Banks of Plum Creek: 7—"Ox on the Roof" and 8—"Straw-Stack"

Teacher's Guide Author: Marcia Mosby, 4th grade teacher, Gene Ward 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 7 Summary: Ox on the Roof

This chapter is about the great stampede. It’s a good example of cause and effect. Laura and Mary worked alongside Johnny to take Spot, and the other cattle to graze during the day, then to lead lead them back to the stable later in the afternoon. Unfortunately, one day the herding did not go as usual. As the kids watched the herd coming back from their graze, they noticed that they were actually stampeding, and were very upset. Fortunately, after some hard work on their part, they were able to round up Spot and Bright, but Pete had a different idea in mind. He decided to chase the herd, but was stopped when his hoof fell through the roof of the Ingalls’ dugout. So as a result, Pa had to take off work to build a new roof, and Laura was told by her Pa, “It’s no place for a big ox to be running, right over our roof!”

Chapter 8 Summary: Straw Stack

Chapter 8 is about the mischief of young girls living on the Prairie. Pa had been rustling and compiling straw stacks for the their oxen to eat. As Laura and Mary looked upon these huge stacks of golden straw, all they could see was a playground for two. They jumped, slid, and played in the hay until it was scattered everywhere. Upon his return home from work, Pa scolded them for jumping on the hay, and told them not slide down the hay again. Pa cleaned up the mess. The next day was a challenge for Mary, because she hesitantly followed the lead of Laura to play in the straw again. They played again until their hearts were content. That night, Pa came home again, disappointed at the sight of the straws’ condition. With the same line that Laura had convinced Mary with to play again, she defended herself to Pa by saying,”We did not slide down Pa, but we did roll down.” Pa gave them their second warning, advising them this was the food for Pete, Spot, and Bright come winter. So they needed to be more thoughtful.

Chapters' Themes: Weather, natural resources, animal behavior, resourcefulness, and adapting.

Suggested Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Post-Reading Vocabulary Activity
      • Before Before reading the chapters, students will be assigned a list of vocabulary words to listen for during the reading of each chapter. Every student should have a copy of the words with two additional spaces provided next to each word. The first box should be labeled “my guess”, and the second box should be labeled, “definition”.
        During the reading of the text students should be given a moment to decide on the meaning of the words in context.
        After the reading, students should be given the time to confirm their meanings.
      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF: (4)1.4 use knowledge of vocabulary and context clues to determine meanings of unknown words
        • CEF: (4) 1.8 develop vocabulary by listening to and discussing selections read aloud
        • CEF: (4) 1.9 develop vocabulary through meaningful experiences (e.g. wide reading, discussion of word meanings, interactive activities, examples and non-examples)

    • Write a letter to Laura Ingalls
      • Write a letter to Laura Ingalls about her experience of playing in the straw, and getting in trouble. Include information about a similar situation you may have been in. You can also ask her questions that relate to where she lives, how it was living on the prairie, and what she did as a kid. These are just examples. Use at least 5 of the words from the vocabulary activity. I encourage you to use more!Before having students write the letters, review friendly letter format, and have an example available for them to refer to.
      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF: (4) 5.3 write organized friendly letters, formal letters, thank you letters, and invitations in an appropriate format for a specific audience and purpose.

  • Mathematics
    • Estimating Measurements (the dugout roof)
      • In chapter 7 Pa had to build a new roof on the dugout home, due to a cattle stampede. Reread pp. 50-51. Students will use what they know about measurement to relate to how Pa may have measured the willow boughs and strips of sod without being able to use a measurement tool.

        Let students know that they will also be covering something without the use of any type of ruler. They can use anything else in the room except for a measuring instrument. Students should keep in mind the steps they are taking, because they will be writing what they did during the activity later. Also, they can do this individually or in pairs.

        Students will use scrap newspaper (different size pieces) to cover the desks. They need to cover it so that no extra paper is hanging over, and so that there are no empty areas on the inside.

