4 reasons to celebrate Thanksgiving in French class

4 reasons to celebrate Thanksgiving in French class

Thanksgiving can be a bit problematic for a variety of reasons. There has been a move away from showing the friendly “pilgrims and Indians” that I was taught about in elementary school and a move towards recognizing a more nuanced history. As a French teacher, is there even a reason to teach Thanksgiving in your classes? The French don’t celebrate the holiday – but this isn’t a reason to not acknowledge it in your classroom for a variety of reasons.

Two of the standards in world languages are culture and comparisons. Thanksgiving is a holiday in Canada – one of the French-speaking countries. It’s a little earlier than in the US but celebrated in much the same way. Learning vocabulary for the different food items and activities of the holiday can be useful to your students as it will allow them to discuss their own cultural traditions if they ever wish to do so. The comparisons aspect is also important – your students can use their critical thinking skills to discuss why the French don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. This could lead to a variety of conversations about history, religion and the French policy of laïcité with your more advanced students.

In addition, it’s an opportunity to introduce your students to Native American/First Nations culture and history. Most American students know very little of the people who lived here before Europeans arrived and even less of the relationship between the French and these people. While relations were not perfect, the French were more accepting of indigenous people and had a more positive view of them.

Thanksgiving is a huge deal in American culture. The entire month of November is spent gearing up towards the holiday. Your students will be excited about it and want to celebrate and talk about it. They will have questions for you – what do French people eat for Thanksgiving? Do they play or watch football? Do they go shopping the day after? This is a chance to get them to recognize that a holiday that may be HUGE in one society or culture many be very minor in another – or even not exit at all!

Finally, it is important to recognize things that we are thankful for and express our gratitude. Thanksgiving doesn’t have to include a huge meal or family gatherings. It can be as simple as just acknowledging the good things in our lives and being able to express our gratitude for those things. Taking a moment to think about the things that we are grateful for can be a moment of mindfulness in a season that can be otherwise hectic. Teaching your students to take a pause from time to time to recognize the good things in their lives can be a good use of time.

How do I celebrate Thanksgiving in my classes?

I have several activities that I do, depending on which levels I am teaching. In my first year classes, they are still pretty limited in their language skills. I have them make a hand turkey – a project that they have almost all certainly done as a child in elementary school! We trace our hands on a piece of paper, add a beak and a few other details to make it look like a turkey, then cut it out. On the body of the turkey they write “je suis reconnaissant(e) de…” and then on each finger they write something in French. This is a great time to review mon, ma and mes!

For more advanced students, we might read recipes for cooking a turkey or a pie. They LOVE talking about food and this activity gives them a chance to review some of the quantities vocabulary terms. Sites like marmiton or cuisineaz have many nice recipes for things students might be familiar with.

As a reading activity, levels 2-3 read the short story Un dîner spécial. It’s the story of several farm animals who want to celebrate the big holiday that they’ve heard so much about. When they finally get to the big dinner, they realize that they’ve made a huge mistake. It’s a fun read that my 2nd year students can read with teacher guidance, and more advanced students can read independently.

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