The Long Winter: 22 "Cold and Dark" and 23—"The Wheat in the Wall"

Teacher's Guide Author: Anya Fontes, 5th grade teacher, Sheila Tarr 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: The Ingalls family lived on the prairie in their claim shanty. After the first storm in October, Pa went to town and an old Indian man told the men in the store that there was going to be “heap big snow, many moons” and indicated that it was going to last seven months. Pa decided to move the family into town to his store building because it was built much better than the claim shanty, and in town they would have access to supplies. Once the family was settled in, Laura and Carrie began to go to school. A big blizzard hit while they were in school and they, and their classmates, had to be rescued. The train kept getting snowed in and wasn't able to come to the town with the needed supplies. The stores began running out of supplies and before long, they were completely empty. The Ingalls family was living comfortably for a while, but as their supplies dwindled, and the blizzard raged, the family began to get weak from lack of nutritious food. They held on to the hope that spring would arrive soon. If not for two courageous young men, Almanzo Wilder and Cap Garland, the family would have surely perished.

Chapter 22: Cold and Dark

Laura awoke from her bad dream to the sound of the blizzard raging outside. Laura and Pa again went to the lean-to to twist hay into sticks for the fire. Their hands were red and swollen from twisting the sharp hay which was also cutting holes through their coats. Ma had to keep patching the holes. The only thing to eat was brown bread, ground from wheat using a coffee mill, potatoes, and tea. Pa was in good spirits because he had dug a tunnel through the snow from the house to the lean-to and stable. The house was much warmer because so little cold came through the snow now that it nearly reached the roof. Because of this, they didn't have to burn as much hay. The Wilder boys were hauling in their slough hay and selling it for $3.00 a load to burn since no one had wood or coal. From eating so little, Laura felt herself growing numb and stupid. Pa tried to cheer up the family by playing the fiddle, but he couldn't because his fingers were too stiff, thick, and clumsy from working out in the cold so much and twisting hay into sticks.

Chapter 23: The Wheat in the Wall

The wind blew all of the snow away and the ground was bare. It was now the middle of February. The Ingalls family had enough wheat to make bread for that day only. After that, there would be nothing left to eat except six potatoes. There was a rumor that a settler who lived 18-20 miles away had 300 bushels of wheat. Ma insisted that Pa could not go in search of this wheat for fear another blizzard would come and he would get caught in it. Also, if he were to go, there would be no one to do chores and haul hay while he was away. Pa had a suspicion that the Wilders had some wheat and he paid them a visit. The Wilders still had supplies such as coal, flour, brown sugar, and ham. Pa filled a milking bucket with Almanzo Wilder's seed wheat that was hidden in a false wall. At first Almanzo objected, but he then realized that the Ingalls family would starve to death without it. Pa paid him twenty-five cents for the wheat. The blizzard struck as Pa was returning home from the Wilders'. When he got home, Ma was relieved to see that he had some wheat. She lighted the bottom lamp that she had made from axle grease, put the wheat in the coffee mill, and began grinding.

Chapters' Themes: seasons, winter, weather, blizzard, ice sand, snow houses, tunnels, pioneers, prairie, family life, farming, horses, cows, grain, wheat, corn, potatoes, slough hay, school, rote memorization, music, Christmas, neighborliness, community, Dakota, railroad/trains, health

