The Long Winter: 11—"Pa Goes to Volga" and 12—"Alone"

Teacher's Guide Author: Michelle Collins,5th grade teacher, Goynes Elementary School, Clark County School District


This teachers' guide is one of a series including activities for all chapters of The Long Winter. 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 Overview:

The Long Winter is about the Ingalls family surviving the worst winter ever in the Dakota prairies. It was told to the men of this area that they were in for a dangerous and long winter, by an Indian passing through. They were told to expect seven extreme storms and to prepare for what was coming. In listening to the Indian, Pa moves his family into town and starts to prepare for what they will endure.

The Ingalls family faced many challenges that winter. Not only did the extreme weather come sooner than expected, but travel of supplies by train were halted because they could not make it through the pass. Travel to farther distances was halted, the bringing of supplies and mail was halted, and many families ran low on supplies and food.

Chapters' Themes:

Chapter 11: Survival, caring for your family, travel by hand cart, winter in the prairies

Chapter 12: alternative ways to fuel a fire, education, animal survival, family, family beliefs, survival

Suggested Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Journal
      • Students will keep a journal from the view point of Laura. They will record observations about her childhood and struggles.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.5.1 Explain the setting, sequence of events, conflict, resolution and turning point
        • 3.5.3 Explain a lesson learned based on events and/or characters actions
    • Create a timeline
      • Students will create a timeline using details from The Long Winter. The timeline will include the chores and tasks of one family member for a day. Students may choose (Pa, Ma, or Laura)
      • Standards Addressed
        • 4.5.3 Explain the cause and effect on events and/or relationships
        • 3.5.7 Explain the influence of historical events, cultures, and time periods
  • Mathematics
    • Calculate the amount of supplies one family would need to survive a winter in the prairies
      • Using the information provided in the book, calculate how much supplies one family of four would need to survive a harsh winter. Include supplies for the animals, and food for the family,
      • Standards Addressed
        • 1.25 Use a variety of appropriate strategies to ...solve mathematical and real world problems.
        • 1.5.8 Generate and solve addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems using whole numbers and decimals in practical situation
    • Problem Solving (create your own)
    • Students will write their own multi-step story probelm using information from The Long Winter. These problems can include food consumption, selling of goods, or travel from one place to another.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 5.5.4 Represent and solve problems involving combinations of a variety of methods.
        • 1.5.8 Generate and solve addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems using whole numbers and decimals in practical situation
  • Social Studies
    • Create a 3-d map of the Dakota Prairies
      • Students would create a 3-d map of the Dakota praries identifying and making to scale the layout of the praries where the Ingalls are located. It would include the village, the school, the farm lands, the slough, and their home out in the prairie.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5)3.4 Construct maps, charts, tables, and graphs to display information about physical features
        • (5)3.12 Identify and describe the locations of selected historical events
    • Create a newspaper
      • Students will work in teams of 4 or 5 to create a local newspaper for the town. They are to keep in mind this newspaper will also be sent back east to report on how the community is surviving the harsh winter. It must include at least 6 articles and 3 primary source pictures depicting the time period.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5)1.21 Differentiate between fact and opinion
        • (5) 2.11 Contrast the effects of price changes on the behavior of buyers and sellers
  • Science
    • Create a survival kit: Students would create a first aid kit for their home or car with necessary items in case they are ever stranded with limited or no help. Students will include a justification why these items are important for survival.
  • Standards Addressed
        • L5C3 Describe how some environmental conditions are more favorable than others to living things
    • Animal Report
      • Students would research and create a flip book, using a Dinah Zikes pattern, on an animal that was common in the Dakota prairies. (gophers, muscrats, garter snakes, etc.)
      • Standards Addressed
        • L5C5 Describe animal adaptations that allow them to survive in specific ecosystems.
        • L5C1 Explain the organization of simple food webs.

Historical Overview of Chapter Themes:Survival on the Prairie
Surviving Prairie life was not easy for many. It was a time of trial and error. It was also a time for learning how to live off the land that was not suitable for farming, like the land the settlers had come from. When reaching the prairies, also known as the Great Plains, families struggled to settle down. The Homestead Act had been past in 1862, which Lincoln signed allowing each person 160 acres of free land if they could farm it.

The problem many faced was how to farm a soil that was not furtile and easy to plow. Many had to dig wells and build windmills to power the wells for easier pumpimg of water. Crops needed to thrive on little of no water. Farming tools started to evolve in the 1890's when a blacksmith by the name of John Deers invented a new steel plow with a hard sharp blade. This was a must for plowing the fields in the hard grasslands.

The climate in the Great Plains made the fall and winter seasons harsh. Families needed to harvest enough food to make it through the rough winter. This put schooling to a minimum until the fields and gardens had been tended to. In the winter, the weather was their enemy. There was limited shelter from trees or buildings and the houses were not built to a high standard. One was lucky if it was build from wood and the walls were lined with tar paper. Also, in the winter, jobs were scarce and if it was a winter where the railways were closed, there was limited transportation for men to their jobs, supplies to be brought in, or work on the railways available. Many people did not survive the harsh winters due to poor nutrition or disease.

Families lived miles apart and would only see them on Sunday. They would have 'bees' to get together to build a church or a school and then have a large celebration. If you lived in town, your child may attend school. If you were far away, you would home school your child and teach them to read, write, and arithmatic. College was not out of the question for some of the older children.

Living on the praires in the mid to late 1800's had its challenges, but also many chose this lifestyle for their families and generations to come. Today, we learn from the diaries that people wrote and left behind.

Additional Resources by Author Unknown: This link includes a summary of the novel. It also gives a general list of information needed to find the book. In conclusion, it gives information on how this novel is historical fiction. by Laura Ingalls Museum: This link gives information on the journeys of Laura Ingalls Wilder. It includeds a student section, maps of her journeys, and pictures of her family. It also gives information about the museum. by Author Unknown: This is a great site to use actual pictures of the Ingalls homestead in the Dakota prairies. It includes historical information on the Ingalls family. It is a great source for teachers and students to get primary sources from. by Debra J Hoyt

A great teacher link for background information, information on the Little House series, and lesson activities. It also includes a list of links and resources to further your search.


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.


Joelle said...

Fantastic Blogg! You have some really fun and exciting activities. I too had a timeline and journal. For the journal writing, you could have the students share their questions and answers with the rest of the class I love the 3-D map I would defiantly steal this and use in my classroom. The survival kit is a very practical idea, would they use items they had in the 1800's or now in the year 2008? Your web resources are very handy also. I had a hard time advising or suggesting something for improvement! Great job!

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

I love that your newspaper requires primary sources and collaborative creation! To continue with the 21st century alignment, I recommend having students create the newspaper using page layout software or Microsoft Word templates.

I also love the idea of having students create a survival kit. They could even research what would be needed fior a survival kit in a desert and maybe you could even have a speaker from the Park Service come to speak on the topic.

I wouldn't refer to the "Daily Chores" chart as a timeline. Though it could be written as such, a table or list would probably be more practical. Changing the name of the activity would probably be sufficient. Also, I'm worried about the 3-d map of the prairie. Prairies are, by definition, flat. A nice alternative may be to have students create the town using a "Box City" concept (

Thank you for the detail on each website in the "Additional Resources" section.