Banks of Plum Creek: 40—"The Fourth Day" and 41—"Christmas Eve"

Teacher's Guide Author: Angelica Terranova, 4th grade teacher, Rose Warren Empowerment ES,
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: Post 1812 women had a moral duty to teach and impact spiritual values in the family and Caroline Ingalls insisted on keeping the family local to towns with churches and schools. While many settlers traveled westward for better opportunities and the Ingalls family was limited to settled towns. From 1865 through 1875, the family packed their covered wagon and moved 10 times.
In 1874 when the Ingalls family moved to a small farm in Walnut Grove, Minnesota where they made their home in a previously lived in “dugout”. Laura describes the difficult days of living on the banks of Plum Creek. After tending their crops disaster struck as grasshoppers devastated their wheat crop for two years. Then nature continued challenging the family with prairie fires and blizzards. Somehow through it all the family remains strong and positive despite the struggles of living on the prairie.

Chapters' Themes: Rural life in 1870's, character development, daily chores and responsibilities, early American toys and dolls, prairie fires, transportation, farming, music, weather, snow, and survival.

Suggested Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Acts of Kindness
      • After reading the final chapter discuss where Laura writes, “There would be no presents and no candy, but Laura could not think of anything she wanted and she was so glad that the Christmas candy had helped to bring Pa safe home again.” Discuss what motivated Laura’s thoughts? What does this say about her personality?
      • Have student’s record themselves (cassette and/ or podcast) reading picture books. Send the tape and a book to a children’s hospital for patients to use or create a 21st Century version How to Make a Podcast or Christy Keeler’s Audacity Basics tutorial.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Describe physical and personality traits of characters. Describe the motivation for a character’s actions; make inferences and draw conclusions about a character(s) based on evidence. [3.2]
        • Use public speaking techniques to deliver presentations; communicate information by maintaining a clear focus, following a logical sequence, and illustrating information. [8.3]
        • Apply knowledge of high frequency words in text to build fluency and comprehension; read silently and/or aloud fluently.
    • Kindness Journal
      • Create a Kindness (reflective) Journal and write an entry on thoughts and feelings after doing something selfless, conduct Ordered Share circle. template

      • Put a large blank banner in the entryway to the school and invite all students, teachers, administrators, parents and other community members to write their kindness stories on it. Students can then present the finished banner to the principal, display it at a library, or post it in the classroom as a reminder of the positive effect that kindness has on people.

      • Standards Addressed
        • Describe physical and personality traits of characters. Describe the motivation for a character’s actions; make inferences and draw conclusions about a character(s) based on evidence. [3.2]
        • Write responses to literary text that demonstrate an understanding of setting, character development, and motivation. [6.4]

        • Listen for a variety of purposes: gaining information, being entertained … [7.1]

        • Listen to provide constructive feedback. [7.3]

