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Lesson Plan

Packing the Pilgrim's Trunk: Personalizing History in the Elementary Classroom

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Packing the Pilgrim's Trunk: Personalizing History in the Elementary Classroom

Grades K – 2
Lesson Plan Type Unit
Estimated Time Nine 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Devon Hamner

Devon Hamner

Grand Island, Nebraska


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



This theme exploration helps students explore who the Pilgrims were, learn about their trip aboard the Mayflower, think about what it was like to move to a new world and discover how they adapted and built new lives at Plymouth Colony. But more importantly, it helps students discover connections between their own life experiences and those of the Pilgrims, making history interesting, meaningful, and relevant. Students us a KWL chart, books and Websites to learn about the Pilgrims, complete hands on activities to role play and compare their lives to Pilgrim childrens' lives and plan a Thanksgiving friendship feast to celebrate their learning.

Lesson originally published in September 2004. Revised October 2008 by Joyce Bruett, NCTE staff.

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Books about the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving: Use this booklist to help students learn about the Pilgrims (and others) coming to America, what their lives were like how they gave thanks in the first years here.

Websites about Pilgrims and Plymouth: Have children explore these Websites to learn how their lives are similar to and different from those of Pilgrim children.

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How do we personalize history? How do we make four hundred-year-old history accessible and meaningful for students who may be only five to seven years old? In the article†"Connecting Students to Culturally Relevant Texts" (7-11)†from the spring 2004 issue of Talking Points, Yvonne Freeman and David Freeman encourage students to relate to text by asking question such as, "Are the characters in the story like you and your family?" and "Have you ever had an experience like one described in this story?" These questions help students identify with the characters and make connections between their own lives and those of the characters in the text.

In the same issue, Elizabeth Quintero in "Personalizing Literacy: Listening to Voices of Experience" (21-25) states: "I believe that educators must create venues for personal and cultural connections by bringing children's experiences, identity issues, family stories, and cultural artifacts into the classroom." She further stresses making these connections through "the life experiences that young children bring to the classroom." That is the purpose of this integrated lesson, to help our youngest students make connections between their own life stories and the stories that speak to us from our country's history. It's these connections that enrich and personalize the learning, giving it meaning and building understanding.

Further Reading

Freeman, Yvonne, and David Freeman. "Connecting Students to Culturally Relevant Texts." Talking Points 15.2 (April/May 2004): 7-11.


Quintero, Elizabeth. "Personalizing Literacy: Listening to Voices of Experience." Talking Points 15.2 (May 2004): 21-25.

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