Teaching Students About The Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation

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A Lesson on Gratitude

Here are some classroom activities for all grades that teach about the yearly Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation. 

Print and share with the students a copy of the President’s Thanksgiving Proclamation (visit www.whitehouse.gov , then do a search on “Thanksgiving” and look for “President’s Thanksgiving Message”). Each year, the President issues a proclamation just a few days before the holiday. Consequently, it is difficult to use the current proclamation unless your lesson is the day before Thanksgiving. 

For a complete list of Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations, visit http://www.pilgrimhallmuseum.org/thanksgiving_proclamations.htm.


Use the ideas below in age- and grade-appropriate ways:

1. Show a picture of The President and talk about what a President does. 

2. Ask students why the President issues a Thanksgiving Proclamation each year.  Suggested answer: It has been a tradition since the founding of our country that Presidents ask Americans to thank God for the blessings we have received as a nation in the previous twelve months. 

3. Vocabulary Race. Have students divide into groups of equal size. Have each group make a list of vocabulary words from the proclamation and exchange the list with another group.The lists of words should be equal to two words per student in the group. At a signal from the teacher, each group works as a team to find and write the appropriate definitions of the words. The first group finished is the winner. The group must read aloud its definitions to prove they are correct. 

4. Read the closing paragraph(s) to the class and ask students to list the things the President asked Americans to do on Thanksgiving Day. 

5. Ask students how they can each do the things the President asked them to do. 

6. In small groups, have students create a “found poem.” Have students read the document and underline phrases (not sentences) they think are most important. Each student then chooses only two phrases as the most important and writes each phrase on a separate strip of paper. The group then arranges the strips of paper to create a free-verse poem. Have a spokesperson for the group read the poem to the class. 

7. We often speak of “owing” someone a debt of gratitude. Have students list things they have for which they are thankful (possessions, experiences, special events, opportunities given) and to whom they can be thankful for providing them. 

8. Teach students the social skill of expressing gratitude. Have the class create a hypothetical situation in which one person gives a thing or an opportunity to another person. As a class, discuss and list three or four steps to showing gratitude. For example: (1) face the person, (2) look the person in the eye, (3) say “Thank you,” (4) continue by saying “I appreciate that you ____________” and explain why you are grateful. 

9. The Roman lawyer Cicero once wrote, “A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, it is the parent of all other virtues.” Have students discuss what they think he meant. Have them brainstorm a list of virtues as you write them on the board. Why is gratitude the basis for those virtues? Can they give examples?