Thanksgiving Activities for Middle School Students [In Person & Virtual]

Every year, the moms in my neighborhood dread Thanksgiving break because it means another challenging time to keep the kids entertained.  In order to pull my weight in our little village and keep our community events new and exciting, I researched 60 different Thanksgiving activities for middle school students and found the top 10.

It turns out that there are plenty of Thanksgiving activities for middle school students.  If your celebration needs to be virtual, there are computer games, opportunities to present virtual dinners, and even Thanksgiving-themed bingo. 

For those on a limited budget, options include gratitude discussions and writing prompts.  For those who prefer more hands-on projects, try some historical “mucking” or challenging the kids to create a menu that incorporates one unique ingredient into each meal. 

Luckily for the moms on this block, I discovered that the opportunities to immerse your students in the acknowledgment of gratitude and the comradery of the community are endless.

Thanksgiving Activities For Middle School Students

1. Explore Historical Monuments

If you’re lucky enough to be located near one of the many areas where pilgrims once firstly visited, take your kids on a day trip to explore its actuality.  Combine a history lesson with the opportunity to take in the landscape firstly seen by your ancestors hundreds of years ago. 

With this first-person perspective, your kids can hopefully envision what it must have been like to attempt to start anew in a completely new area.

2. Host a Thanksgiving Potluck

What better way to help develop your kids’ long-term cooking skills than to challenge them to create a Thanksgiving meal staple?  Throw a folding table outside and invite the neighborhood kids as well.  Be sure to stick to more easily-made and easy-to-carry dishes such as desserts and sides.  You don’t want your little one dropping your favorite crock-pot in the middle of the lawn!

Also, if socially distancing, be sure to encourage safety precautions such as individually wrapped goodies.  Hosting a potluck not only enables your kids to show off and develop their cooking talents, but it introduces them to the array of delicious options that various cultures in our country swear by, each year, on the same holiday.

3. Virtual Thanksgiving Dinner

Just about every child enjoys dressing up.  What better way to help your students develop their cooking skills than to host a virtual Thanksgiving dinner, inviting their distant relatives?  Encourage your kids to play the part by dressing up accordingly and tell them to come prepared to this session with their favorite Thanksgiving dishes in tow.  

Giving each child an assigned 10-15 minute slot, ask that they prepare everything from an ingredients list to the actual recipe.  Encourage that their video follows a certain structure, for example:

  • Introduction
  • Explanation as to why you picked this dish/why it’s significant for your family
  • Abbreviated demonstration*
  • Distribution of formal recipe to class as a follow-up

*Encourage your little ones to have two versions of their dish going: one that they can prepare from scratch on camera, and one final product to showcase to the class.  This eliminates the need for bake/cook time in between.

This activity not only helps to develop public speaking skills, it requires kids to adhere to a specific format while still providing the opportunity for creativity. 

Even if you need to provide assistance or narration, this is an opportunity not only to expand your students’ palettes but to touch on the preferred Thanksgiving dishes across various cultures.

4. Virtual Thanksgiving Bingo

Using templates that you can readily find online, have a fun Virtual Thanksgiving Bingo session with your kids and their friends!  Incorporate some Thanksgiving traditions with favorite foods, preferred customs, and historical knowledge.

Do multiple rounds, giving out a small Thanksgiving-related incentive each time!

5. Gratitude Discussion

Your middle-school-aged student is dealing with a lot of changes and emotions in their lives at this pivotal, developmental time.  Parents start to become bothersome and even annoying in the eyes of their middle-school-aged children.  Students gravitate more towards each other than they do lean on their family. 

As a result, gratitude for the blessings that surround them often goes unnoticed.  

Encourage your middle-school-aged kids to tap into their thankfulness by reading them a powerful picture book on gratitude.  The stories that you hear in middle school often stick with you for the long term. 

Follow up the reading with a discussion regarding thankfulness, gratitude, blessings, wants, and needs. 


6. Creative/Research Writing Prompt

Turn on your little ones’ imaginations by helping them put themselves in the shoes of those who arrived in the United States to start anew all those years ago, or challenge them to write a poem in relation to gratitude.

Locate some prompting questions online that encourage them to research more into the historical event itself or learn to exude gratitude for their blessings today.

