Banks of Plum Creek: 18—"The Old Crab and the Bloodsuckers" and 19—"The Fish-Trap"

Teacher's Guide Author: Jessica Graham, 3rd grade teacher, John Tartan Elementary School, Clark County School District


This teachers' guide is one of a series including activities for all chapters of On the Banks of Plum Creek. Additional teacher's guides are available for other Little House books as well as other books addressing the topic of U.S. westward migration.


Chapter Overviews: Chapters 18 and 19 focus on Laura, and her love of adventure. Laura is a young, curious girl. She and her sister, Mary, are exploring the little creek that runs near their house. While Mary stays on or near the bank, Laura decided to venture into the dark water underneath the Plum Trees. When she returns to her sister, dark spots cover her legs and feet. Leaches! Later, Laura returns to the creek after helping her father to make a fish trap. She is curious about this trap, because it is open on the top and she feels the fish should be able to swim right back out. Her father places the trap underneath a waterfall and explains how the pressure of the water keeps the fish from swimming back out. Both girls learn that they will begin attending school, and Laura resists the notion claiming she could not bear to part with her daily visits to the creek.

Chapters' Themes: Curiosity, Plum Creek, respect for parents, using nature, self independence

Suggested Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Diagram of a Leech
      • Laura told Pa "about those mud-brown things without eyes or head or legs, that had fastened to her skin in the creek." Students will use the internet to conduct basic research on leeches, and use that information to label the following parts of a leech: anterior end, posterior end, eyes, and suckers.
      • Standards Addressed
        • NS 4.3.1 identify the purpose of and gain information from diagrams
        • NS 1.3.4 comprehend, build, and extend vocabulary
        • NS 1.3.4 use resources to find and/or confirm meaning of unknown words encountered in text
    • Short Narrative
      • "No, Laura," Pa said. " I don't want you to go back to that creek, where the dark, deep holes are." Pa told her not to go, but Laura went anyway and got leeches stuck all over her. Students will think about a time their parents asked them not to do something, but they did it anyway. Then the students will write about that experience, and tell what happened to them as a result of their disobedience.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 5.2 Draft paragraphs about a single topic that address audience and purpose with an introduction, supporting details, and a conclusion
        • 5.7 Prepare a legible final draft to display or share
        • 6.2 Write narrative/descriptive paragraphs appropriate to audience and purpose with a logical sequence, characters, and setting
  • Mathematics
    • Create a Table
      • Students will create a table to record data on their leeches, such as the length and weight of all the leeches. Then, using the data in their table, students can calculate average, mean, median, and mode of either length or weight.
      • Standards Addressed
        • NS 5.1 Pose questions that can be used to guide data collection, organization, and representation
        • NS B. 3-5 Use inquiry techniques (discussion, questioning, research, and data gathering) to solve mathematical problems
    • Cipher

      • "I know, little half-pint," said Pa, "but it isn't everybody that gets a chance to learn to read and write and cipher." Students will learn the vocabulary word 'cipher.' Then, the students will sit in rows with little chalk boards (slates) and practice some basic ciphers.
      • Standards Addressed
        • NS 1.3.5 immediately recall and use addition and subtraction facts
        • NS D. 3-5 identify, explain, and use mathematics in everyday life
  • Social Studies
    • Bonnets
      • "Her bonnet slid back and hung by its strings around her neck..." Students will brainstorm in small groups what a bonnet is, what time period it represents, and what it is used for. The whole group will discuss predictions. A Venn Diagram can be used to organize findings.
      • Standards Addressed
        • NS 6.3.17 describe the lives of pioneers from diverse groups
        • NS 6.3.1 use visual clues to determine when and where an event took place in the past
    • Gone Fishing
      • "Every day there was fish for breakfast and fish for dinner and fish for supper." Students will converse with peers in a small group about this quote in terms of the effect on the environment and the positive and negative aspects of this fishing for the family.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 5.0 Students understand the effects of interactions between human and physical systems and the changes in use, distribution, and importance of resources
        • 5.3.6 Describe ways humans depend on natural resources
  • Science
    • Im sick! Give me some leeches!
      • After reviewing the diagram of a leech done in Language Arts, students will brainstorm a list of ways they think leeches might be used for medicinal purposes and how they came to that conclusion. Teacher will eventually lead them to discuss the mouth, the special saliva leeches have which aid in healing wounds, and the fact that leeches only eat bad tissue which leaves only healthy tissue behind.
      • Standards Addressed
        • N5A Students understand that science involves asking and answering questions and comparing the answers to what scientists know about the world
        • L5B Students understand that living things have specialized structures that perform a variety of life functions
    • Life Cycle of a Leech
      • Students will study the life cycle of a leech and then compare/contrast it to the life cycle of humans using a Venn Diagram.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 4.2 Compare and contrast the life cycles of living things
        • 4.7 Classify plants and animals according to their observable characteristics

