Banks of Plum Creek: 5—"Strange Animal" and 6—"Wreath of Roses"

Teacher's Guide Author: RJ Mallien, 4th grade teacher, Paradise Professional Development 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: Strange Animal Chapter 5

Laura was walking by herself and recalled how much fun she had when she had climbed the tableland with Pa the day before. She realized he never said she could not go to the tableland by herself. She climbed the tableland and got very dusty and thirsty. At the top she saw the swimming-hole (pool) and really wanted a drink. She began to go home and changed her mind and decided to go against Pa's warning and she headed for the swimming-hole. She planned to just get a drink and perhaps wade her feet at the edge of the swimming-hole. Along her route she encountered an animal she had never seen before. It was long and close to the ground. It was covered in long gray fur and flattened itself to the trail. Laura picked up a willow stick and touched the animal and it snarled at her. She ran all the way home and Ma told her she would get sick if she kept running in the heat. At home she compared herself to Mary (who was doing what a good girl should be doing-studying). Laura knew she was bad and decided no one saw her and that no one would tell. As she tried to fall asleep that night as Pa played the fiddle she got up and told her parents what she had done. Pa asked Laura why she didn't go to the swimming-hole and she told him about the animal. He figured it was a badger. Her parents tell her they cannot trust her so she must spend the next day within Ma's eye site. The following day Laura helped Ma with mending and chores. She behaved well and Ma tells Pa. The following day Ma comments that the badger is what stopped Laura from going swimming by herself and possibly drowning. Ma tells Laura she was on a naughty path and luckily she was able to stop. She walked with Laura to where she spotted the badger but she did not see it and comments that she never saw it ever again.

Wreath of Roses - Chapter 6

Out in the prairie beyond the stable there was a long gray rock the girls would play on and watch butterflies, birds, and the grasses. The girls never went on the rock in the morning or in the late afternoon because that was when Johnny Johnson went by with the herd of cows. Johnny did not speak English so the children never spoke to each other. Late one afternoon Pa called the girls from the creek to look at the herd of cows. Mary stayed close to Pa and Laura was excited to go on the long gray rock to watch the herd. They watched to cows pass by and then they saw a very pretty cow. She was white and had red ears, a red spot on her head, and a ring of red spots on her side. Laura told Pa that the cow looked as if she had a wreath of roses on her side. Pa helped Johnny single out this cow and told the girls it was their cow. They ran home to tell Ma. Pa explained how he traded work with the Nelson family for the cow. Pa put the cow in the stable and Laura grabbed a tin cup and began to milk her. Everyone was surprised that Laura knew how to milk a cow because no one had taught her how to do it. She had watched Pa and figured it out. Ma told her she should milk cows always from the right side otherwise they would kick. This cow did not kick her. She filled up the cup and everyone drank fresh milk. Ma was very excited for they now had fresh milk and could make butter. Ma asked Pa the cow's name and he told her 'Reet'. Pa explained he tried to find out the meaning of the name but Mrs. Nelson kept saying a "reet of roses". Laura realized she meant a 'wreath of roses'. They all laughed and then began talking about when they lived in Wisconsin they lived among Swedes and Germans. In the Indian Territory they lived among Indians and here in Minnesota they lived near Norwegians. They agreed all their neighbors had been good people. Then Ma ended up saying the name of the cow was going to be Spot.

Chapters' Themes: Chapter 5: promises, conscious, wildlife, plant life, chores, mending, swimming-hole, punishment, trust

Chapter 6: barter, live stock, butterflies, milking a cow, cultures, herds, nationalities

