The Long Winter: 16—"Fine Weather" and 17—"Seed Wheat"

Teacher's Guide Author: Gail Sabbs, 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 16 - "The Fine Weather" - The first few days after the blizzard had passed, Marie, Laura, and especially Carrie were feeling antsy about being inside. Ma allowed the girls to go outside and get a "breath of fresh air" after they had completed their work. While the girls were outside taking in the scenery of the sprinkled homes across the plains and the miles of snow, Pa arrived home with a sled that he had built at the lumberyard. Pa also returned with some news that a snowplow and a full work train were sent from the east. This was great news because currently the family (and town) could not get more coal, kerosene, and meat until a train was able to come. Pa left shortly to go to the homestead to get hay. When he had not returned as soon as the family had expected, they tried not to worry but thought about possible troubles on the road, such as animals, claim jumpers, and Indians. Pa returned the next day in the early afternoon, and he explained that he had trouble with the horses on the road. Pa advised that it "took [him] the whole half day to go a couple of miles and get back with one load of hay." Pa headed back out after dinner to the hardware store; he returned with news again. He told the family that the train made it half way through its travel, but they still going to get mail - train or no train because the good weather seemed to be promising. Ma took out a letter she had been working on to the "folks" back in Wisconsin; she and the family worked together to complete the letter. The next morning, Pa delivered the letter to the post office. Unfortunately, the next day sounds of the wind howling were a sign of the storms coming back. Chapter 17 - "Seed Wheat" - With the storms back, it was hard for the family to be cheerful, especially the girls. Pa found that he had to be very sparing with the hay when feeding the animals. At night, Pa took out his fiddle and played songs just before bedtime to brighten the girls' spirits. The supplies were running low, such as the kerosene in the lamp, or were already gone in town, such as the coal. At the feed store, Almanzo was busy storing his seed wheat from out of sight so Royal would not be tempted to sell it. Almanzo explained to Royal, "you're not a farmer, you're a storekeeper," so if someone were to spot the grain and offer Royal a good price - then the grain would be sold. Almanzo's argument for hiding the seed wheat was that there is no way to know for sure when then train would be able to reach the town or if by springtime. Almanzo wanted to make sure when "seedtime" came around that he had seeds to plant for his crops.

Chapters' Themes: home life on the prairie (daily chores and quality time), trains, winter in the plains and survival, postal service, letter writing, community/working together, homesteaders, claim jumpers, bed warmers (flatiron), hedging for seed time (spring)

Suggested Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Dear Family - writing friendly letters to family back east
      • In chapter 16, the Ingalls complete a letter to their folks back in Wisconsin. Ma mentions how they wish the family had cats because of the mice and they talk about the blizzard. Assignment: In a small group of 3-4, students will act as a “family unit” to write a friendly letter to their folks back east. Teacher will give an example of comparing (same) and contrasting (difference). Students will use The Long Winter and Houghton Mifflin Social Studies textbook as reference guides to help with the prewriting process of the letter. Students must use a Venn diagram or double bubble map to compare and contrast weather/storms and physical features of their area (De Smet, South Dakota) with Wisconsin. In the letter, the “family unit” will include these comparisons and complete the letter with 1-2 general areas of topic (related to that period).
      • Standards Addressed
        • NV Writing 5.5.1 Use prewriting strategies and explore a topic to plan written work
        • NV Writing 6.6.7 Write a variety of communications in appropriate formats: personal and professional communications.
        • CEF Social Studies (5) 3.17 define and give examples of natural hazards (e.g., hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis) [NS 3.5.2]
    • Readers Theatre - Family time
      • In chapter 17, Pa brings out his fiddle and plays merry tunes and the girls prepare for bed and to face the cold upstairs. Laura tries to be encouraging for her sisters. Assignment: In a group of 4-5, students will rewrite the scene into a small reader’s theatre play. Each group will have to discuss character development, the significance of the scene and summarize the important parts through the play. On day three, each group will present their play while the remaining groups observe and take notes. After all plays have been presented, the whole class will discuss the lesson learned and explain the actions of Pa and Laura as presented/understood by each group.