        After the students have completed the task, they will be asked to write about how they succeeded or did not succeed at the task. They need to write down the steps they took. They should write them in sequence, and also write down why they did it that way.
        As a wrap up, and introduction to finding area perimeter, discuss the basics of what area and perimeter are in relation to the activity. Try to connect it to how a measurement tool could have made it easier, using the concepts of finding area perimeter.
      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF: (4)3.1 estimate and measure length (including perimeter), capacity, weight/mass, volume, and area using standard measuring devices (English and metric)
        • CEF: (4) 6.1 select, modify, develop, and apply strategies to solve a variety of mathematical and practical problems and to investigate and understand mathematical concepts
        • CEF: (4)6.2 apply previous experience and knowledge to new problem-solving situations
        • CEF: (4)6.3 verify, interpret, and evaluate results with respect to the original problem situation, determining an efficient strategy for the given situation
        • CEF: (4)6.4 try more than one strategy when the first strategy proves to be unproductive
        • CEF: (4)7.5 explain and justify thinking about mathematical ideas and solutions

    • How Big is an Adult Ox?
      • Students will first take turns predicting how much an ox weighs. Give students sticky notes and allow them write down their guess, and have them post them all on a poster board or on the white board. Then begin a discussion about estimating weight to determine the reasonableness of their answers. Compare weights of buildings, cars, people, animals, and even themselves. Now, allow them to make a second guess of how much an adult ox weighs, now that they have more information. To confirm their predictions, allow students to research the information at the computer lab when the time is available. The final step of the activity will be for them to figure out how far their guess was from the actual weight (a little calculation). Also they should write down why they had originally chosen the weight.

      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF: (4)8.6 review and refine the assumptions and steps used to derive conclusions in mathematical arguments
        • CEF: (4)3.1 estimate and measure length (including perimeter), capacity, weight/mass, volume, and area using standard measuring devices (English and metric)

  • Social Studies
    • Comparing rural, suburban, and urban communities
      • This activity should take place after reading chapters 7 and 8. Students will use class dictionaries to define the terms rural, suburban, and urban. Next students will use the knowledge of the definitions, and the book information to make comparisons of the Ingalls’ community and the community in which they live. It can be a whole group, individual, or small group activity. It can be a two-column comparison chart, with one side titled: My community (Las Vegas) in 2008; and the other side title Laura Ingalls (Minnesota) in the 1870’s. Their descriptions, especially for Minnesota, should be based on the information heard in the chapters, and from any prior knowledge that pertains.
      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF: 4)3.25 locate and list examples of rural, suburban, and urban communities

    • Good and Bad Investments
      • This will mainly be a discussion about what an investment is, and seeing how certain investments benefit people. You can chart the responses for the whole class to see.
        Start with the definition of an investment. Then begin charting possible good investments and bad investments. Provide them with an example of a good investment and a bad investment, and allow them to brainstorm what may make them good or bad investments. Other elements may come into play like their background knowledge, and their own views on money from their own lives. Now, let them choose to chart a good or bad investment and list their reasons for their opinions.
        Finally, use the book for the final activity. See if they can recall some things from the story that may equal good or bad investments. Some of the items that may be suggested are: a scythe, an underground home, cattle, oxen, wheat, land, a threshing machine, etc. Some more background may need to be provided to aid in the comprehension. You can also have some students posted on the internet, to search for additional information about some of the possible ideas.
        Allowing the students to choose the item from the book, and listing their reasons for determining if it is a good or bad investment is the culminating activity.
      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF: (4)2.6 provide an example of how purchasing a tool or acquiring education can be an investment
  • Science
    • Sunrise and Sunsets
      • Reread pp. 45-46 of the text, and begin a discussion about what was happening at that moment. Try to get them to define the words sunrise and sunset. They can also share experiences about their own sightings. Then introduce the KWL chart to find out what they already know, and what they can find out as well. They should also have their own personal chart as well. After completing the “know” portion of the chart, alert students that they will be doing their own research about sunrises and sunset. Show the video of the accelerated sunrise and sunset: (
        After the video, allow them to discuss in pairs, or small group, what they want to find out. Chart their questions they come up with, and have them chart them as well. These questions will be used during their research in the computer lab.

