Banks of Plum Creek: 32—"Grasshoppers Walking" and 33—"Wheels of Fire"

Teacher's Guide Author: Pam Foster, 3rd grade teacher, Rose Warren 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: Chapter 32 begins with the coming of Spring and then the hot summer. Pa returns at dinnertime to tell the family that the grasshoppers are hatching. The grasshoppers were so little and tiny coming out of their eggs. Soon they would turn to big, ugly grasshoppers. The grasshoppers ate everything green that grew on the prairie. Ma was sick with the sounds of the chewing and gnawing. Finally, one day the grasshoppers started walking west. They walked for four days straight. On day four, they all flew away. All the grasshoppers were gone!

In chapter 33, Pa has to leave to find work in the east where there was wheat to harvest since all his wheat was gone due to the grasshoppers. While he was gone, dried out tumbleweeds (wheels of fire) caught fire and began rolling towards the Ingalls haystacks to feed the animals. Mr. Nelson, a neighbor, came and helped the girls and Ma put out the fires. Ma was so grateful to have such a great neighbor.
Chapters' Themes: The themes in chapters 32 &33 were: Man vs. Nature, life cycles of grasshoppers, helping a neighbor, working together, women taking care of the family, women taking care of the farm, women protecting their families, depression, infestation of insects, devastation, leaving to find work, and survival.
Suggested Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Character Journal
      • After reading chapter 32, students will write a journal entry on a blank piece of paper. On their paper, students will choose a character from the chapter (Ma, Pa, Mary, or Laura) and write as if they were that character. They will date their paper with a date that corresponds to that historical period. They will write about the events from chapter 32 according to their chosen character's perspective.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 5.3.4 Write responses to literature, drawing upon experiences. (Journal entries)
        • 3.3.2 It is expected that students will make inferences and draw conclusions about a character based on evidence.
        • 3.4.3 It is expected that students will identify what the character wants and the solution.

    • Grasshopper Research Paper
      • Students will research grasshoppers using the computer, library books, and reference books. They will write a three paragraph paper on grasshoppers using the information they found. Included in their paper will be a description of the grasshopper (what it looks like), what they eat, and where they live. They will also describe the life cycle of a grasshopper.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 5.3.1 Locate and use at least three sources to write an information paper. (Research paper on grasshoppers)
        • 11.3.2 Use library resources, media, and technology to find information on a topic. (Research grasshoppers)
        • 11.3.3 Organize and record information from print and non-print resources. (Research paper on grasshoppers)
  • Mathematics
    • Graphing Grasshoppers
      • Students will come up with a question about the grasshoppers that hatched that particular year in chapter 32. Students will then come up with data to answer their question they posed. Students will create a pictograph and a bar graph to represent their data.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 5.3.1 Pose questions that can be used to guide data collection, organization, and representation.
        • 5.3.1 Use graphical representations, including number lines, frequency tables, and pictographs to represent data.
    • Story Problems
      • Students will make up three story problems based on chapters 32 & 33 of the book and include the characters from these chapters. These problems will deal with two and three digit numbers. At least one problem must be a subtraction problem, one a multiplication problem and the third must be a multi-step problem involving at least two different computation strategies.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Problem Solving A: Students will develop their ability to solve problems by engaging in developmentally appropriate opportunities where there is a need to use various approaches to investigate and understand mathematical concepts. Students will do this in order to formulate their own problems, apply previous experiences and knowledge to new problems, explain and verify results, try more than one strategy in problem solving, and use technology, including calculators to develop mathematical concepts.
  • Social Studies
    • Map of the farm
      • Students will create a map of what they think the Ingalls' farm looks like. They will label all areas on the map and show how the family gets from one structure to the other on the farm. They must include all information they have learned about the farm from these chapters as well as previous chapters read. They must include a compass rose and a simple map key.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.3.22 It is expected that students will draw a simple map that illustrates how to get from one location to another [NS 4.3.2]
    • Natural hazards on the prairie
      • Students will use the internet to research natural hazards that the settlers faced while living on the prairie during the 1800's. Students will create a venn diagram and compare and contrast two of these hazards. They can use animals as one of the hazards (grasshoppers eating all the wheat) and choose another to compare. Students must include two facts in each section of the venn diagram.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.3.17 It is expected that students will identify various natural hazards [NS 4.3.1]
        • 3.3.32 It is expected that students will describe ways humans depend on natural resources [NS 5.3.6]
  • Science
    • Life cycles of insects
      • Students will use their research on the life cycles of grasshoppers from the above language arts activity. They will also research a second insect. They will create a double bubble map showing three ways they are the same and three ways each are different from each other focusing on life cycles.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.4.1 Life science: It is expected that students will investigate and describe ways that offspring may resemble and differ from parents and siblings may resemble and differ from each other. [L5A1; L5A3; L5A4]
        • 3.4.2 Life science: It is expected that students will investigate, compare, and contrast life cycles of various living things [L5B2]
    • Human/Insect Interaction
      • Using research from grasshoppers, students will create a two tab book which illustrates how humans and insects interact together in the same ecosystem. One tab will focus on how humans react to insects in their environment on the prairie and the second will focus on how insects interact with humans. Each tab will be written from the perspective of that particular species. Students can include pictures to help illustrate the interactions.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.4.3 Life science: It is expected that students will investigate and describe the interactions of organisms with each other and their ecosystem [L5C2]

Historical Overview of Chapter Themes

One theme prevalent in chapter 32 is the grasshopper swarm. This was a theme in a couple different chapters in this book. Here is some background information on grasshoppers and grasshopper swarms.

