The Long Winter: 26—"Breathing Spell" and 27—"For Daily Bread"

Teacher's Guide Author: Lisa Shireman, 5th grade teacher, O.K. Adcock 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 Long Winter is a book written by Laura Ingalls Wilder that illustrates the life of Laura’s family living on the prairie during one of the harshest winters. After a warning from an Indian, the family moves into the small town of De Smet, where food and supplies can be replenished at the town store. However, after a few long hard months and no trains getting through, the town store is no longer able to feed the hungry people of De Smet, including Laura’s family. The family must ration everything if they plan to make it through the winter.

Chapter 26: Laura’s family is spending long days twisting hay to keep the stove going and huddling close to the stove for heat while Pa hauls hay from the fields. The food supply is quickly depleting, but the family gets a glimmer of hope. A rumor was spreading that a settler south of town has wheat that would help the families make it to spring. Two men in town, Almanzo Wilder and Cap Garland, have volunteered to make the trip.

Chapter 27: Before the sun even rises, Almanzo and Cap venture into the endless snowdrifts in search of the farmer with wheat to sell. After many miles and countless hours of searching and digging their horses and sleds out of holes, Almanzo and Cap finally spot a small stream of smoke in the horizon rising out of snowdrift. Almanzo and Cap soon discover that the smoke is coming from the house belonging to the wheat farmer they’ve been searching for. After some convincing and negotiations, the wheat farmer sells his wheat and boys go on their way with no time to spare before sunset. Luck is not on their side, as they hit hole after hole, and have to dig out their horses and sleds. A sense of fear sets in that they may not make it back to town before sunset.

Chapters' Themes: Courage, Fear, Survival, Hard Work, Determination, Hope, Pioneer Life, Horses, Sleds, Snow, Family, Seasons, Winter, Wheat

Suggested Activities

  1. Language Arts
    1. Context Clues
      1. Teacher will place a list of multiple vocabulary words on the board pulled from the chapter or text along with the page and paragraph number. (Have as many words as groups in the classroom. Each group has to find the definition of each word without using a dictionary, thesaurus, glossaries, or internet. They may only use the source provided. Give students 15-20 minutes to determine the definitions and come together in a large group. One group will share a definition for one word. With a chart on the whiteboard, record whether the other groups agree or disagree with the definition. If their definition is right, they get 2pts and groups that agreed get 1pt. If their definition is wrong, then groups that disagreed get 1pt. Follow this procedure as you go through each group. The group with the highest points wins.
      2. Vocabulary Words for Chapter 26 and 27: slough (Pg 261, Pp 2), (Pg 270, Pp 8), (Pg 273, Pp 3); mufflers (Pg 265 Pp 2), ( 267 Pp 4), (Pg 270,Pp 2) (Pg 272, Pp 8); flounder (Pg 267, Pp 2), (Pg 280, Pp 4); swell (Pg 270, Pp 7), (Pg 272, Pp 5), (Pg 273, Pp 1); buckskin (Pg 265, Pp 1), (Pg 266, Pp 2), (Pg 275, Pp 1)
      1. Standards Addressed
        • (5) 1.4 Students will comprehend, build, and extend vocabulary using context clues [PS/NS 1.5.4]
        • (5) 1.5 Students will apply knowledge of content specific vocabulary in text to extend comprehension [PS/NS 1.5.5]

  • Letter to family back home
      • Students will write a letter to a close cousin still living on the east coast. Students will write the letter at the perspective of Laura. Brainstorm with the students in a circle map on what they might include in the letter. (How things are going? Should the letter focus on the good or the bad of the situation, comparisons to life living on the east coast, school, studies, family, weather, train, etc.) Have the students draft a letter in the proper format and have 2 other students edit and sign that they have edited. Students make revisions and draft the final copy.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5) 6.7 Students will write a variety of communications is appropriate format for personal communications (e.g. email, letter) [PS 6.5.7]
        • (5) 5.5 Students will edit, both independently and collaboratively with peers for correct word usage.
        • (5) 5.6 Students will edit, both independently and collaboratively with peers for complete sentences and elimination of fragments and run-ons. [PS 5.5.5]
  • Mathematics
  • Grid Map of town of De Smet
      • Students will make a map of the town of De Smet and surrounding areas using graph paper. The teacher will provide the coordinates for each building or structure in and around town. The map should include the school house, the sod house where Laura's family lived, the house they live in during the winter season, the store, the train station and tracks, and the other families' houses in town. Students will use the coordinates to plot the points and later draw the buildings or structures. Each building or structure should be represented by a geometric shape previously learned.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5) 4.4 graph coordinates representing geometric shapes in the first quadrant [NS 4.5.3]
        • (5) D.1 link new concepts to prior knowledge [NS D.3-5]

