Using Thanksgiving Day Vocabulary in ESL Writing Exercises

Thanksgiving Day is a holiday that is rich in vocabulary. Here are some writing and spelling exercises that I’ve created to use in my class to allow English as a Second Language students to use vocabulary in a variety of ways including a review, prose poetry and letter combinations for spelling. Depending on the class level, you can use some or all of these activities.

These exercises could also be used in non-ESL classrooms.

ESL Vocabulary Review: Words Connected to Thanksgiving Day

This is an exercise that works well after the class has done some reading and discussion about Thanksgiving Day. I use it as a way to review vocabulary at the end of the class or section on Thanksgiving. It can be adapted to any holiday or theme.

Instructions:

  1. Write the word “THANKSGIVING” vertically on the blackboard.
  2. Have students write words related to the holiday for each of the letters. Students can either work alone, in pairs or in slightly larger groups. If working in groups, designate one person as the “writer.” I’d suggest no more than 4 people per group so everyone has a chance to offer words.
  3. Presentation: Students can call out the words and you write them on the blackboard next to the appropriate word. Or you can call on different students to write them on the board. The second option adds in more spelling as you can quiz the class about words that are spelled incorrectly. Or groups can write out their words on chart paper and post them around the classroom.

Below are some examples of words students might come up with. The actual words will depend on the material already used for Thanksgiving, as well as the level of the class. You can prompt for additional words.

T – Thanksgiving, thankful, tradition, turkey

H – holiday, harvest

A – ancestor, ate, autumn

N – native, national (as in holiday)

K – knife (to carve the turkey)

S – settlers, serve, soup, squash

G – goose, grateful

I – Indian, invitation

V – venison, visit, vacation

I – indigenous, ice cream, indigestion

N – newcomers

G – God, good

ESL Writing Activity: Poems Using Thanksgiving Day Vocabulary

We seldom use poetry in ESL classes, but it’s another way to have students work with language. Again, this idea can be adapted for other holidays.

Instructions:

  1. Briefly review some of the main points about Thanksgiving Day, with an emphasis vocabulary, the idea of blessings and what students are thankful for.
  2. Introduce the idea of a prose poem, e.g. one that doesn’t have to rhyme.
  3. As in the previous exercise, write the word “THANKSGIVING” vertically on the blackboard. (Note: This exercise makes a nice a follow-up to the previous one or it can be done on its own.)
  4. Explain to students that they are going to write a poem, with the first word on each line beginning with the corresponding letter from Thanksgiving.
  5. Do a few lines as an example, e.g. Thanksgiving Day is a day for thanks / Harvest has been brought in / All gather around the table, etc.
  6. Have students write their own poems. I generally have them work singly, but you could also have them work in pairs as some students feel awkward writing poems, especially if this is their first time.
  7. Presentation: Depending on the amount of class time, either have a couple of students read their work aloud or have students post their poems on a bulletin board. Another possibility is to hand out chart paper or construction paper and have students copy their poems to these larger sheets of paper (after they’ve been checked for spelling mistakes) and illustrate them. Then post the finished products around the classroom.

ESL Exercise: Finding and Spelling Words Using Thanksgiving Day as a Prompt

This is a good exercise for students to look at letter combinations in spelling. It can work at almost any level, though the higher the level, the more words students should be able to come up with. This makes a nice-end-of-day exercise as it’s short and fun.

Instructions:

  1. Write the words “THANKSGIVING DAY” horizontally on the blackboard.
  2. Tell students to write as many words as they can using the letters in “Thanksgiving Day.” Explain that they can use the letters in any order but can only use each letter as many times as its found in the original word e.g. there are two A’s, so they can use A twice in their word, but there’s only one G, so they can only use it one per word.
  3. If this is the first time they’re doing this exercise, do a few examples that are permitted e.g. “thanks,” “hand,” and “sign” and some that are not e.g. “gang” not permitted because only one G, “date” not permitted because there is no E.
  4. Give students about 10-15 minutes. Putting a time limit turns this more into a game. (This can be done with or without dictionaries.)
  5. Presentation: Write all the words on the blackboard. Either you can do this or students can take turns writing the words.

These are just a few examples of exercises that use the vocabulary connected to Thanksgiving Day. Whether students are reviewing vocabulary, writing poems or searching for words, they will be actively working with spelling and writing.

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