      • Standards Addressed

        • NV Reading 3.5.3 Explained a lesson learned based on events and/or a character’s actions.
        • CEF Group Discussion (5) 8.4a Contribute to conversations and discussions about a given topic (e.g., share ideas and opinions) [NS 8.5.4]
        • NV Speaking 8.6.3 Use public speaking techniques to deliver presentations; express an opinion; defend a position using evidence.
  • Mathematics
    • Go the distance - calculating miles
      • In chapter 16, Pa tells the family that a full work train has been sent from the East to the town. Also, in the chapter, Pa had a hard time traveling with the horses because of the snow covered roads. Assignment: Teacher will introduce the lesson by providing more historical background on transportation through If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon by Ellen Levine. (Teacher will also provide the average miles per hour for a covered wagon, train, and car). After a brief whole class discussion of comparing and contrasting transportation during Laura Ingalls’ era to present day, students will first use an atlas to map out given routes from the east to De Smet, South Dakota; students can use string and tape to map out routes. Next, students will find the average time of travel for the routes if the travel was by a covered wagon, train (of that period), and a car (of current year). Students will then compare their data and present it in a bar graph.
      • Standards Addressed
        • NV Math 2.5.3 Complete number sentences with the appropriate words and symbols including ≥, ≤, and (do not equal symbol) [2.5]
        • NV Math 3.5.6 Describe equivalent periods of time, including relationships, between and among seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, and years.
        • NV Math 5.5.1b Organize and represent data using a variety of graphical representations
    • Shopkeeper - calculating with money
      • In chapter 17, Almanzo is busy hiding his seed wheat, so no one is tempted to buy it. But, more importantly, so Royal is not tempted to sell it. Royal explains to Almanzo that he could make a profit. Assignment: In pairs, students will take turns being the shopkeeper and the customer. Each pair will receive a variety of grocery store ads and play money. First each student will create a grocery list based on the store ads. Next, each student will total his/her own grocery bill – not to exceed $100.00. Then, each student will exchange lists with his/her partner and now pretend he/she is the cashier. Then, each student needs to determine if the customer gave them $100.00, how much change would they have to give. Challenge: Students can determine if they would make a profit if they were the store manager and had bought the same items for a lower price and then sold the items to the customer at the listed sales price in the ads.
      • Standards Addressed
        • NV Math 1.5.8 Generate and solve addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems using whole numbers and decimals in practical situations. [1.19]
        • NV Math 3.5.4 Determine totals, differences, and change due for monetary amounts in practical situations. [3.7]
  • Social Studies
    • How did my mail get here? – history of delivering mail
      • In chapter 16, Pa informs the family they are going to get the mail, train or no train. He concludes by saying that the mail will be sent through by a team. Pa took the family’s letter to the post office and gave it to the mail carrier, who had other mail on a sled wrapped in buffalo robes. Assignment: Individually, students will answer the question: “How did my mail get here?” by doing online research. Students must make a note of each year the postal service made a significant change in how the mail is delivered. Students must have at least 5 major years and change of events. Students will present their research by making a time line. Students also must add pictures to represent each year on the time line; students may cut and paste or draw.
      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF Social Studies (5) 4.2 record and interpret events on a graphic organizer, such as a calendar or time line [NS 1.5.2]
        • CEF Social Studies (5) 4.3 ask a historical question and identify resources to be used in research [NS 2.5.1]
    • Train's coming? - purposes of the trains
      • In chapters 16 and 17, there is frequent reference to the train’s unknown arrival, and how it is really needed because the town needs supplies. The uncertainty of the train’s arrival causes the townspeople to use what resources they have sparingly or store away what they can for springtime to prepare for the worst – no train a coming at all! Assignment: In a small group of 2-3, students will work create a 3-way foldable in the shape of a train. Each group will use books from the library and online resources to answer the following questions or statements: 1) who invented the train? When and why?; 2) list two advantages and two disadvantages of the train; 3) what are some reasons trains were used during Ingalls’ time.
      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF Social Studies 5) 4.3 ask a historical question and identify resources to be used in research [NS 2.5.1]
        • CEF Social Studies (5) 2.19 identify inventions according to use
  • Science
    • Where does snow come from? - discovery of snow
      • The Long Winter is a story about the people of De Smet, SD who endure a blizzard and try to survive with little to no supplies. The anticipation of a train bringing in new supplies is overwhelming the Ingalls family and Almanzo. There is a brief period in chapter 16 where the girls experience the fresh air because the snowfall has stopped for a day or two. Assignment: Whole class will start a K-W-L chart by listing what it already knows about snow and create questions it has about snow. Next, the class will watch “A Magic School Bus Kicks Up a Storm” via video streaming (the video introduces the concept of a snowstorm in kid-friendly terms. The video includes what elements are needed for a storm, how clouds are formed, and how a snowflake is formed). Each table/group of 4 students will re-enact the water cycle, thus how snow forms and falls. Students are allowed to choose how they present the information: song, dance, poem, short skit, poster, etc. To sum, the class will complete its K-W-L chart by listing what they learned about discovering snow. Enrichment: Students will work with a partner to make their own snowflake by following the instructions from Kids’ Turn Central website:
      • Standards Addressed

