English Language Arts, Poetry

Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving

If you’ve read any number of our previous blogs, you definitely know our fondness of picture books in the elementary AND middle school classroom. Also, if you’re wondering what to do with your students those couple of days before Thanksgiving break, we have an awesome mini-unit for you. It involves an adorable Thanksgiving picture book, poem analysis, figurative language, and writing. Who says you can’t educate and entertain those kiddos before they go on a holiday break? So join us as we explore Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving lesson ideas.

Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving, by Dav Pilkey, is such a wonderful adaptation of a classic and familiar poem, The Night Before Christmas, by Clement Moore. As students read Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving, they will find many similarities to the well-known Christmas poem. 

Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving: Pre-Reading

When teaching this picture book, I like to first start off by reading, The Night Before Christmas, in case any students are not familiar with this poem. I normally say, “It’s almost time for Thanksgiving, but today we’re going to talk about Christmas first!” It definitely catches their attention at the beginning of the lesson. 

Next, I teach students the concept that a picture book, especially a rhyming one, sometimes is really one long poem spread out over many pages with illustrations.. We discuss how the Christmas poem and the Thanksgiving picture book we are about to read are considered narrative poems. We discuss how a narrative poem tells a story, with characters, a setting, and a plot with a problem and a solution. It is similar to a narrative story, yet it is written in poetic form. 

I then tell my students how the picture book we’re about to read is considered an adaptation of the original The Night Before Christmas poem. An adaptation is a retelling of a story, using various literary elements to make it similar, yet different from the original. We discuss how The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, by Jon Scieszka, is a wonderful example of an adaptation of the original fairy tale, The Three Little Pigs that many students are familiar with. 

Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving: During Reading 

Next, I read Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving, by Dav Pilkey, aloud to students, pausing along the way to discuss any points of comparison between the Thanksgiving adaptation and the Christmas poem. 

Publisher’s Weekly summarizes the book best: 

Patterned as a parody of the celebrated Clement Moore poem, this story of eight baby turkeys unfolds with joyous abandon and crackling vitality, as eight children embark on a Thanksgiving field trip that will change their lives forever. They are breathless as they catch sight of Farmer Mack Nuggett for the first time: “He was dressed all in denim, / From his head to his toe, / With a pinch of polyester / And a dash of Velcro.” The exuberant turkeys–Ollie, Stanley, Larry, Moe, Wally, Beaver and Groucho–catch the children up in raucous barnyard antics until the merriment is quelled by the sight of the ax.

Deeply touched by the turkeys’ plight, the children–who have grown mysteriously fatter and have feathers sticking out from under their clothes–board the bus to go back to the city. The next night, family silhouettes can be seen–each with a grateful turkey guest–as “They feasted on veggies / With jelly and toast.” This humorous, lighthearted story is adorned with bold, bright illustrations that convey a sense of wacky high-spiritedness sometimes lacking in traditional holiday fare. 

If you think this book is too young for your older elementary to middle school students, fear not. Last year was my second year teaching this particular book to middle schoolers, and both years, students enjoyed the picture book immensely. They loved relaxing for a couple of minutes, and they loved the comical storyline along with the charming illustrations. Plus, the students easily recognized the figurative language of similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia, and alliterations disbursed throughout that they most likely missed when they were younger.

Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving: After Reading

After reading, we revisit the concept of how a picture book can be a wonderful example of a long poem and we review the parts of poetry. The various parts we review are: lines, stanzas, form, rhyme, and meter. We then dive into the book and into the poem, The Night Before Christmas, finding examples that represent each of those parts. 

For example, we explore how, Twas The Night Before Thanksgiving and The Night Before Christmas have a rhythm of “Da Da DUM,” and “Da Da DUM.” 

Another instance of a poetry part we discussed is when certain syllables are stressed. This instance is called a meter. For instance, “As DRY leaves before the wild HURricane FLY. When they MEET with an OBStacle, mount to the SKY.”  We touch base on how the meter affects rhyme as well. 

