Banks of Plum Creek: 3—"Rushes and Flags" and 4—"Deep Water"

Teacher'sGuide Author: Agnes H. Meyer, Ruben P. Diaz Elementary School, Clark County School District, Nevada


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 3: Rushes and Flags--Each day after Mary and Laura finished their indoor chores they were able to go outside. They listened to the birds, played in the shallow water at the edge of the creek and enjoyed nature. They saw flags (flowers), rushes (plants), bees, minnows, and water bugs. The girls were allowed to play in the creek , but were told to never go upstream beyond the willow valley. Pa said he would take them there someday, but they must never go without him.

Chapter 4: One day Pa took them to the water hole which was upstream on the creek. The girls wore old patched dresses and played in the water. Laura kept going deeper into the water and splashing Mary. Something grabbed her foot and pulled her into the deep water. She was scared and could not find anything to grab hold of to right herself. When she came out of the water she saw Pa and realized her was the one who pulled her under water. He told her she deserved a ducking because she had not followed her mother's instructions to stay out of the deep water. When they headed home the girls climbed the tableland and then slid down to the lowlands. Pa made the girls promise that they would never go near the swimming hole without him.

Chapters' Themes: Nature on the prairies, prairies, water safety, settlers of the prairie lands, dugout houses.

Suggested Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Yesterday and Today
      • Mary and Laura went outside to play in the third chapter. Write a paragraph describing what you would do if you went outside to play. Write a second paragraph telling why your activities and their activities were different.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 6.0 Students write a variety of texts that inform, persuade, describe, evaluate, entertain, or tell a story and that are appropriate to audience and purpose.
        • (4) 4.4 A. compare text from different 1. cultures [PS/NS 4.4.4]
          2. time periods [PS/NS 4.4.4
        • (4) 4.5 A. use information to answer and generate specific questions [PS/NS .4.5] B. make connections to self, other text, and/or the world [PS/NS 4.4.5]
    • Diamante Poem
      • Students work in groups of 3-5. Each group will be given a copy of a diamante poem to review. Within the groups have students discuss the poem, especially the relationship between the first line and the last line. Students may want to use dictionaries to figure out unfamiliar words. Students are given a page with the format of a diamante poem on it.
      • Line 1: Winter = 1 NOUN-A
        Line 2: Rainy, cold = 2 ADJECTIVES-A
        Line 3: Skiing, skating, sledding = 3 GERUNDS-A (verb + -ing)
        Line 4: Mountains, wind, breeze, ocean = 2 NOUNS-A + 2 NOUNS-B
        Line 5: Swimming, surfing, scuba diving = 3 GERUNDS-B (verb + -ing)
        Line 6: Sunny, hot = 2 ADJECTIVES-B
        Line 7: Summer = 1 NOUN-B
      • In their groups students write a Diamante Poem describing the nature and or the prairie using the information in these two chapters and what they have learned in social studies and science.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (4) 3.6 A. identify words and phrases that reveal tone [PS/NS 3.4.6]
        • (4) 6.3 A. write poetry (e.g., acrostic, couplet, haiku, cinquain, free verse) [NS 6.4.3]
          B. become familiar with vocabulary related to poetry (e.g., line, stanza, verse, rhythm, rhyme)
          C. distinguish between poetry and prose
        • (4) 6.4 A. write responses to literary text that demonstrate an understanding of
          1. setting [PS/NS 6.4.4]
  • Mathematics
    • Pancakes
      • Pioneers came to the prairie from many different areas of the world. Many areas serve a type of pancake because it is filling, and inexpensive to prepare. Use the following basic recipe to make a pancake mix. 1 cup flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 1/2 tbsp. sugar, 1 egg, 3/4 cup milk and 3 tbsp oil. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a small bowl beat egg then add milk and oil to the egg. Blend wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Heat a little oi on a medium hot griddle and pour enough batter to make a 4-5 inch pancake. When edges begin to brown and bubbles appear on the top flip the pancake and cook on the other side. Serve with butter and maple syrup or honey. Have another group make pancakes with this same recipe except serve as Swedish pioneers did with berry jam and powdered sugar on top. Have a third group add more milk to the original batter and make a pancake that is thinner. These were called blinis by Russians and blintzes by Jewish settlers. Roll with a center mixture of cottage cheese and sugar, with a fruit sauce on top. Cut all the pancakes into bite sized pieces and have everyone do a taste test.
      • Standards Addressed
      • (4) D.6 identify, explain, and use mathematics in everyday life [NS D.3-5]
      • (4) 1.3 read and writes proper and improper fractions and mixed numbers
    • What is an acre?
      • The acre was originally the amount of land that could be plowed in a single day with an oxen. Today this measurement is used only in the United States and is used as a agricultural measure. A square plot of ground, 208.7 feet on a side, will cover an acre. An American football field, 360 feet by 160 feet, is about 1.3 acres; 12 high school basketball courts are a little more than 1 acre. Students will use what they already know about measurement to mark an area that is one acre in size. Using measurement tools available in their classroom, students will go outside to the play field and measure an area of approximately one acre.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (4)3.1 estimate and convert units of measure for length, area, and weight within the same measurement system (customary and metric) [NS 3.4.1]
        • (4)A.2 apply previous experience and knowledge to new problem solving situations
          [NS/PS A.3-5]
  • Social Studies
    • Where does this book take place?
      • During library students will find another book which tells about life on the prairie. They may use other books from the Little House series, or find a different book. They scan the book to find the location in which the story takes place. On a map of the United States they will mark the location of On the Banks of Plum Creek (Plum Creek, Minnesota) and the location from the other book on a Map of the United States. (Be sure to plan with librarian before giving this assignment.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (4)5.1 choose fiction and other kinds of literature to read and evaluate [NS 5.A.2];
          ELA/PS 3.4.7, 4.4.4
          a. recognize and read a variety of literature from various cultures
          b. compare the works of several award-winning authors and illustrators, including Caldecott, Newbery, NYRA, and other award-winning books]
        • (4)3.1 identify and use intermediate directions on a compass rose to locate places on a map[NS 1.4.1]
    • Show and Tell
      • Students will be asked to find additional information about the geography of the prairie and/or the states of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. They will find and print: a map of the above part of the United States, a picture of the prairie in the summer and another of the prairie in the winter.
      • Standards Addressed
      • Geography(4)3.3 gather geographic information from electronic sources [NS 7.4.2]
      • Library(4)8.3 locate appropriate information efficiently with the school’s computing and communications hardware, software, and networks [NS 8.C.2]; [ELA/PS 6.4.9]
  • Science
    • Rushes and Flags
      • Find a picture of rushes and find a picture of flags. Write a three to five sentence paragraph about EACH picture explaining what it looks like, where it is found, and what type of ecosystem in which it is usually found.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Science L2D Students understand that there are many kinds of living things on Earth.
        • Science L2B Students understand that living things have identifiable characteristics.
    • Waterbugs
      • Find information about a waterbug. In your science notebook write a minimum of 3 paragraphs telling why it is probably shaped the way it is shaped, where it lives, and describe its ecosystem. Draw a labeled diagram of a waterbug in your journal.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (4)1.1 generate investigable questions based on observations and interactions with objects, organisms, and phenomena [N5A5]
        • (4)1.2 use science notebook entries to develop, communicate, and justify descriptions, explanations, and predictions [N5A1; N5A3; N5A4; N5A7]
        • (4)1.3 create and use labeled illustrations, graphs (number lines, pictographs, bar graphs, frequency tables), and charts to convey ideas, record observations, and make predictions [N5A1; N5A4; N5A7]

