"There is no sincerer love than the love of food," observed the great writer George Bernard Shaw.

"There's two times of year for me: football season, and waiting for football season," proudly asserted musician Darius Rucker.

"I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual," humbly noted the renowned Henry David Thoreau.

I love food. I love cooking it for others and myself. I love the joy others receive when eating the food I cook, and I love eating it. I also love football. There is little more I look forward to than football season and watching every NFL and college game. And increasingly — especially the more I travel internationally I am grateful for whom I am and what I have.

So it's easy to see why I love Thanksgiving. It is my favorite secular holiday because it allows me to indulge my favorite indulgences. I spend all year anticipating Thanksgiving Day and Thanksgiving weekend.

Keep your Black Friday and all the days preceding and following Thanksgiving that stores use as an excuse to excessively and incessantly implore consumers to buy, buy, buy. You won't find me waiting in line at o'dark thirty for "great deals" that really aren't. Nope.

After I finish cooking for and serving dozens who have nowhere to go for Thanksgiving and no one with whom to spend the holiday, you'll find me outstretched on my sofa, plate piled high with delicious and copious Thanksgiving dishes, my gaze fixed on game after game after game. And that's how I'll stay for the entire long holiday weekend.

Because of my passion for all things Thanksgiving, I designed a multipart, project-based culturally-rooted Thanksgiving lesson for a class of multicultural adult ESL intermediate-level students (it can also be used with advanced students). The lesson draws on all multiple intelligences. Of the many dozens of lessons I've designed and taught, the Thanksgiving lesson may be my favorite it certainly is in my top five.

In this activity, your students will shop, buy the ingredients for and cook typical Thanksgiving side dishes. You will cook the entire Thanksgiving meal, and together you will have a feast/cook-off/tasting contest. Admittedly, if you're not a fan of cooking or football, you'll want to adapt this lesson, but there's plenty from which to choose and use.


Read and examine materials to present a genuine and thorough history of Thanksgiving that eschews stereotypes, partial accounts and misstatements.

Resources for preparation:


1. Begin with the knowledge in the room. Create a brainstorm web (mind map) with the word Thanksgiving in the middle. Ask students what they know about Thanksgiving.

2. Using the materials, present a genuine and thorough history of Thanksgiving. You can rely on the lesson plans in the resources I've provided or modify the plans for your needs.

3. Ask students if their cultures have a holiday similar to Thanksgiving. Discuss their responses: What is the history of the holiday they celebrate? What are the holiday's traditions and foods?

4. Present a contemporary look at how Americans celebrate Thanksgiving: volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, breaking the wishbone, watching football, watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, shopping, traveling to visit family and friends. Examine how contemporary Thanksgiving dinners have been influenced by immigrants.

Resources for Americans celebrating Thanksgiving:

5. Focus students' attention on the foods of both early and present-day Thanksgivings. Discuss the types of foods and how and why they've changed from the original feast to contemporary Thanksgiving dinners.

6. On five or six strips of paper, write the names of typical side dishes served at contemporary Thanksgiving dinners. There should be one side dish name written on each paper strip.

When I presented this exercise, I had five strips one each for stuffing (or dressing), mashed white potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and turkey gravy. I intentionally chose not to include turkey: It could be too expensive for students to buy the bird and the necessary materials, and if students do not cook it properly, there is a serious health risk if it's eaten.

I also intentionally did not include vegetables. Throughout the year, I eat so many vegetables that many have asked me if I'm a vegetarian, but at Thanksgiving, I gorge on my favorite carbohydrates that I wait all year to savor, and my Thanksgivings are vegetable-free. However, if your Thanksgiving includes vegetables, be sure to include them.

If you’re looking for a vegetable or two to add to your list, there’s always the traditional green bean casserole, roasted Brussels sprouts and sautéed carrots. And of course, you can include pie.

7. Put students in pairs or small groups and have each group pick a paper strip. Be sure they keep secret their mystery dish. You (the teacher) should not know what dish each pair or group is responsible for.

I decided to keep this information secret because I didn't want students to rely on me for help; instead, I wanted them to engage with others, which encourages them to use their English. Perhaps, for example, they will need to ask for help from supermarket customer service representatives, or they will need to peruse English language websites for recipe help.

8. Tell students that the class will have a Thanksgiving dinner. You (the teacher) will prepare a Thanksgiving meal (including the turkey), and each pair or group will prepare a side dish. Choose a date for the feast.

9. Pairs or groups are responsible for learning about their dish, buying the ingredients, finding a recipe to make the dish, making the dish, and bringing the dish to the feast.

10. Individually, students must write responses to these reflection questions and bring them to the feast; the teacher should do this, too:

  • Where did you find the recipe? Where did you buy the ingredients and materials?
  • What challenges or problems did you have in the process of making this dish? For example, finding ingredients or cooking.
  • What did you do to address the challenges and/or fix the problems?
  • What did you enjoy about this activity? Why?
  • What didn’t you enjoy about this activity? Why?
  • What did you learn from this activity?
  • How would you describe the dish you made to someone who does not know anything about it?
  • If you were to make a dish from your native culture to bring to an American Thanksgiving, what would it be and why?
  • For what and/or whom are you thankful?
  • How will you spend your first Thanksgiving?

11. Invite others — students' family members, other teachers and supervisors — to your feast. Students can fashion invitations.

12. On the day of the feast, but before you eat, students and you present your reflections and for what/whom they and you are thankful. Guests can be food judges.

13. Put on a football game (one that's on live, one you've recorded or one on DVD; I love showing the "Ice Bowl" section of the "Complete History of the Green Bay Packers" DVD). If you're a football fan, you can be the color analyst and explain the game to the students.

14. Eat, watch, enjoy! And go Packers!