        • CEF Science (5) 3.3 investigate and describe various meteorological phenomena (flooding, snowstorms, thunderstorms, and drought)
        • NV Reading 4.5.5 Use information to answer specific questions (expository text)
    • Seed Wheat - planting different types of grain
      • In chapter 17, Almanzo is determined to make sure that he will have seed wheat to plant when spring arrives. So, he hides bags of seed wheat; this move also is to prevent Royal from being tempted to sell the seed wheat and make a profit. Assignment: In a small group of 4-5, students will plant four different types of grains in one plastic container: barley, wheat, corn, and buckwheat. Students will have to decide the best way to plant all the grains in a 12” by 18” container. During the experiment, students will describe their trials and errors of planting, how much soil, water, and nutritional food was used. Also, students should make a note of the size of the seeds, how many of each seed as used and why, how much natural light and exposure to outside air the mini-gardens received. Students will observe and record any changes for about two weeks (hopefully sprouts should be seen within that time). Each group will organize their data in a comprehensible chart of their choice.
      • Standards Addressed
        • CEF Science (5) 4.3 investigate and describe how plants and animals require food, water, air, and space
        • NV Math 5.5.1a Pose questions that can be used to guide the categorical and numerical data [5.2]
        • NV Math 5.5.1b Organize and represent data using a variety of graphical representations [5.1]

Historical Overview of Chapter Themes

The main theme I noticed in my chapters was the importance of trains and its connections to pioneer life, westward expansion, and even the postal service.

The train, also known as the locomotive or “iron horse,” was invented in 1822 by an English inventor named George Stephenson. He originally created the train because he wanted to create a quicker way to transport coal from the mines to other places. This popular mode of transportation eventually replaced the horses for long distances of carrying cargo. The train was one of the biggest reasons that the United States was able to expand at a faster rate than what was expected by the settlers and newcomers to the United States.

Consequently, the government noticed and the political and economical contributions of the trains, and passed the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862, which authorized an (official) transcontinental rail line. Two major railroad companies were born, thus thousands of jobs were created: The Union Pacific Railroad (UPR) and the Central Pacific Railroad (CPR). UPR built its line westward from Omaha, Nebraska, and CPR built its line eastward from Sacramento, California. The two lines met at Promontory, Utah, in 1869. It was official – the trains had led the movement in expanding the west. In fact, it has been noted that if it were not for the invention of the train that the east and west may have never met.

The train became a vital part of pioneer life; as referenced in The Long Winter, towns relied on the trains to bring in coal, kerosene, meat, and other needed supplies. As the expansion of the railways grew, so did small towns and business. Now more people could be reached and serviced, such as with the postal service. For example, during the frontier times, mail used to be delivered by young men or boys as this ad shows. They would travel by horse across the country. It could take up to 10 days to receive one letter and that was considered a deal! The train helped to shorten the number of days mail could be received. We were seeing the advancements and advantages of the early technological age.

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.


Diana Cohen said...

I love the idea of bringing in the Magic School Bus Kicks Up a Storm into the science lesson. I don't think students ever tire of wathcing those, I don't.
Using grocery store ads was a great way to introduce grocery shopping, spending allotted money, and counting change given to a clerk all skills that will be used in the students' lives in the future

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

I agree with Agnes that bringing in "The Magic Schoolbus" is a terrific idea, and I am especially pleased to see you bring in technology by using videostreaming to access the content. A follow-up to the activities you suggestion (which are great - they are so active and engaging!) would be to have students create a book about the water cycle. I suggest copying the Magic Schoolbus book on the water cycle and whiting out all the text. Let your students (working in pairs or groups) add their own text to the Bracken illustrations. When done, have them share their books to compare their means of fitting text to graphic and then read the Relf book ( to the class.

For your own background knowledge on the trains of the 1800s, I recommend Nothing Like It In the World : The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 by Stephen E. Ambrose ( The Wilder book shows white Americans doing all the work on the trains; the Ambroise book tells the true story of building the trains on the backs of Chinese and Irish immigrants. This would be a great way to bring in immigration and the hardships that come with immigration. It's also a good way to bring in ethnocentricism and prejudice. Some would view the Wilder book as another example of Americans remembering the trains as a white-man's invention while forgetting the cultural heritage of our nation.

It's nice to see you having intermediate level students working with an atlas in the way it was meant to be used. Too many students only work with atlasses to complete worksheets and they never learn to appreciate the true purpose purpose of atlasses as reference books.

Like with the atlas work, you do a nice job bringing in other social studies concepts. For example, creating a timeline about the U.S. Postal Service is a great idea. Everyone loves to learn about the Pony Express and students may be amazed when they truly begin to understand the reach and complexity of the current institution. You also bring in the social studies textbook.

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

P.S., I meant I agreed with Diana. :-)