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Thanksgiving Discussion Questions for ESL Students

Instructor: Sarah Mills

Sarah is an educational freelance writer and has taught English and ESL in grades k-12 and college. She has a master's degree in both Literacy and TESOL.

In this lesson, teachers will learn how to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) students about the American holiday of Thanksgiving. There will be a list of discussion questions that can help facilitate conversations between students about this holiday.

Learning About Thanksgiving

Many cultures around the world have holidays in which people express gratitude for the abundance of food, love, and good fortune in their lives. In the United States, the Thanksgiving holiday commemorates the harvest festival celebrated in 1621 by the Pilgrims, and offers a time for people to reflect on what they are thankful for.

Since Thanksgiving is not celebrated in all countries, many ESL students may not have the background knowledge to understand the traditions and customs associated with the holiday. One way to help them learn about it is to have them engage in discussions about the topic.

Here are some questions you could give pairs and small groups of students to help them better understand the Thanksgiving holiday:

Questions About Students' Background Knowledge

  • Why do Americans celebrate Thanksgiving?
  • What do you know about the origins of Thanksgiving?
  • Who were the Pilgrims?
  • How do Americans typically celebrate Thanksgiving?
  • What kinds of foods are associated with Thanksgiving?
  • When is Thanksgiving celebrated?
  • What foods were served at the first Thanksgiving?
  • What is 'Black Friday?'
  • Why do you know about the tradition of 'pardoning the Thanksgiving turkey?'
  • What are some common Thanksgiving decorations?

Questions About Students' Experiences

  • Have you ever celebrated Thanksgiving?
  • What is your favorite Thanksgiving holiday memory?
  • Will you and your family celebrate Thanksgiving this year? If so, how?
  • Are there any unusual dishes served at your family Thanksgiving? If so, what are they?
  • Does your native country have any holidays that are similar to Thanksgiving?
  • Does anyone in your family watch football on Thanksgiving?
  • Does your family have any Thanksgiving traditions?
  • Who carves the turkey in your family?
  • Have you ever gone shopping the day after Thanksgiving?
  • What beverages are typically served at your Thanksgiving table?
  • Have you ever tried green bean casserole? If so, did you like it?
  • If your school provides a Thanksgiving holiday break, what will you do with your time off?

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