Suggested Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Figurative Language Hunt
      • Students will be given a figurative language map divided into three categories: similes, metaphors, and personification. As students read chapters 22 and 23, they will write down all examples of similes, metaphors, and personification they encounter along with the page number and paragraph number in which the figurative language can be found. After reading the chapters and recording their figurative language on the map, they will meet in small groups, 4-6 students per group, and share their figurative language maps. The students will work together to create a poster sized class map on which they will combine all of their examples to share with the class.
    • Standards Addressed
      • Literary Text
        • Explain the use of imagery and figurative language (simile, metaphor, and personification) 3.5.5
      • Listening
        • Listen to, provide, and evaluate constructive feedback; solve problems by identifying, synthesizing, and evaluating data 7.5.
      • Speaking
        • Use public speaking techniques to deliver presentations; communicate information by maintaining a clear focus, following a logical sequence, and illustrating information 8.5.3
    • Rote Memorization Activity
      • Partners will work together to memorize one of the rote memorization verses Laura, Mary, and Carrie repeated as part of their studies. Tubal Cain from pg. 229, Paul Revere pg. 231, or Little Ellie pg. 231. Once they have memorized the verse and repeated it to their partner, they will write to the prompt: Do you think you would enjoy learning by memorizing your lessons as Mary, Laura, and Carrie did, or not? This writing prompt will be answered in paragraph form with one paragraph being the minimum.
    • Standards Addressed
      • Reading Strategies
        • Select after-reading strategies appropriate to text and purpose: evaluate the effectiveness of reading strategies 2.5.3
      • Effective Writing
        • Use prewriting strategies and explore a topic to plan written work; choose and narrow a topic to organize ideas 4.5.1
        • Edit for correct use of mechanics 5.5.4
        • Edit for correct word usage 5.5.
        • Edit for use of complete sentences 5.5.6
        • Prepare a legible final draft to display or share 5.5.
  • Mathematics
    • Counting Calories
      • Students will discover how many calories the Ingalls family consumed in a day based upon eating two pieces of wheat toast each morning and two pieces of wheat toast and a small potato each evening. Teacher will bring in a loaf of wheat bread for students to learn how to use the label on food the find serving size and calories and will show students how to look up the number of calories in a small potato by using the USDA website:
    • Standards Addressed
      • Numbers, Number Sense, and Computation
        • Generate and solve addition problems in practical situations 1.5.8
      • Data Analysis
        • Pose questions that can be used to guide the collection of categorical and numerical data 5.5.1
    • Daily Wages
      • Students will determine how much money Almanzo and Royal Wilder made per day, per hour (based on an eight hour work day), and per minute when they sold their slough grass. They will use different variables such as: one load, two loads, three loads with the constant being $3.00 per load. They will discuss their answers with their partner to determine if each has the same answer, if not they will determine how each solved the problems in order to determine the correct answers.
    • Standards Addressed
      • Problem Solving
        • Students will develop their ability to solve problems by engaging in developing appropriate opportunities where there is a need to use various approaches to investigate and understand mathematical concepts. Students will do this in order to formulate their own problems, apply previous experiences and knowledge to new problems, explain and verify results, try more than one strategy in problem solving, and use technology, including calculators to develop mathematical concepts A
        • Students will develop their ability to communicate mathematically by solving problems where there is a need to obtain information from the real world through reading, listening, and observing. Students will do this in order to use inquiry techniques, physical materials, models, pictures, or writing to represent mathematical ideas. Students will identify and translate key words that imply mathematical operations, and use everyday language, both orally and in writing, to communicate strategies and solutions to mathematical problems B
  • Social Studies
    • The Midnight Ride
      • Students will map the route Paul Revere took from Charlestown to Lexington. They will visit the website for the Paul Revere House at and discover ten facts about Paul Revere to share with their classmates. They will create a bubble map with Paul Revere's route in the middle and ten bubbles sharing the facts around it.
    • Standards Addressed
      • History
        • Identify key people in the American Revolution 5.4.14
      • Geography
        • construct maps, charts, tables, and graphs to display information about human and physical features in the United States
    • Paul Revere
      • Students will watch a movie about Paul Revere's ride from the Early America website showing how Paul Revere was able to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the British were coming to arrest them. Students will then map the route that Paul Revere took from Charlestown to Lexington. Teacher will share with the students the poem "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
    • Standards Addressed
      • History
        • Organize historical information from a variety of sources 5.4.3
        • Identify key people of the American Revolution 5.4.14
        • read, interpret, and analyze historical passages 5.4.28
  • Science
    • Food Pyramid
      • Students will visit the USDA website to discover how many servings from each food group are needed per day for optimal health. After visiting the USDA website they will determine which foods were lacking from the Ingalls family's diets and make determinations as to what effect that may have had on the family's health and their ability to function properly.
    • Standards Addressed
      • Health
        • Explain the relationship between positive health behaviors and the prevention of injury, illness, disease, and premature death 5.1.1
        • Identify the key nutrients and the relationship of a balanced diet and these nutrients to health 5.3.1
    • Blizzards
      • Students will research blizzards on the United States Search and Rescue Task Force website Students will be able to answer the following questions: What is a blizzard? What makes a blizzard dangerous? Students should come up with a minimum of ten facts from this website to share with their peers. After sharing facts, small groups will make Blizzard Survival Tip posters.
    • Standards Addressed
      • Earth and Space Science
        • Describe various meteorological phenomena E.5.A.4
        • Describe air as a substance that surrounds us, takes up space, and moves as wind E.5.A.5
        • Explain that water, wind, and ice constantly change the Earth's land surface through erosion and deposition E.5.C.2

