Teach This Poem: "Thanksgiving” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
by Victor Laredo
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Art and Artifacts Division, The New York Public Library. New York Public Library Digital Collections.
The following activities and questions are designed to help your students use their noticing skills to move through the poem and develop their thinking about its meaning with confidence, using what they’ve noticed as evidence for their interpretations. Read more about the framework upon which these activities are based.
- Warm-up (whip around or quick write): Share three things you think about when you hear the word thanksgiving.
- Before Reading the Poem (individual writing and pair share): Write down what you see in the painting by Victor Laredo. What kind of brushstrokes do you see? What are the colors? What are the colors and brushstrokes used to represent? How does this scene make you feel? What did the artist do to make you feel this way? Share your observations with a partner.
- Reading the Poem: Read the poem silently, then record the words, phrases, and structures that jump out at you.
- Listening to the Poem (enlist two volunteers to read the poem aloud): Listen as the poem is read aloud and write down any additional words and phrases that jump out at you.
- Small-group Discussion: For what kinds of things does the speaker in the poem give thanks? Cite evidence from your reading and listening. For what kinds of daily things would you give thanks?
- Whole-class Discussion: What did you think the poem would be about when you heard the title “Thanksgiving”? What is the speaker actually saying? Is there rhyme in this poem, and if so, what is the rhyme scheme? Is the rhyme scheme the same in all stanzas? If not, how does it differ?
- Extension for Grades 7-10: Write a rhyming poem about the things for which you give thanks. How will you make the person reading your poem feel thankful as well? You can also illustrate your poem using some of the techniques you noticed in the painting by Victor Laredo. Share your poem and illustration with your classmates. (Teachers may want to create a gallery of poems and illustrations as a way of sharing this work.)
- Extension for Grades 11-12: Read other poems by Ella Wheeler Wilcox on Poets.org and conduct research on her biography. Write an essay about what you learned and how her work might still be relevant today.
“Thanksgiving may seem like the most American of holidays, but with changes in demographics and the diversity of cultures that accompanies them, Thanksgiving may no longer look the same to everyone.” Read this lesson plan about Richard Blanco’s poem “América."