Thanksgiving Themed Writing for High School Students

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“Thanksgiving was never meant to be shut up in a single day.” ~Robert Caspar Lintner

One of my great joys as an English teacher is inspiring my students with beautiful words. Holidays are great times to dig out favorite quotes and poems and turn them into a lesson.

With this post, I’ve attached a sheet of Thanksgiving readings to use as a lesson starter. Here’s how I’d use this sheet.  Click Here for Thanksgiving Poems Attachment.

To focus on literature, read biographical information about the poets. Look up where they lived and research what life events may have influenced their writings.

To focus on writing, use the quotes and poems to “prime the pump” of your students’ creativity. Themed writings will get them thinking about big ideas—gratitude, love of family, patriotism, nostalgia—and help create a mood aimed to fuel creative thinking and writing. Take turns reading the poems out loud.

Ask questions to get your students talking about the poems. Here are a few to get you started:

What makes the words in Nothing Gold Can Stay poignant? How do the allusions in the poem add to the mood or message?

Emily Dickinson writes about autumn as if it is a lovely gown nature is putting on. This is called personification – when you write about something that is not a person (not a living being) as if it is a person. How could you bring an object to life by writing about it in a similar way? What words and phrases would you use?

In the poems written of times past, what details of daily living are different from today? In spite of the changing times, what feelings, hopes, dreams, and joys have remained the same?

Choose one of the older poems and update it to a modern setting. How would you change the expressions, actions, and descriptions to fit a typical holiday in your family? Is the mood of your poem similar to the original you copied or parodied?

John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a 5-stanza poem dedicated to what he loved about pumpkins, ending in celebrating the glories of pumpkin pie. What food or holiday symbol could you make the subject of a poem?

Like Nothing Gold Can Stay, Lizelia Augusta Jenkins Moorer’s poem also contains a hint of sadness with the lines: “Thankful for all things let us be,/Though there be woes and misery;/Lessons they bring us for our good-/Later ’twill all be understood.” Yet in spite of “woes and misery,” she expresses thankfulness and hope. Research her biographical information at this link: What social injustice might she have been referencing in her poem?

What big life issues might turn people’s eyes from counting their blessings, enjoying time with family, or expressing thanks? How can you express your concerns and reason for hope in a poem?

To expand on this lesson, search the files at for more favorite poets and poems.


Renee Ann Smith teaches literature in a Christian high school by day and writes stories by night. She reviews books and shares inspirational posts on her blog Doorkeeper at You can also find her on Twitter at

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