Historical Overview of Chapter Themes

The first people to settle on the North American frontiers were called pioneers. Pioneers came from all over the United States to start their new lives on the frontiers. Most pioneers were farmers, but there were people from other trades also, such as: shopkeepers, blacksmiths, doctors, lawyers, etc. Many of the pioneers had ancestors that had come from other countries, so traveling to find somewhere to live was something that was familiar to them. In order to afford to travel to parts unknown, the pioneers either had to save money for their trip, sell their land and/or possessions, or agree to work for others to earn their way on the trip.

The most common reason that pioneers traveled to the frontier was for the opportunities it offered. Most wanted to be able to farm, and this land was much more reasonably priced than land elsewhere. Sometimes land was even free. This was known as homesteading. The land on the frontier was fertile and ideal for growing crops, which appealed to those that farmed. Some pioneers headed west to prospect for gold or hunt for and trade pelts.

One of the most famous trails was the Oregon Trail. It was used by the first explorers and fur traders. It was also the longest overland trail in North America. The United States wanted people to settle in Oregon because of an agreement they had made with England, the United States and England agreed that Oregon would belong to the country that had the most settlers there. One way in which the United States enticed people to move to Oregon was by offering land for homesteading, which is to settle on public land to use as a home. People began migrating to Oregon is 1843. For most people, this 2,000 mile trip to Oregon took six months. It was important that they left in spring in order to have food for their livestock along the trail, running rivers and streams to replenish their water supply, and to be able to bypass bad weather and arrive prior to the harsh winter that could make traveling difficult if not impossible.

In order to survive the trip it was important to bring enough necessary supplies. Food was a fundamentally important supply. Items that were brought were yeast for baking, flour, crackers, cornmeal, bacon, eggs, dried meat, potatoes, rice, beans, and a big barrel of water. Also important to have were; pots, pans, and cooking and eating utensils. Having a cow was beneficial for the pioneers as the cow provided milk, butter, and possibly meat if times on the trail were hard. Clothing was also important along the trail, so they brought cloth, needles, thread, pins, scissors and leather to repair worn out shoes. It was also important to have tools in order to repair the wagons along the way. Some important tools included saws, hammers, axes, nails, string, and knives.

Pioneers mostly traveled by wagon. A conestoga wagon is a covered wagon made of wood in which the supplies were kept. Pioneers slept in the wagons and used them for shelter, but usually didn’t ride in them for very long because they were very bumpy along the trail and the ride was uncomfortable. These wagons were primarily pulled by oxen because oxen are much stronger than horses and these wagons were heavy, approximately 2,000 lbs. when full. The canvas top protected the contents from rain, wind, and the glaring sun. It was made waterproof by rubbing oil on it. The front wheels were smaller than the rear in order for it to be able to turn more easily.

A group of wagons traveling together was called a wagon train. Wagon trains traveled in a straight single line. It was called a wagon train because the wagons traveling in a straight line, one after another looked like that cars on a train. When the pioneers settled for the night, the wagons formed a circle. This circle was a way to provide protection to the pioneers from Indians, marauders, and other dangers. It also provided a safe place for the children to play.

Captains and scouts were important to the success of the journey. Captain, or wagon masters, led the caravan and made important decision that affected the whole caravan. He decided when and where to camp for the night, how and when to cross a river, he woke the members of the wagon train in the morning, decided when they would stop for lunch, and made sure everything on the journey went smoothly. Scouts, also called trail guides, were usually fur traders or trappers who were familiar with the area and knew the routes. They knew where and how to cross rivers, how to traverse dangerous mountain passes, and how far to travel each day. They helped the captain make critical decisions and take care of the members of the caravan.