Historical Overview of Chapter Themes

The wagon that many pioneers used to help them travel across the United States in the 19th century was called a prairie schooner. American pioneer families used these wagons to carry their food and household goods as they traveled across the prairies and mountains to reach lands in the “West”. A white canvas cloth usually covered the wagons. The wagons looked like ocean schooners so they became known as prairie schooners. Wagons covered with white canvas were used in the Eastern United States as freight transports. Many of these freight haulers were Conestoga Wagons. Conestoga Wagons were named for the Conestoga Valley in Pennsylvania were they were made. The prairie schooner was a lighter version of those covered wagons and was drawn by two or four horses or oxen instead of the six-horse teams needed for the heavier wagons used to carry freight.

The prairie schooner was made from a farm wagon with a canvas top. Wooden arches called bows supported the canvas top. Oval-shaped openings were left in the front and rear to allow sun and air to enter the interior where passengers traveled and goods were stored. Often the schooners carried up to 2,500 pounds of supplies and keepsakes.

In the late 1800s pioneers settled the Great Plains of America with dreams of turning the grasslands into farmlands. These farmers had to fill their wagons with enough food to survive the journey, seed to plant the first year, weapons, farm tools, household supplies, bedding, and some furniture for their new homes. The oxen used to pull the wagons often were used to pull the plow of the for the farmers when they settled down.

Additional Resources


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.


Judy Ingham said...

Agnes, your students must love doing the measurement activities! They are designed to keep them engaged while applying their mathematical skills. By having students actually measure the size of an acre, you have made learning come alive for them. Your recipes look delicious. I might suggest that after the students do their taste test, they graph their results and analyze them. Great Job!

RJ Mallien said...

The poem is a great addition to the writing unit that you were planning to do to. My heart is that it brings poetry to such a classic book and lets students experience the book in another genre. My wish is the the poetry section had roles broken down for ELL or SPED students (color, recopy it). Another heart, the links you added are terrific!

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

I like the idea f the diamante poem--it brings in peotry as well as grammar while teaching history. You get a lot of content with a seemingly simple activity.

Food in the classroom is always a big hit. You "Pancakes" activity is wonderful because in addition to the history and the math, you bring in cultural appreciation. You might want to follow-up this activity with a family culture night. Have every student bring in a traditional dish from his/her ancestral nationality and identify these locations on a map.

I didn't know an acre was the amount of land oxen could plow in a day! What a good piece of information for the next Jeopardy challenge! Having students actually plot an entire acre is a great idea to reinforce the size of an acre while showing how much work was involved in farming the prairie.

I like that you find ways to have students reinforce their social studies learning when in special classrooms such as the library. By having them map prairie locations from the books, students will be able to draw conclusions about the location of prairies without you having to tell them. What a great example of constructivist teaching.