Historical Overview of Chapter Themes

In the time of Laura Ingalls Wilder, people were much more dependent on themselves and nature to survive. They could not simply drive to a fast food restaurant (or grocery store) to pick up dinner, or go shopping at the nearest mall for clothing. This video clip from an episode of "Little House on the Prairie" will give students an idea of what the outside of a mercantile looked like. This video clip shows the inside of a mercantile.

Video clips from this series can be extremely helpful for visual and auditory learners. There are episodes which show Caroline and Mary Ingalls sewing their own dresses, churning butter, making candle, etc. There are episodes that depict Charles Ingalls milking cows, hunting/fishing, etc. all of which show how dependent they were on nature to provide for them.

Additional Resources

  • Bloody Suckers by This website gives more details on leeches, including pictures of leeches and a leech stuck to a man's arm.
  • Leeches by Australian Museum Online: This website offers some information on leeches for the Social Studies lesson.
  • Venn Diagram Chart by Microsoft Office Online: This website offers a blank Venn Diagram to use in either the Bonnet or Life Cycle of a Leech lesson plans.
  • Eye in the Sky-Human Impact by National Geographic: This website shows videos of how humans directly impact the environment. It's good because it makes the link between humans and the environment much less vague. Students will be able to actually see damage being done.


Note: This teacher's guide was developed as part of one of the Clark County School District's Teaching American History grants. In this grant module, teachers focused on using children's historical literature to teach cross-curricular concepts relating to 19th century westward movement. For more information about this blog, related teacher's guides, or the grant module, please contact Dr. Christy Keeler


Suzanne Hill said...

I really like how you added quotes from the story to your activities. Your activities are right on base. I like the ones about the leeches. The video clip you added on your theme overview went well with it. For some reason your hyperlinks are not showing up as links. If you want to fix them I think you can go to edit and highlight links and turn them into hyperlinks on the page. Great job on this. I am definitely going to have a ton of new activities for my classroom by the time I am done reading everyones.

Marie Dattero said...

I really enjoyed reading your blog. Your activities are hands on an appealing to students. I really liked the way you made accomodations for all types of learners. All of your hyperlinks weren't activated. The suggestion above explains how to create your hyperlinks. Great Job!

Janet C. Lowe said...

That's funny that you should be the leech activity in. We were talking about that very subject today and I was thinking how I could incorporate it into one of my science/literature units. Thank you for the ideas and the great hyperlinks.

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

I really like how you took a common theme (leeches) and used it as the basis for most of your activities. This is a great example of thematic teaching. If you selected a theme from each chapter of the book, you could have an entire month of cross-curricular activities that would be relevant within the real world while teaching all of your required curricular objectives. Bravo!

I'm surprised you placed "Diagram of a Leech" in the language arts section instead of math. Certainly, the research component qualifies as language arts, but I was expecting a related writing assignment. This is a perfect example of integrated teaching -- using science as a pivotal subject to teach and reinforce language arts skills.

For the "Short Narrative" activity, I recommend you invite the school counselor to participate. Be sure to teach students the difference between natural consequences and parental disciplinary actions. I worry that some children may report abusive parental behaviors and it would be very helpful to have the counselor there to follow-through with legal and counseling needs.

I like the idea of the "Bonnet" activity, but am not sure how predictions fit into the lesson. Could you be a bit more explicit here? Also, how about having parents come in and help students measure and make bonnets using hand sewing techniques?