The Long Winter: 13—"We'll Weather the Blast" and 14—"One Bright Day" and 15—"No Trains"

Teacher's Guide Author: Neil Greenhalgh, 5th grade teacher, Batterman 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 Overviews:

Chapter 13—We’ll Weather the Blast:

The blizzard continues and the Ingalls family wakes to a cold home. The freezing temperatures outside their beds cause the family to remain for a while longer. When finally out of bed, Laura finds the water pail iced over. Ma cooks breakfast, but there is little milk or butter for the meal due to the low rations of food. After eating, Pa leaves to see if anyone was lost in the blizzard as Ma and the children get to work in the house. When the work is finished, the girls (Mary, Laura, and Carrie) play a game of reciting Bible verses to pass the time. Pa finally arrives back with word that no one is missing. The house has not warmed up as it should because of the freezing temperatures outside. Enjoying the rest of the evening, Pa plays the fiddle while the family sings.

Chapter 14—One Bright Day:

After a two day’s blizzard, Laura wakes to the sun shining. Excitement is in the air as the family meets for breakfast—toast with the last of their butter. Laura and her sisters run to the schoolyard and find their friends playing in the snow. They begin to discuss what they would do if they were trapped in a blizzard—a topic Laura does not enjoy. The teacher rings the bell and everyone rushes into school. At dinner, Mr. Boast, a family friend, arrives to share some of his butter with the Ingalls. At the table, the adults discuss the possible raising prices of goods as an effect from the storm. Everyone seems cheerful. But that night, Laura dreams of her father playing the fiddle, only to realize that the dream is really another storm.

Chapter 15—No Trains:

In the morning, Ma moves most of the furniture into the kitchen to be near the warmth since the family is running out of coal. Pa goes to buy some supplies for the family, and Mary offers her savings for her college fund if needed. The girls do the housework for their mother and then work on school lessons. Pa comes home with few supplies, sharing the prices for goods have gone up since the train will not be able to get through the icy snow to bring more goods. The family finds things to do to pass the time. The next morning, they stay in bed until it begins to warm up; more days are spent this way. The blizzard finally stops, but Pa laments that supplies are still low because the train cannot get through. Still, Ma is hopeful that the bad weather has passed and that there will be more sunny days to come, which will help the train get through.

Chapters' Themes:

Family, Home life on the prairie (chores, family responsibilities, leisure activities), Religion in the home, Importance of trains during western expansion, Food rationing, Community, Winter on the plains, Schools in the 1800s

Suggested Activities

  • Language Arts
    • My Long Winter
      • Activity: Chapters 13-15 explain some of the activities the Ingalls family participated in to pass the time during the winter blizzard. Use this as a writing prompt for students: “Pretend that a great blizzard snowed you in your home for three days. Write a narrative of what you would do during that time.” Encourage students to follow the writing process: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. Once students finish, have them share their stories with the class. Discuss the differences between life for the Ingalls family during a snow storm and how students would pass the time today.

        Note: For advanced writers, challenge students create different scenarios: what would happen if there was no electricity or what would happen if they were snowed in alone. Struggling readers may need prompting: what would you eat, what would you do, who would be home with you, etc.
      • Standards Addressed
        • PS Language Arts 6.5.2: Write multiple-paragraph, narrative/descriptive papers appropriate to audience and purpose with logical sequence, characters, setting, plot, dialogue, figurative language, and sensory details.
        • PS Language Arts 5.5.2: Draft multiple-paragraph papers about a single topic that addresses audience and purpose with an introduction, supporting details, transitions, and a conclusion.
        • PS Language Arts 5.5.7: Prepare a legible final draft to display or share.
    • Songwriter
      • Activity: The Ingalls family often used songs to pass the time and to add joy to their lives. Have students work in groups of 2-3 to write a song similar to one the Ingalls would sing. Songs should be six lines long, follow a rhyming pattern, and be on the topic of a long winter. Allow time for teach group to share their song with the class.