  • Mathematics
    • Are We There Yet?
      • The Ingall's children didn't attend school until they were 7 & 9 years old due to extensive traveling. Demonstrate use of Mapquest to establish distance the Ingall's family traveled to get to their new home in Walnut Grove. Students will need a copy of Ingall's family timeline to determine starting location (Pepin, WI). Ingall's moved to the banks of Plum Creek, Walnut Grove, MN in 1874.
      • Estimate, map, and calculate the miles the family traveled using the following table. Compare mileage to wagon travel; calculate the time it would take to travel from Pepin, WI to Walnut Grove, MN.
      • What activities do you do in the car when traveling great distances? Have students predict how long it would take to travel by covered wagon. What do you think Laura and Mary did to pass the time while traveling?
        • Total estimated time: 4 hours 7 minutes, distance: 219.38 miles
        • Travel by horse 10 miles per hour
        • Wagon 10-14 miles per day
        • Walking 16 miles per day
        • Car 450 miles per day
      • Ingall's family travel map
      • Ingall's family timeline
      • Standards Addressed
        • Measure, compare, and convert length in inches, feet, yards, and miles to the nearest fractional part [3.3]
        • Estimate and convert units of measure for length, customary [3.1]
        • Apply previous experience and knowledge to new problem solving situations [A.2]
    • The Coldest Winter Ever?
    • Laura discusses the severity of the winters in Walnut Grove, Minnesota and how Pa was lost in a blizzard for 3-days returning home on Christmas Eve. Using weather on the web and/ or library reference material, analyze snowfall data through the years. Group students and research wintery weather. After students gather information, discuss, graph, and display data. How does this compare to the average Christmas temperature in your area? First, scroll to the appropriate year, then view, and at the bottom of the daily summary hit Seasonal Weather Averages for yearly graphs. Another option: chart weather for the month of December and discuss findings.
    • Sci - Explain how science notebook entries can be used to develop and communicate [N.5.A.1]
    • Sci - Draw conclusions from scientific evidence [N.5.A.3]
    • Sci - Analyze from labeled illustrations and graphic representations [N.5.A.4]
    • Math - Analyze, describe, create, and extend patterns using appropriate tables. [2.1]
    • Math - Organize and represent data using a variety of graphical representations including frequency tables. [5.1]
    • Math - Interpret data and make predictions using frequency tables [5.3]

  • Social Studies
    • Covered Wagon
      • To further demonstrate the traveling difficulties the Ingall's family endured. Recreate a covered wagon using cardboard boxes or for space/time issues tape off a section of the floor to represent the wagon area. Use boxes or available materials to represent supply items which reduce area. Can use put together boxes to take up space to represent supplies stocked. Students pretend to be family members traveling in pioneer days. 
      • Measure and convert inches to feet to sketch plan of wagon and carrying out of actual sizing. While discovering the need for measurement lead students to discussing the need for fractions of whole numbers.
      • Depending on time teacher can carry this out further with researching supplies needed for such a difficult journey. Pioneers evaluate necessary supplies keeping below the 2,000 pound limit. Group students as pioneer families and as a group determine what supplies will be loaded and which will be left behind. Share findings.
      • Have students generate and solve story problems regarding situations fitting the activity. 
      • Standards Addressed
        • Generalize solutions and strategies to new problem situations [A.6]
        • Interpret and solve a variety of mathematical problems by paraphrasing, identifying necessary and extraneous information and ensuring the answer is reasonable [A.7]
        • Measure length and area to a required degree of accuracy in customary and metric systems. [3.2]
        • Measure, compare, and convert length in inches, feet, and yards to the nearest fractional part. [3.3]
        • Describe the need for fractions and their relationship to whole numbers and decimals. [1.5]
        • Add and subtract multi-digit numbers [1.7]
        • Generate and solve addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems using whole numbers in practical situations. [1.24]
    • Yesterday and Today
      • Nellie invited Laura and Mary to a party at the Olsen home. The girls were surprised to see the kind and quality of Nellie and Willy's toys. Are any of the toys from the pioneer days still used today? Students survey 3rd -5th graders on their favorite toys. Using primary literature, library, and web, research and compare toys and games of 1874 and today. Students may select method of their choosing to demonstrate their findings; ie. creative by hand project or technological.
      • Christmas celebrations vary through the ages and cultures. The Ingalls family was grateful for Pa’s return home after being lost in a blizzard for 3 days. This year Laura wasn’t going to get her Christmas surprise in the traditional sense, she was elated the crackers and candy kept her Pa alive. How do you celebrate the winter holidays? Students will research and compare major multicultural December holiday celebrations using a layered curriculum activity plan. Depending on the layer, students will respond and illustrate to their chosen level. Challenge students to use primary sources, reference material, and Web sites to learn about the major December holiday celebrations.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Listen for a variety of purposes: gaining information, being entertained, and understanding directions. [7.1]
        • Edit for correct word usage: nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, subject/verb agreement, verb tenses, pronoun/
          antecedent agreement, clauses, and phrases. [5.5]
        • Compare text from different cultures and time periods. [4.4]
  • Science, Mathematics, Writing
    • Weather, Making a Barometer
      • Pa gets weather information from townsfolk. Discuss possible methods with students, remind them they didn't have a television, radio, or internet to help predict weather. One method may have been the use of a barometer.
      • A barometer is commonly used for weather prediction, as high air pressure in a region indicates fair weather while low pressure indicates that storms are more likely. Make a Barometer.
      • Record weather observations and barometer readings daily in science journal, graph, and when sufficient observations have been recorded students can make predictions, compare and contrast to local weather data.