Suggested Activities

  • Language Arts
  • Cause and Effect of Laura's actions (Ch 5)
      • Students will use cause and effect thinking map of Laura's actions of deciding to go to the swimming-hole and the effects of that decision. Students may also make other cause and effect thinking maps of Laura running into the badger, her choice to tell her parents, if she had not told her parents, if she had gone to the swimming-hole. Then have students choose one of the events and then write or draw (SPED/ELL students) a paragraph about the event and the outcome.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Explain a cause and its effects on events and/or relationships {PS/NS 4.4.3}
    • Summarize Chapter 6
      • Students need to be able to summarize the main events in the chapter in 30 words or less. This must be modeled before hand. Brainstorm the main idea of the chapter then have each student make 6 rows of 5 lines per row. They cannot add anymore words than that to get the main point across to their audience. This activity has the students going back over the text many times to decide what is needed and what is not.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Summarizing information from literary text {NS 6.4.4}
  • Mathematics
    • Make a Coordinate Grid
      • Students will make a grid based on information from the book of where things are in the prairie. They to include the dugout, the stable, the long gray rock, the tableland, and the swimming-hole. From this teacher lead activity, the teacher will ask questions if it is further to walk to the swimming-hole or the long gray rock if Laura started from the dugout. Then the students could ask each other questions. For assessment, the teacher could have students count number of steps it would take to get from point (A2) to point (D5).
      • Standards Addressed
        • Locate points of given coordinates on a grid in the first quadrant {(4).4.6 NS 4.4.3}
    • Patterns
      • Students will make patterns using the various plant life and wild life described in the text. next the students will make math problems using the patterns. That is 7 golden rods multiplied by 4 golden rods = 28 golden rods. The students could then have their answer made into arrays. Or have students do addition or subtraction problems depending on their math level.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Analyze, describe, create, and extend patterns using numbers, appropriate tables, and calculators {(4)2.1}
        • Identify, describe, represent, and explain patterns and relationships in the number system including arithmetic and geometric sequences {(4)2.2; NS/PS 2.4.1}
  • Social Studies
    • Comparing Minnesota to Nevada
      • Using various maps of Minnesota and Nevada and the book, have students compare the ecosystems of each state or region. Use thinking maps to help with differences and similarities.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Generate examples of ecosystems found in Nevada and the United States (e.g., mountains, deserts, forests) {(4)3.19; NS 3.4.3}
    • Migration
      • Students will say where they were born and then if not from Las Vegas, why they moved to Las Vegas. This might ned to be a homework assignment. The next day, discuss how the Ingalls' were comparing all of their neighbors that they have had at the end of chapter 6. Through discussion and use of maps, have students brain storm why people migrate to the West. Then bring in the student's own background and the possibility that many of them have moved also. List pros and cons of moving.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Discuss how and why people from various cultures immigrated and migrated to the American West {(4)4.11}
  • Science
    • Plant life in plains and in the desert
      • Students will go through the chapter and pick out plant life. Then they will research it using internet and/or books. Then they will list all plants that live in desert (from ecosystem unit). Compare plants using a Venn Diagram. If any plants are in the middle then discuss why that might be since ecosystems are so vastly different.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Students understand that living things have identifiable characteristics {L2 B}
        • Students understand that living things live in different places {L2C}
    • Heat and rocks
      • Students will use rocks from Foss kit and record scientific data (size, weight, color, temperature, etc.) in science journal. Then discuss what if rock was to sit outside over night what would temperature be? If the rock where to sit out in sun all day what would be temperature be? Then come up with many different situations that students can do at school with in a 24-hour window. Have students record temperature of rocks then. Discuss predictions and results. {correlation: From long, gray rock the girls use to see herd of cows}
      • Standards Addressed
        • Describe how heat can move from one object to another by conduction, and some materials conduct heat better than others {(4)2.5; P5A3; P5C4}

Historical Overview of Chapter Themes

Through Riley and Joy's books we are aware how women were treated on the wagon trail and at the home. Women did lots of manual labor and never complained because it was their duty. The duty was to watch over her family in every facet and to provide moral education. Caroline Ingalls (Ma) is no different than other of the other women we read about. The men worked the fields and handled the animals and the women ran the house, educated the children, did the gardening, and cooked all the meals while doing the laundry, sewing, possibly selling eggs too. The children helped with the chores that could do according to age and ability. In the prairie all family members contributed daily to make sure the family survived.

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.


Lisa Shireman said...

I like your science activity, “Plant Life in Plains and Desert.” It is a good comparison activity that most students in Nevada really need. It is really funny how some students think that the rest of the world is like Nevada. To go further or more in-depth, I would like to have the students actually grow two different types of plants in the classroom, hopefully from each region you discussed. They can write down their scientific observations of what they look like, how they grow, what they need to grow, etc. From their observations, they could then do their comparisons. I also liked your other science activity, “Heat and Rocks.” This activity gives the students the rocks and makes them conduct the investigation that they really enjoy and makes them think at a higher level. Great activities!

charles said...

I really liked the way you incororated the grid.I ffel that by having students explain their work they are more likely to learn the material. I would have liked to see an example of the work. Oterwise the assignment was excellent.

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

Your summarizing activity is a great way to teach summarizing as well as editing. We often encourage students to write a lot, without teaching them the importance of being concise. If you haven't read it, I think you would really enjoy Strunk and White's "Elements of Style" (

I never would have thought of the coordinate math activity. What a great way to teach students bird's eye mapping and introduce them to architectural drawings. Perhaps you could even invite an architect to share information about what s/he does and share some primary source blueprints from early Nevada businesses.

Comparing Minnesota and Nevada offers a good opportunity to also teach atlas skills. :-)

What a terrific idea to compare Laura's migration west to your students immigration.

Thanks for the link to fiddle music!