        Resources: The teacher or students may refer to to give them ideas for songs in other books from the Little House on the Prairie series.

        Note: Students may choose to simply write the words or put a tune to the song. Student groups may be challenged to write a song longer than six lines.

      • Standards Addressed
        • PS Language Arts 6.5.4: Write responses to literary text that demonstrate an understanding of character development, motivation, and plot; summarize literary information.
        • PS Language Arts 8.5.3: Use public speaking techniques to deliver presentations; communicate information by maintaining a clear focus, following a logical sequence, and illustrating information.
  • Mathematics
    • Plotting the Weather
      • Activity: Using the recorded temperatures from (see “Weather Forecaster” activity under Social Studies), have students create a bar graph displaying the high and low temperatures of each recorded place. Ensure that students label the graph properly with the name of each place, a way of measuring in degrees, color-coding, and a title.

        Note: Depending on the data collected from the “Weather Forecaster” activity, students may have more or less on their graphs.

      • Standards Addressed
        • PS Math 5.5.1: Pose questions that can be used to guide the collection of categorical and numerical data.
        • PS Math 5.5.2: Organize and represent data using a variety of graphical representations including stem-and-leaf plots and histograms.
    • Twice the Pancakes
      • Activity: Ma made the entire family pancakes using a recipe from scratch and not a mix. The website has a pancake recipe. The teacher may either give the recipe to the students or have students view the recipe online. Students will then pretend that more people are coming to breakfast and they must double the recipe. Using equivalent fractions and multiplication skills, have students double the amount of ingredients that go into the recipe.

        Note: This website allows you to change the serving size, which then changes the ingredient proportions. The teacher or the students may check their work this way. For students who want a challenge, they can estimate a change for a different serving size.

      • Standards Addressed
        • PS Math 1.5.2: Compare fractions with unlike denominators using models and drawings, and by finding common denominators.
        • PS Math 1.5.8: Generate and solve addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems using whole numbers and decimals in practical situations.
  • Social Studies
    • Weather Forecaster
      • Activity: The website has a section called “Laura’s Travels.” In the computer lab, have students look at Laura’s travels and write down the names of the places she visited. Students will then visit and type in the names of those places to find the highs and lows of the day for each place and record the information. Students will also type in their own home city to see the high and low temperatures for the day. Relate these temperatures and the time of day to the weather discussed in The Long Winter. Discuss the differences in the temperatures based on geographic location.

        Note: Students who need a challenge should be encouraged to record highs and lows for each place, whereas struggling students may only record the highs, the lows, or perhaps both with fewer destinations.

      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF Social Studies (5).3.15: Identify the criteria used to define different types of regions.
        • PS Math 5.5.1: Pose questions that can be used to guide the collection of categorical and numerical data.
    • Economy: Past and Present -- Interview
      • Activity: A major concern for the Ingalls family is that of the cost of food going up because the train can’t get through. This is a problem that many parents face today. Have students interview their parents or some other adult to find how they make adjustments in their life to deal with raising prices. Students may ask such questions as: Do you look for sales? Do you travel less because of gas prices? How do you save your money? Are there things you used to buy that you don’t anymore because of higher prices? Allow students to share answers as a class and discuss the similarities and differences between the Ingalls’ family and their concerns with the concerns we face today.

      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF Social Studies (5).2.1: Describe how scarcity requires a person to make a choice and identify a cost associated with the decision.
        • CEF Social Studies (5)2.11: Contrast the effects of price changes on the behavior of buyers and sellers. PS Math 5.5.1: Pose questions that can be used to guide the collection of categorical and numerical data.

  • Science
    • One Bright Day
      • Activity: Ma mentions that with the good days and sun, the train will be able to deliver supplies to their community. The sun plays an important part in our lives. To illustrate this, have students work in groups of 3-4 and place two pieces of ice on two separate cardboard platforms. Have them place one piece of ice in the sun and one piece of ice in the shade. Before the experiment, students will make predictions of what they think will happen. During the experiment, the teacher will count of 3 minute increments as students observe and take notes. Once the experiment is complete (after about 15-20 minutes), discuss which melted faster and why Ma made the statement she did about the sun.