7. Mucking

Pilgrim children often “mucked” the garden, which is really just a fun, old-fashioned term for fertilizing.  Combine a history lesson with a science overview by gathering your kids in the front yard to plant a small garden. 

Keep an eye on your plants as they grow and, even if much later, use them in a dish.

8. Scavenger Hunt

Incorporate historical clues into a fun scavenger hunt that takes your kids around the house or, better yet, around the neighborhood. 

Use additional neighbors to roleplay and provide necessary facts along the way.

9. Computer Activities

The internet is flooded with holiday-related activities for middle school students, and Thanksgiving is no stranger to the trend.  By just punching a few keywords into your favorite search engine, you can find a plethora of activities to support the holiday and its most common themes including:

  • Poem generators
  • Puzzles
  • Word searches
  • Worksheets
  • True or False quizzes

10. Menu-Making

You could also challenge your kids to come up with a Thanksgiving menu with a certain wrench thrown in.  For example, challenge them to create a menu where each and every single dish incorporates one of the same ingredients. 

Apple is an extremely versatile ingredient that could be used in anything from a turkey gravy to an apple pie to a vegetable dish.

How Does Your Middle School Student Celebrate Thanksgiving in The Classroom?

Two of the biggest ways that Thanksgiving is celebrated in the classroom is by celebrating gratitude and communing over a fun feast when possible.  An in-person potluck is usually ideal, perhaps with middle-school appropriate dishes.  For example, it’s probably not ideal for kids to lug a crockpot to school, but no-bake brownies in saran wrap are another story. 

During the pandemic, these same themes are likely to be celebrated virtually.

Focusing on what Thanksgiving truly represents is the priority.  So, encourage your kids to disconnect from electronic devices.  Maybe put the computers and phones away for the day.  Spend some time dedicated to “did-you-knows” regarding colonial times.  Encourage your kids to tap into their blessings and show genuine appreciation for them.  Maybe the making of “thank you” cards for teachers, close friends, or mentors is in order. 

Above all, ensure you are encouraging a unit that day.  Do group activities that remind your kids and their neighborhood friends that it takes a village, and always has.

What Values or Ideas Can My Middle School Student Learn From Thanksgiving?

Aside from the obvious opportunity to say “thank you” and count our blessings, the community is probably the next biggest idea your kids can grasp from this special holiday.

Since Thanksgiving started as a meal of peace between Pilgrims and US natives, it’s become an opportunity to take a pause from our daily lives to evaluate what truly matters. 

Thanksgiving encourages communities to come together and families to re-connect. The holiday has come to represent the appetizer celebration to the upcoming holiday season. It forces us all to take a minute to recognize the humanity surrounding us in the midst of technology, workloads, parenting, and everything else that we give our focus to each and every day. 

Understanding and enjoying Thanksgiving’s themes at a young age will provide a great foundation for a grateful and blessed life for your children.

What Do Other Families Do On Thanksgiving?

On Thanksgiving, extended family members typically gather for dinner. Often, families bide the time during which the turkey cooks in the oven by participating in Thanksgiving-related events such as running in local Turkey Trots, watching the Thanksgiving Day parade, or catching a football game on TV. 

You and your middle school student can participate in any or all of these as well.

Thanksgiving dinners can consist of a variety of dishes beyond just turkey, often including stuffing, potatoes, biscuits, vegetables, and a suitable autumn-themed dessert. 

Final Thoughts

While Thanksgiving might first seem as though it’s limited to an at-home celebration, middle school students are eager to incorporate the holiday season into the days and weeks leading up to it, whether it be in-person or in a virtual setting.  

In our digital age, Thanksgiving is an ideal time to encourage your kids back to their roots, inviting them to disconnect from reality and stop counting their blessings.  It also provides your children with the opportunity to pass along perhaps an overdue “thank you”.

Our global pandemic may have presented you with some forced creativity over the last year, but everyone can benefit from a little shake-up to a comfort zone. 

There are a plethora of activities to be enjoyed whether celebrating virtually or in person.  Socially-distanced activities such as scavenger hunts are also fun, effective, safe ways to introduce Thanksgiving themes to your middle school students.