Rediscovering Thanksgiving: Fact vs. Fiction

Students learn about the Pilgrims and the first Massachusetts colonies, including why the Pilgrims came to the New World, their relationship with the Native peoples, and the truth behind the first Thanksgiving.



Unit 2

3rd Grade

Unit Summary

This unit challenges students to view history with a critical lens, and to notice how there is always more than one side to a story. The unit begins with the Mayflower and helps students develop an understanding of why so many colonists decided to leave England and travel to the New World. Students will explore the hardships faced by the colonists, both on the ship and once they arrived in the New World, and how the colonists persevered and relied on the geography and environment to meet their needs. Students will then learn about the Wampanoag, the people who were on the land before the Pilgrims arrived. They will learn about what the Wampanoag valued, how they viewed the Pilgrims, and how the arrival of explorers and settlers negatively influenced their tribe. Then, students will be pushed to analyze what really happened at the first Thanksgiving, and whose story is being told. Students will realize that the traditional story of the first Thanksgiving contains many myths that don't accurately reflect the Wampanoag and what really happened in 1621. 

Students think about the ways in which events are connected. When learning about historical events and reading historical texts, students explore how they can use chronology to explain the connection between events. Students review how to use cause and effect to explain what happened with particular events and why. Students read texts on similar topics that include multiple perspectives of a historical event, allowing students to compare and contrast texts and critically analyze the perspectives that are present in each text. 

When discussing the text, students continue to work on elaborating and supporting their own ideas, using examples and evidence to justify their own thinking. Doing so sets students up for success with discourse in later units when students are pushed to engage with the thinking of others. 

Students continue to build their fluency with writing daily in response to the text and crafting sentences that show a nuanced understanding of content. In the second half of the unit, students write informational paragraphs, including a topic sentence and supporting reasons and facts. The unit culminates with students researching, drafting and illustrating their own informational books to teach others the truth about Thanksgiving.

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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials


These assessments accompany this unit to help gauge student understanding of key unit content and skills.

Unit Prep

Intellectual Prep

Unit Launch

Before you teach this unit, unpack the texts, themes, and core standards through our guided intellectual preparation process. Each Unit Launch includes a series of short videos, targeted readings, and opportunities for action planning to ensure you're prepared to support every student.

Essential Questions

  • Why did the Pilgrims leave England? What challenges did they face when they reached the "New World"? 
  • Who were the first people to live in present day New England? How were their lives and communities impacted by the Europeans? 
  • What parts of the Thanksgiving story are true? What parts are myths? 
  • Why is it important to look at history from multiple perspectives? 

Reading Focus Areas

  • Events in historical texts are often described chronologically (in the order they happen). Readers use chronology to explain the connection between events.

  • To describe key events in a historical text, readers need to think about what happened and why.


  • Comparing and contrasting details from multiple texts on the same topic helps readers understand multiple perspectives of a historical event.

Writing Focus Areas

Informational Writing

  • Introduce a topic using a topic sentence.

  • Develop the topic with reasons, facts, and details.

  • Conduct short research projects to build knowledge.

  • Take notes and sort evidence into categories.

  • Include illustrations and text features to aid in comprehension.

Speaking and Listening Focus Areas

  • Elaborate to support ideas. Provide evidence or examples to justify and defend a point clearly.

  • Use specific vocabulary. Use vocabulary that is specific to the subject and task to clarify and share their thoughts.



accurate ally bustling captive colonization colony custom delight epidemic establish fearsome grateful grim influential motive pleasant pledge shallow sorrow stench temper thievery treaty wary will


-ance -al -ful -some -tion

To see all the vocabulary for Unit 2, view our 3rd Grade Vocabulary Glossary.

Content Knowledge and Connections

Supporting All Students

In order to ensure that all students are able to access the texts and tasks in this unit, it is incredibly important to intellectually prepare to teach the unit prior to launching the unit. Use the intellectual preparation protocol and the Unit Launch to determine which support students will need. To learn more, visit the Supporting all Students teacher tool.

Lesson Map

Common Core Standards

Core Standards


Supporting Standards

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Unit 1

Defining Identity: Dyamonde Daniel and My Name is María Isabel


Unit 3

Passing Down Wisdom: Hispanic and African American Folktales

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