        During lab time: Students can search in Google, Yahooligans, or any other search engines available to them. Before embarking on the search, have the kids brainstorm some terms, or phrases they may search to find the best information. Post this for kids to see during their search. They can log their findings under “Learned” in their KWL chart.

        Wrap-Up: Debrief their research session in class, and chart any good feedback on the class KWL chart. Let them know that scientists always have more and more questions, and seek out any new questions they have now that they have found out a little more information. You can do a follow-up research activity at another time. Finally, show the beautiful photos at:, to leave them with beautiful reminders of sunrises and sunsets.
      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF: (4)3.9 describe how the components of our Solar System (planets, moons, sun), as well as constellations, appear to move through the sky

    • Oxen vs. Humans
      • After reading chapter 7, students will compare and contrast learned and inherited behaviors in humans and animals (specifically cattle), using a two-column chart for humans and two-column chart for oxen (cattle). The human chart should be a class chart, and the one for oxen will be for pairs of students.

        First, see if students can tell you what learned behaviors are. Give them a hint or an example if they need boost. Fill out one side of the chart labeled, “Learned Behaviors”, as the students respond. Then, see if they can guess or know what inherited behaviors are before giving them the boost. After filling out both sides of the chart for human, advise students that they will be doing this same activity to compare the learned and inherited behaviors of oxen (or cattle).
        You can use the suggested web sites to offer students more background information about oxen. You can use an overhead to look at these, allow students to use computers to access this information (and additional research), or print copies of the information for them to use (will be less time consuming during class). As the teacher, there will need to be some interaction to get some students on the right track. Remember, students will be completing the two-column chart about the oxen, the same way they did about the humans.

        Finally, as a wrap up come back together as a whole, and discuss some of the ideas they will come up with, and determine the reasonableness.
      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF: (4)4.1 compare learned and inherited behaviors in animals

Historical Overview of Chapter Themes

As seen throughout our readings of the Little House series, as well as the other books we have read as a part of this class, resourcefulness was a necessity during the time of these settlers. Unlike today, the people of the land had to literally work for what they had to get, for the most part. So when you look at a family like the Ingalls, they did not have money at this time period to pay someone to fix the roof of the dugout or to fetch food for their cattle. As shown in the book Pa was adamant that the girls be mindful of their destruction of the hay, because it was the oxen were going to have to eat it. Also, to fix the dugout roof, Pa had to go out and find the willow boughs to fix it. Before he fixed it, his wife was resourceful enough to figure out how to patch it until it could be fixed. They couldn't just call a contractor to come out and do the job.

Taking care of, and using what you had wisely, back in those times, was the ticket to surviving cold winters, and bearing blazing summers, by using what was available in the most creative ways possible.

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.


mmpink said...

I got some good ideas from your guide. I especially like your good/bad investment idea here. I think it's helpful for students to understand that choices must always be made with money and that it's important to invest in things that will pay back the investor in money, effort, and/or time saved later on. You could also incorporate a lesson on the difference between wants and needs with students along with good and bad investments.

A very minor quibble with your guide is several grammatical mistakes that could be fixed by going back and rereading each part. Great job.

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

It's a nice idea to have students relate a similar enjoyable/regretful experience they've had to Laura's haystack experience. It will really make them think deeply and make connections between their lives and those of children in the 1800s.

You suggestion of having students make coverings for their desks is a great opportunity to engage their 21st century skills. They need to work collaboratively and think creatively.

For background information for your "Oxen vs. Humans" activity, I recommend "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond (