Chapter 7: The Sugar Snow

Teacher's Guide Chapter Author: Monica Modesitt, 4th grade teacher, McMillan Elementary School, Clark County School District

Chapter Overview: Looking out the window, Laura spies a patch of snow-free ground. She asks her Ma if she can go outside. Ma tells Laura to wait until tomorrow. When Laura wakes up the next morning, fresh snow has fallen. Pa tells her that it’s sugar snow. He explains how Grandpa gets sap from the trees to make maple sugar. Pa tells Laura that they’ll be going to Grandpa’s for a sugar off and a dance.

Chapter Themes: Family and Community, Making Maple Sugar, Trading Posts, Fur Trade, Male and Female Responsibilities, Temperature Changes, Tree Life Cycles and Anatomy, Clothes of the Era

Chapter Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Activity Idea 1: Sap Sequence
      • Description: Students will sequence, illustrate, and write, in an accordion foldable, the steps Grandpa completes to get sap from the maple trees.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Standard 1: 2.4.3 Apply strategies of summarizing, paraphrasing, and drawing conclusions to aid comprehension.
        • Standard 2: 6.4.2 Organize ideas through activities that require sequencing and classifying skills.
    • Activity Idea 2 Title: Formal Invitation
      • Description: Students will compose a formal invitation inviting guests to attend Grandpa’s dance.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Standard 1: 5.4.2 Write well-organized friendly and formal letters.
        • Standard 2: 7.4.4 Use rules of capitalization.
  • Mathematics
    • Activity Idea 1 Title: Recipe for Maple Chipotle Barbecue Sauce
      • Description: The teacher will provide the students with the recipe in which the original conversions were converted to the smallest unit. Then, using a conversion table, the students will convert teaspoons to tablespoons, ounces to cups. A link to different maple syrup recipes is provided. (
      • Standards Addressed
        • Standard 1: Estimate and convert units of measure for length, area, and weight within the same measurement system (customary and metric).
        • Standard 2: 1.4.7 Multiply and divide multi-digit numbers by a one-digit whole number with regrouping
    • Activity Idea 2 Title: Weather Analysis
      • Description: Using the internet, students will research the temperatures in Wisconsin mid-February to late March. Then, students will plot those temperatures on a line plot.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Standard 1: Organize and represent data using a variety of graphical representations including frequency tables and line plots.
        • Standard 2: Mathematical Communication B; Students will develop their ability to communicate mathematically by solving problems where there is a need to obtain information from the real world through reading, listening, and observing.
  • Social Studies
    • Activity Idea 1 Title: Trading Post
      • Description: Grandpa makes lots of maple sugar so that when he goes to town he will not have to trade his furs for sugar. The teacher will initiate a discussion by asking students, “What kind of goods were at the trading post?’ In groups, the students will discuss this and list the items that they think are important to a trading post. Students will compare their lists with a teacher provided 1883 list, such as: flour $5.50/100 lbs, sugar $0.25 lb, coffee $0.25 lb, black calico $0.10 yard, pink calico $0.10 yard, wool hat $1.00, Stetson hat $4.50. Then students will discuss why these goods were important. Using a bubble map, students will discuss the qualities of a person who runs a trading post. (
      • Standards Addressed
        • Standard 1: 4.2.7 Describe the characteristics of an entrepreneur
        • Standard 2: 4.2.10 Describe how the exchange of goods and services creates interdependence among people
    • Activity Idea 2 Title: Primary Source Documents
  • Science
    • Activity Idea 1 Title: From Ice to Water
      • Description: Laura put her tongue on snow that was on Pa’s shirt. Give students shaved ice. Have them make predictions regarding what will happen when the ice is placed on their tongues. Have them put it on their tongues. Have them describe what happens. Pose a question—what caused the ice to melt? Make sure students document predictions, observations, and questions in their science notebooks.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Standard 1: Science Inquiry N.5.A.1; Explain how science notebook entries can be used to develop, communicate, and justify explanations and predictions
        • Standard 2: Physical Science P.5.A.2 Explain that water can be a liquid, a gas, or a solid and can go back and forth from one form to another
    • Activity Idea 2 Title: Sugar House Tour
      • Description: Take a virtual tour of Lamothe’s Sugar House. Using a Venn Diagram, students will compare/contrast Grandpa’s way with the Lamothe’s way. Using a T-chart, students will list advantages and disadvantages of technology. Students will invent something that will make their lives easier. (
      • Standards Addressed
        • Standard 1: N.5.B.1 Explain that many people have contributed to scientific knowledge and invention.
        • Standard 2: N.5.B.2 Describe the advantages and disadvantages of using technology.

