiving?

What are the 3 different explanations to eating turkey at Thanksgiving?

What happens after Thanksgiving is over?

True or false?

1 There is a Thanksgiving Parade organized by Macy’s on Thanksgiving Day.

2  The pilgrims arrived on a ship called Mayflower.

3 Federal, public and bank holidays have the same meaning.

4 Native Americans helped the pilgrims catch animals and grow plants.

Post-reading activities

1, 4 (10’)

2-3, 5-7 further classes

  1. Make an information sheet to Eskimos on Thanksgiving. Summarize all you’ve learnt about it and you think is important to know.
  1. Letter strings. Find and circle 7 English words in each line.




  1. Word recognition. Find and circle the words with the same spellings.
  2. celebrate

celebrate        celebrated        celebration        celebrity

  1. government

governing        governments        governers        government

  1. religious

religion            religiousness        religious        religions

  1. Home assignment

Read the texts again and look up new words. (students need to get all 3 texts)

Search the net:

What happens at Thanksgiving in the White House nowadays?

How long did the journey to America take back then? How long is it nowadays?

What’s the difference between sweet potatoes and yam?

Can you think of a similar secular holiday in Hungary?

  1. We are going to organize a Thanksgiving party on 24th November. Design a menu for this event.
  1. Creative writing:
  2. A) you are a Native American. Write an 80 word diary entry about December 4th 1619.
  3. B) you are one of the Pilgrim Fathers write an 80 word diary entry about January 29th 1619.
  1. Dramatize the story of Thanksgiving: Students can choose music they like for each scene

sweet potato or yam?

Sweet Potato Awareness Month

November is Sweet Potato Awareness Month (SPAM), and I do my part by reminding people that yams are something else entirely. As a foodie and an evolutionary biologist, I feel obliged to be a nudge about this. So here are three images to help.

First, a photograph of a white yam (Ipomoea rotunda) in a bin of sweet potatoes.

Colin Purrington Photography: Blog photos &emdash; A white yam (Dioscorea rotundata) in a bin of sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas)

Second, a photograph of three cultivars of sweet potato (all Ipomoea batatas) next to a yellow yam (Dioscorea cayennensis).

Photograph of sweet potatoes and yam

Third, an illustration of how yams and sweet potato are related (they aren’t). As a bonus, I’ve also indicated the position of potato.


Please share this page with your family prior to Thanksgiving dinner. It will be one less thing to bicker about. If you need more details, here’s my “Yams versus sweet potatoes” page. Read it if you want to know why the slave trade caused the whole “yam” confusion problem.

Posted in Biology, Education, Food, Gardening, Photography, Science | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Minor victory in my war against yam labeling fraud

In my futile quest to convince people that sweet potatoes shouldn’t be called yams (which are unrelated plants), I discovered that one can actually report vendors who label sweet potatoes as yams. So, for giggles, I reported Giant Foods to the USDA’s Misbranding and Misrepresentation Office. Below is a photograph I took in November of their organic sweet potatoes:

giant-sweet-potato-05 (1)

And now in all of their stores (that I’ve checked), they sell sweet potatoes labeled as sweet potatoes:

Nature's Promise sweet potato at Giant

It might be a small victory, but Giant Foods is giant, so I’m pleased. If you want to know more about my futile war, please see my page on Yams versus Sweet Potatoes. If you want to make your own report, just visit the above USDA site and send the contact person a photograph of the label along with store contact information. They’ll do the rest, and apparently in a persuasive way.

Posted in Biology, Education, Food, Gardening, Graphic design, Health, Photography, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Open letter to produce managers re: yams

Dear Produce Manager,

If you want to sell more orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, craft your labels with “yams” in parentheses, like this:

Sweet potatoes (“yams”)

Because you are a produce manager, you undoubtedly know that a yam is a completely unrelated thing, so using quotation marks will indicate to ignorant shoppers that you are not actually selling yams. As you also surely know, “yam” is regional slang used by some (generally older folks) to refer to a sweet potato that has orange flesh. But if you only have “yams” on label, some shoppers might get flustered and leave for another store that labels sweet potatoes as “sweet potatoes.” Still others are looking for a specific variety of orange-fleshed sweet potato (Beauregard, Jewel, etc.), so list that, too. E.g.,

‘Beauregard’ sweet potatoes (“yams”)

That’s a lot of text, but different varieties are good for different recipes, and some of your customers are over-educated foodies who care deeply about such details. Ideally, cut one in half and cover in plastic wrap to convince skeptical shoppers that it does, indeed, have orange flesh.

Colin Purrington

These are sweet potatoes

Posted in Biology, Education, Food, Gardening, Graphic design, Health, Photography, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yam or sweet potato?

I revised the reference card a tad, so here it is again. Please share. If you want to print out a bunch to laminate into wallet-sized favors for your Thanksgiving guests, here’s the PDF. And here are the gruesome details behind this card, if you really want to know.