      • To further connect to the literature, compare and contrast weather locally to weather in Walnut Grove. Use internet, library, newspaper, ect to gather data and chart for analyzation. 

        Create visual display; have students brainstorm methods previously used in class or a new method they may have seen elsewhere, be creative and have fun.

      • Standards Addressed
        • Explain how science notebook entries can be used to develop, communicate, and justify explanations and predictions. [N.5.A.1]
        • Draw conclusions from scientific evidence [N.5.A.3]
        • Make predictions from labeled illustrations and graphic representations and data [N.5.A.4]
        • Use observable patterns to organize information [N.5.A.7]
        • LA - make and revise predictions based on evidence. [3.8]
        • LA - prepare a legible final draft to display or share. [5.7]
        • LA - edit for correct word usage. [5.5]
        • LA - edit for use of complete sentences. [5.6]
        • Math - add and subtract decimals [1.20]
        • Math - estimate temperature [3.2]
        • Math - collect, organize, display, interpret data [5.7]
        • Math - organize and represent data [5.2]
    • Ice Cream in a Bag
      • During blizzards the Ingalls were forced to prepare the house and animals for their homebound days. They were forced to be creative and use what ever was at their disposal for entertainment. While growing up in New Jersey, the snowy weather kept us housebound and brought many fond memories one of which was my mother making ice cream from the snow. Prepare 2 recipe safely enclosed in plastic. Students will read and will follow directions, gather necessary materials, divide recipe in 1/2, carry out recipe to completion being sure to use safety precautions. May double recipe or groups to increase final amount of ice cream. Following the recipe is an explanation of the scientific process. Ice Cream in a Bag activity.
      • Students record predictions and results in science journal. Using thermometers to determine temperature as ice cream is forming.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Explain how science notebook entries can be used to develop, communicate [N.5.A.1]
        • Use equipment and materials safely in investigations [N.5.A.5]
        • Following directions
        • Math - estimate temperature [3.1]
        • Math - measure temperature [3.2]

Historical Overview of Chapter Themes

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.


Ivy Nelson said...

I truly enjoyed your idea for a kindness journal. I like the idea of making a school-wide ordeal and having it be a part of the community.

Jill Killian said...

Ice cream in a bag is a great connection activity. Anytime an extension involves food students will enjoy and remember it. I did not see your historical overview. Overall it appears that all of your lessons are very comprehensive and where well planned.

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

You have such a heart for service learning! Thank you for teaching the next generation of American citizens to care for one another.

I love the idea of having students read books to share with children in the hospital, but be careful not to podcast these books. They are copyrighted material and it is not legal to place the full text (in any form) online. An alternative is to have students write their own stories and then you can podcast them. For copyright guidelines, I recommend Hall Davidson's "Copyright for Educators" table (

You got a chuckle from me with the title "Are We There Yet?" :-)
I recommend you use Google Earth for this lesson instead of MapQuest. That way, you can measure the distance as the crow flies (the way Laura walked to school) perhaps taking natural barriers into account, and you could determine the distance children would have to travel today given the roads in the area.

It's always fun to talk about toys! Your "Yesterday and Today" activity would be a good way to bring in historical artifacts by having students either bring in historical toys (if any children have them), use the Traveling Trunk for pioneers, or at least looking at images from the Library of Congress pictorial collection.