There are about 9,000 species of grasshoppers. They have long slender bodies, wings, strong hind legs for jumping, and strong jaws for chewing. They are about 1-10 cm. in length. Some species fly and some do not.
Most grasshoppers are plant eaters. They feed on mainly wheat, barley, corn, rye, and oats. Some are a serious threat to crops. A few horned grasshoppers are meat eaters. Some even turn to cannibalism.
Grasshoppers mate in the fall. At this time, females lay their eggs in the ground or on plants. Females produce 100-200 eggs, but can produce up to 500 eggs. The females choose the site to lay their eggs by the soil temperature, soil texture, vegetation conditions and moisture levels.
The eggs hatch in early spring. These newly hatched grasshoppers are similar to adults, yet they are smaller and have no wings.
Most grasshoppers are harmless and do no extensive damage to the surrounding vegetation. Their behavior changes are related to weather, food availability and mating. Many eggs are laid in the same location and food can be eaten quickly. Drought conditions make grasshoppers move to a new location. They move by walking or flying.
Farmers dread swarms of grasshoppers. Only certain species form swarms. Large numbers swarm together and fly at the same time. They descend on the crops and destroy them. They do this during times of dry weather and blow in the direction of the wind.
Swarms of grasshoppers have been reported to move 66 miles a day and 200-300 miles from where they began. Swarms are known to land and fly many times and cause much damage to crops. They decide to stop flying and lay eggs when the temperature drops or the sun goes behind the clouds. When these eggs hatch, these new grasshoppers are more likely to form swarms than the grasshoppers not born to those in a swarm.
Swarms have not been a problem since 1940. It is thought that this is due to the use of pesticides. Grasshoppers were known to attack many crops in the 1800’s like the Ingalls’ farm. This was a big problem because they relied on their crops to survive. This has happened to many people throughout time.

A historical theme in chapter 33 is the fact that women were left alone to take care of the farm and the home while the men went out to find ways to support the family. As Riley states in A Place to Grow, women were not thought of as important during this time in history. Yet, as in the Little House books, the women were often left to take care of the farm while the men were gone for long periods of time.
The women not only worked in the home caring for their family, but they also worked on the farm. They did many jobs that were normally considered "man's work." They sold farm items to help support the family. They baked and made items that they could sell. Farm women worked very hard. Historians sometimes describe women as wearing sunbonnets and sitting in the front of the wagon. They forget to include all the work the women did to help the family and the farm. Women were perceived as taken care of by their men. This is very far from the truth. Women of this time died before their time. Many sources in recent times have pointed out the truths to the women of this particular time. The women accepted the challenges and held the family together.
Women of this time also had a hard time accepting rights when they were given to women. Some women ignored the right to vote. Women have come a long way to gain the respect they have not been given in the past. The women of the prairie, similar to those in the Little House books helped pave the way for women today.

Additional Resources

  • ethemes by Curators of the University of Missouri: Students and teachers can use the many links on this page to find historical information to go along with On the Banks of Plum Creek. There is a biography, map where the dugout house was located, facts on grasshoppers, and more.
  • Literature lesson plans by This site has links to many resources to go along with all the Little House books. Some of the resources are free material and some are not.
  • Little House Lesson Plan by A homeschooling family in Minnesota: This site has many links to the history behind the Ingalls family. There are many lesson ideas and teaching information. There are also links to lessons on all the Little House books.
  • On the Banks of Plum Creek by Elizabeth Neumann: This site has links to the chapter themes in the book and includes pictures of grasshopper damage to crops.


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.


lpeckham said...

I really liked your blog! I thought that your historical overview and information provided was great especially because many of your activities involve grasshoppers. One extension idea that I thought about was create or find a webquest on grasshoppers to make research easier for students. I wish you would have included more in the "Natural Hazards" lesson. Maybe include a list of natural hazards so students have a direction of where to start. Overall your blog was great! I enjoyed viewing it.

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

Too often, elementary teachers forget to teach geography and mapping skills (even though it's in the state standards). Your "Map of the Farm" activity is a great way to reinforce those skills. For a fun extension, have students play "The Farming Game" (

For the "Grasshopper Research Paper," perhaps you could have students work collaboratively to create a classroom book about grasshoppers. You could extend this with your "Natural Hazards on the Prairie" activity. How about having students use PowerPoint for the "Natural Hazards on the Prairie" exercise -- that way, they could bring in lots of visual primary sources.

Gotta love those foldables ("Human/Insect Interaction)!