Historical Overview of Chapter Themes

The Ingalls weren’t the first people to tap the maple trees for syrup. The settlers learned sugarmaking through a cultural exchange with the American Indians. The Anishnabeg people had a month called the Boiling Month. The month was devoted to retrieving sap and making sugar. They used sugar to season their food and drinks.

Nodinens says, “When we got to the sugar bush we took the birch-bark dishes out of storage and the women began tapping the trees.” Maple Sugar – Boiling Month Women secured taps and spiles, which are sharpened elderberry stems, to the maple trees. The taps and spiles were placed on the sunny side of the tree 3 inches deep and 3 inches above the roots. Originally women used birch containers to retrieve the sap. However, after contact with Anglos the women used tin pails. Nodinens says, “Everyone was kept busy running pails of sap to the boilers all day. Taps were in about 2,000 trees for six families.” (Maple Sugar – Boiling Month). Typically, there would be several taps in 900 trees. Today, that is no longer possible, because there are not enough maple trees left. Two thousand trees in a forest. This gives new meaning to Little House in the Big Woods.

Two types of sugar were made from the sap. Hard sugar is licked and eaten like candy. Thick syrup was scooped out before it grained and poured onto snow or ice. This produced sugar cake. Sometimes the thick syrup was poured into different mold designs, such as stars and animal shapes. Sugar cakes were often given as gifts. Warm sugar was granulated sugar. Deer tallow was placed into the syrup. When it boiled down the sugar would grain. It was then poured in a sugaring trough, which was a hollowed out log. It was stirred until it became granulated. It was poured into birch containers and used for seasoning, much like we use sugar today.

In Riley’s book she discusses the relationship between women and work. Women were vital to the family’s survival. Their homes were like factories. They made butter, cheese, sugar, clothes, candles, and soap. The men hunted for food and for pelts. The settler male and female roles are similar to the male and female roles of the Anishnabeg people. While the Anishnabeg women were sugarmaking, the men were spearing fish at a nearby lake.

Little House in the Big Woods documents the cooperation that is necessary in areas of new development. Whereas, in the world we live in, there is near instant access to everything we could need or want, in the Ingalls’ lives they could only produce limited items, it was through communication and cooperation with their small community that enabled them to survive. Specialization begins quickly in these small frontier environments, and this specialization allows for better focus and prosperity of the community.

Additional Resources


Shana Prue said...

I liked the temperature activity a lot in math. I actually have a similar activity in my own blog. I don't think children get enough experience reading thermometers and that really throws them when they are asked to read them on tests and the like. I also really liked the sequence activity of
getting the sap from trees and turning it into sugar. I think i would have put it under social studies and maybe have them sequence the actual chapter they have read for language arts but I think kids need lots of experience with sequencing. Great blog!

Shana Prue
5th grade Teacher
Bendorf Elementary School

Christy G. Keeler, Ph.D. said...


Excellent ideas, links, and suggested use of primary sources (e.g., the pictures).

Consider adding additional economics concepts to this lesson. You could have students compare prices in the 1800s to today (there are calculators online and available for handhelds that allow students to easily do this). You might also have students record what staple foods they have in their home pantries and compare this to what the Ingalls family had. Postulate whether and how our staples change throughout the year and how they changed for early settlers.