        Note: Groups may be divided with student jobs: materials specialist, recorder, speaker, etc.

      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF Science (5).1.8: Investigate observable patterns that can be used to organize items and ideas and to make predictions.
        • CEF Science (5)1.10: Cooperate and contribute ideas within a group.
        • CEF Science (5)3.1: Explain that the sun is the main source of the various kinds of energy used on Earth.
    • Precipitation Experiment
      • Activity: The blizzard in the novel causes terrible problems for the Ingalls family. Demonstrate the “Precipitation Experiment” to show students have precipitation is formed. Fill a container with warm water. Place a plate on top. Place ice on the plate. Drops should form on the bottom of the plate and begin dropping into the warm water. Ask for observations from the students. Explain that precipitation forms from clouds. Tell the students that clouds need warm and cold air coming together, as well as dust particles and water particles. Explain that when the cloud gets a lot of water particles, it gets heavy, and precipitation forms.

        Note: Be sure the students understand that water is not leaking through the plate, but that the water is forming from the ingredients mentioned above.

      • Standards Addressed

        • CEF Science (5)1.4: Draw conclusions from scientific evidence.
        • CEF Science (5).3.3: Investigate and describe various meteorological phenomena (flooding, snowstorms, thunderstorms, and drought).

Historical Overview of Chapter Themes

A very important theme contained within The Long Winter is that of family and family roles. The series does an excellent job of describing the roles of each member of the family and life on the prairie. Since the author, Laura Ingalls Wilder, write autobiographically, these books paint a picture from the perspective of someone who lived at this time.

The role of the father was as a provider and a worker outside the home. His responsibility was to take care of the livestock, store, or whichever occupation he held. He was considered the head of the household. While this was a very similar role to the men in the east, it should be noted that due to the rigorous lifestyle of the west, the men often looked to women for assistance with their work.

The role of the mother was caretaker of the home and the children. She was mainly responsible for cooking and cleaning. The role of the woman was a difficult one, as she had to take the brunt of the responsibility in helping her family cope with the changes they faced in moving to the west. It was often difficult for women to move west because of the displacement of the home and the new challenges the west offered.

Children were expected to attend school in small schoolhouses with many ages being taught at the same time. Female children often helped their mothers in the home, and male children helped their fathers. However, roles often varied depending on the makeup of the family. In The Long Winter, Laura helps her father with his chores, though he protests at first. The western lifestyle had many challenges that had to be met and this challenged many of the traditional male and female roles.

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.


ahm said...

You have put together a wonderful group of activities. Your use of technology makes this a unit students will really enjoy. The links are many and well done. I especially liked the Plotting the Weather lesson. You combine social studies (geography) with science (weather/temperature) into an activity that students will think is a chance to have fun, without realizing how much they are learning!

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

I enjoyed reading about your precipitation exercise. The hands-on component of your science lesson certainly makes the subject more enjoyable for students.

Thanks for the links in your "Weather Forecaster" activity. I was thinking one day and realized that there is the same temperature differential between 30 and 100 degrees as there is between 30 and -40 degrees. Because our students better understand the higher temperatures and very few (if any) of them have experienced sub-zero temperatures, this might help children put the sub-zero temperatures into perspective.

I always like the idea of having students interview family members. While reinforcing speaking, listening, and, ultimately, writing skills, it also helps them learn more about their families and helps parents know what their children are learning at school. This is a good time for your "Past and Present" activity because of the wide variation in gas prices. It would be informative to talk with students about the changes in cars on the road (i.e., more hybrids and smaller cars) given the cost per barrel of oil.

To add the historical perspective of music of the 19th century, I recommend having music of the era playing the background throughout the week when you plan to do this lesson. I love that you are merging culture, art, history, and writing!