November 17, 2015

Going Beyond Thanksgiving: Reading Activities for Native American Indian Heritage Month

November is Native American Indian Heritage Month in the U.S. Often, the only activities related to this month honoring Native Americans are some variation of the Thanksgiving story, including an account of the first celebration between pilgrims and indigenous people complete with cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. For those teachers looking for new Thanksgiving reading activities, this can be the perfect time to enrich your students’ understanding of Native American Indians and provide greater context and study beyond Thanksgiving. 

Grades K–2

For younger readers (K–2), Grandmother’s Dreamcatcher (Becky McCain, Stacey Schuett) can continue exploration of Native American culture and can lead to a related dreamcatcher craft project.

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Grades 2–5

For students in grades 2–5, reading and discussing 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving (Catherine Grace) or Tapenum’s Day: A Wampanoag Indian Boy in Pilgrim Times (Kate Waters, Russ Kendall), may be a way to encourage your students to take a deeper look at Native American history. Full-color photographs, taken at the Plimoth Plantation historical site in Massachusetts, offer “a more measured, balanced, and historically accurate version…” (School Library Journal).

tapenums-day-classroom-activitiesTeaching suggestions for Tapenum’s Day, such as this one, found on the Teachers Pay Teachers website, provide creative ideas for writing and context clue activities. 

Children of the Longhouse (Joseph Bruchac) may be another reading choice to extend beyond Thanksgiving. 

Middle School and High School

For older students in middle and high school, an opportunity to explore the history and to tie in often overlooked fiction and non-fiction can lead to rich reading and writing opportunities between Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

middle-school-high-school-native-american-booksWorks by Sherman Alexie, a Native American writer and poet, have long been used to share the experience of growing up on a reservation. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is just one of his recommended novels. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (Dee Brown) had a profound impact on me as a high school student and led me to an interest in history that had not previously existed. Even reluctant readers may be interested in reading about the Navajos who were recruited to use their language to develop a top-secret and unbreakable code in World War II. Two excellent books are Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two (Joseph Bruchac) and Code Talker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers of WWII (Chester Nez).


This time of year can be a challenging one for teachers and students. By providing content-rich reading choices, post-Thanksgiving class time can become the perfect opportunity to explore text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world strategies for all learners.

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