We count the stanzas and lines. Lines make up the stanzas and the way the stanzas appear on paper is called form. The way the author, illustrator, and publisher work together to lay out the poem in a picture book is important in the way the poem is perceived by the readers. 

Next, we focus on the language of poetry: figurative language. We dive into examples of similes, metaphors, onomatopoeia, and alliteration from the two poems. Students find examples of all of the above from each of the two poems which helps reiterate the concept of what each figurative language term means. 

We have examples of these poetry parts and figurative language terms from Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving and The Night Before Christmas in a PowerPoint all laid out for you. CHECK IT OUT HERE.

Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving: Writing

Once students are familiar with the way the authors of both, The Night Before Christmas and Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving utilized the elements of poetry and figurative language, they then take their knowledge to write a sequel to The Night Before Christmas.

Please check out our FREE Poetry Challenge to use after the reading of Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving.

This mini-unit is perfect over two or even three language arts blocks, depending on how long you require your student’s sequel to be.

Explore Poetry with Picture Books

If you love the idea of exploring poetry by using picture books, here are a few suggestions we have for you that would be perfect for the holiday season.

The Hundred-Year Barn by Patricia MacLachlan

Publisher’s Synopsis: Newbery Medal-winning author Patricia MacLachlan’s poignant text and award-winning artist Kenard Pak’s gentle and rustic illustrations paint the picture of a beautiful red barn and the people who call it home. One hundred years ago, a little boy watched his family and community come together to build a grand red barn. This barn become his refuge and home—a place to play with friends and farm animals alike.

As seasons passed, the barn weathered many storms. The boy left and returned a young man, to help on the farm and to care for the barn again. The barn has stood for one hundred years, and it will stand for a hundred more: a symbol of peace, stability, caring and community. In this joyful celebration generations of family and their tender connection to the barn, Newbery Medal–winning author Patricia MacLachlan and award-winning artist Kenard Pak spin a tender and timeless story about the simple moments that make up a lifetime.

Sleep Tight Farm: A Farm Prepares for Winter by Eugenie Doyle

Publisher’s Synopsis: A captivating exploration of how a family gets a farm ready for the snow of winter, Sleep Tight Farm lyrically connects each growing season to the preparations at the very end of the farm year. This beautiful and informative book paints a fascinating picture of what winter means to the farm year and to the family that shares its seasons, from spring’s new growth, summer’s heat, and fall’s bounty to winter’s well-earned rest. All year long the farm has worked to shelter us, feed us, keep us warm, and now it’s time to sleep.

Home in the Woods by Eliza Wheeler

Publisher’s Synopsis: This stunningly beautiful picture book from New York Times bestselling author-illustrator Eliza Wheeler is based on her grandmother’s childhood and pays homage to a family’s fortitude as they discover the meaning of home. Eliza Wheeler’s gorgeously illustrated book tells the story of what happens when six-year-old Marvel, her seven siblings, and their mom must start all over again after their father has died.

Deep in the woods of Wisconsin they find a tar-paper shack. It doesn’t seem like much of a home, but they soon start seeing what it could be. During their first year it’s a struggle to maintain the shack and make sure they have enough to eat. But each season also brings its own delights and blessings–and the children always find a way to have fun. Most importantly, the family finds immense joy in being together, surrounded by nature. And slowly, their little shack starts feeling like a true home–warm, bright, and filled up with love.

Conclusion

Teaching and analyzing poetry can be a fun task if you employ picture books to help you break down those intimidating parts of a poem. By adding in figurative language, you are using mentor sentences in action to help your students practice similes, metaphors, and alliteration. Then, by using a synthesis activity of writing a sequel, you can hit so many standards in one. We highly recommend Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving, by Dav Pilkey as the perfect picture book to do all this just in time for Thanksgiving!

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