Traditionally a caravan would travel ten to fifteen miles per day. If it was raining or muddy, they may only have been able to travel a mile. In order to cover the distance that we are able to cover in a car in one hour, they would have to travel a week. Pioneers awakened each day very early, usually when it was still dark, in order to get started. They would start a fire, tend to their animals, prepare breakfast, gather their livestock, load the wagon with the bedding and cooking supplies that had been used, and hitch the oxen or mules to the wagon. They would stop for lunch midday and rest the animals for an hour or two, and head out again until about four or five o’clock. They would then find a place to settle for the night. The women would make dinner while the men tended to the animals. The children would get water from nearby rivers or streams, help prepare the meal, wash dishes, collect buffalo chips or wood for the fire, shake out dusty blankets or quilts, and hang beef jerky to dry. After dinner they would sing songs, dance, tell stories, and visit around the campfire prior to going to bed. Sometimes they slept in their wagon, sometimes under it, sometimes in tents, or under the stars.

Additional Resources

  • by nine and ten year old students at Floresville Elementary School in south Texas: This was a wonderful student made website about pioneers. They created this website after Maurine Walpole Liles came to visit their class and told them the story of her great-great aunt Rebecca Garner. There are links on the possibly hard to understand words that take you to an online glossary. Great website, I had no idea it was student made until I clicked on "authors."
  • The Westward Movement by Karen Baicker: The is a primary source teaching kit. It has fabulous pictures from this time period. It has The Louisiana Purchase Treaty, journals, sketches, and artifacts from the Lewis and Clark Expedition, The Crockett Almanac, pictures and diary entries from wagon trails, cartoons, advertisements, and pictures from The Gold Rush, a Pony Express flyer, a railroad schedule, pictures, and posters, paintings about American progress, a patent application for barbed wire, plus much more.
  • Pioneers by Kids Discover: This is another excellent primary source. It has pictures and cartoons from this time period. It is very child-friendly and easy to understand. The pictures compliment the text to give full meaning.
  • Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan: This is a historical fiction novel based upon a woman who lived her life as a man during pioneer times. She was a stage coach driver and worked for the Pony Express. She bought property and voted well before it was legal for a woman to do so. A wonderful story to help students understand how many limitations were placed upon women and how far we have come in the United States.


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.


Jon Geiger said...

Very nice chapter descriptions. I would like to see the difference between the calories in the Ingall's bread vs. modern sugar enriched bread. I would also like to see what modern foods were not available at the time of the story in your food pyramid activity. A nice job on your blog.

Anonymous said...

I thought your activities were great. The "Rote Memoriztion," activity would be interesting to implement in todays classroom. Where, at least in elementary, rote memorization has become a thing of the past.

I would also like to do the "Calorie Counting" math activity. I have a feeling my klids would feint if that's what they had to eat to live on.

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

I really like that you refer students directly to the source. For example, to learn about blizzards, you have them visit the United States Search and Rescue Task Force website and to learn about American diets, you have them visit the USDA website. This is agreat use of primary source resources and a nice way to teach students real life uses for Internet research.

"Counting Calories" and "The Food Pyramid" good ways to blend math, science, reading, and daily life skills. I'd follow it up by having students track their daily intake for one week and determining their daily caloric and vitamin/mineral intake. Also, ask students whether they need more or fewer calories per day than Laura needed and why? Perhaps this would be a nice opportunity to team with the school's physical education teacher.

Be sure to have students consider the "Daily Wages" activity in terms of both 1800s and 2000 dollars to teach about inflation and cost of living expenses. Also, you may wish to follow-up the lesson by asking: "Would Almanzo and Royal be earning more or less than minimum wage (in 2000 dollars) and what would be their annual income?" Also, "Would this be income(in 2000 dollars) provide enough money to live comfortably)?"

I like that you bring in classic poetry into your social studies lessons.

When teaching about Paul Revere, it's important to also introduce students to Sybil Ludington (see This 16 year-old girl also rode across the countryside informing her countrymen that the British were coming. Different from Revere, she successfully finished her full route. Nonetheless (perhaps because she was young and a woman or maybe because Revere played other roles in the Revolution), we tend to remember the Revere story instead.