    • Measurement and Weight
      • Challenge students to solve the problem of making the wheat last for Laura's family. If Laura's family buys 1 bushel of wheat and using 2 cups of wheat per meal, how long would this last them? (1 bushel = 8 gallons, 8 gallons = 128 cups, 128cups/3 meals a day = 42 days and 2 meals.) For an additional challenge, have the students calculate in the metric system.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5) A.5 apply multi-step, integrated, mathematical problem-solving strategies, persisting until a solution is found or until it is clear that no solution exists [NS/PS A.3-5]
        • (5) 3.1 estimate and convert units of measure for weight and volume/capacity within the same measurement system (customary and metric) [NS 3.5.1]
  • Social Studies
    • Supply and Demand
      • Discuss with the students the concept of supply and demand. If the price increases, the demand with decrease and supply will increase. If the price decreases, the demand will increase, and supply will decrease. If demand increases, supply with decrease, and price will increase. Etc. Have the students go into groups of 3-4 students. Give the class a statement discussing supply and demand. e.g. What would happen if everyone stopped drinking soda? Have the students discuss in their groups and come up with a conclusion to the supply, demand, and price of soda. Extend onto other issues, such as, how would this affect the price of beverages? Have groups share they conclusions with another group. Give each group a different statement relating to supply and demand. Have them discuss it within their groups and present the question to the class. The group will give the class 1-2 minutes to discuss the statement and then reveal their answer while the class determines if they are right. To make the activity more interesting, give each person an arrow (use this arrow to show if the price is going to increase or decrease by facing it up or down) and make a game out of it where groups compete against each other.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5) 2.9 demonstrate an understanding of supply and demand in a marker [NS 3.5.3]
        • (5)2.6 define “inflation” and “deflation” and explain how they affect individuals [NS 2.5.4]
    • Create a timeline of major events from each chapter
      • Individually and after every 3 chapters, students will create a timeline of the most important event of each chapter. They will compare the events they have chosen with their group to determine which event is the most important.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5) 4.2 record and interpret events on a graphic organizer, such as a calendar or time line [NS 1.5.2]
        • (5) 4.11 describe colonial life in North America [NS 5.5.11]
  • Science
    • Investigate changing states of water in relation to weather
      • Students will make a poster of an interconnected flow map with illustration of the cycle of water as it changes due to weather. Students must include 3 different weather patterns with the 3 different states of water with a short description as to what is happening and an illustration. To add interest, have students make a comic strip of the "Life of a Raindrop" with added dialogue. Students will need to have first understood the different states of water. To extend, teacher will give students a diagram of the water cycle, and students will match their steps to that of the water cycle.
      • Standards Addressed
        • NS E2A Students understand that changes in weather often involve water changing from one state to another
        • NS N2A Students understand that science is an active process of systematically examining the natural world
        • NS E5A Students understand the water cycle’s relationship to weather
  • Investigation of people versus environments
      • Students will do a carousel activity where they will rotate in small groups to multiple posters around the classroom. Each poster will have a question where students will write a response. To monitor groups, provide each group with a different color marker. After students answer questions, discuss in a large group.
      • Questions: Name one item not stored that Laura's family needed to survive through the winter. How is the lifestyle of her family affected by the changing seasons? What were some key necessities her family needed to store in preparation for winter? Name one thing that modern technology today would assist with in our survival of a similar situation. Name one thing your family needs today considering our climate in Las Vegas, Nevada.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5) 4.6 investigate and describe the interrelationships and interdependence of organisms with each other and with non-living parts of their habitat [L5C2]
        • (5) 4.7 investigate and describe how some environmental conditions are more favorable than others to living things [L5C3]

Historical Overview of Chapter Themes

Pioneer Life

As pioneers moved west, usually in covered wagons, they left many of the conveniences of the east coast cities. They worked long hard days, lived in houses made of dirt, and had to find new ways to entertain themselves. Some pioneers were able to build towns where stores were able to stock and supply food and other necessities. Most pioneers made everything from scratch. They had to deal with harsh conditions on their own, such as blizzards and other storms, droughts, and lack of stored supplies. It was a hard life, with few if any conveniences.

One of the biggest contributions to pioneer life was Conestoga wagons. These covered wagons were the "ships" of pioneers that would carry them, their families, and their belongings to the new life in the west. Although the wagons were too uncomfortable to ride in when traveling west, they carried belongings and provided shelter during storms. When crossing rivers, their wheels could be removed so that the wagon could float across the river on a raft. Traveling west would take pioneers many months and the Conestoga wagon became their home for sometime. These wagons were the most commonly used vehicles in transporting pioneers to their new destination.

Many pioneers went west seeking decent farmland. Many pioneers would turn soil into rich farmland and/or raise farm animals like pigs, chickens, and cows. Some Native Americans were very helpful to the pioneers by teaching them how to farm crops like wheat and corn. Children would spend hours working, as well. They would feed animals, tend the garden, collect eggs, haul water, plow, plant, and pitch hay. Pioneers would work exhausting hours during periods of droughts and excruciating heat. On top of the hard work, pioneers had to worry about deadly snowstorms, prairie fires and locusts that destroyed crops, as well as tornadoes, and dust storms.

Most pioneers built temporary shelters until log cabins or better houses could be built. One form of shelter was a sod house that was made out of blocks of sod or the first layer of topsoil. Another form of temporary shelter was a dugout. This is a hole dug into a side of a hill. Unfortunately, snakes and mice found the shelter just as cozy as the pioneers. These shelters were cheap and easy for first time settlers.

A pioneer's idea of a good time may differ slightly than that of today. They would do things like square dancing, quilting, and hayrides. Barn Raising was another activity where men could run races and arm wrestle. A Haying Party is where neighbors would get together and help each other with the harvest. Attending weddings, shopping, and picnicking were just a couple more ways pioneers let loose for fun.

Additional Resources

  • Pioneers by Kids Discover: This magazine offers detailed descriptions and pictures of what life was like as a pioneer, written for students.
  • Daily Life in a Covered Wagon by Paul Erickson: This book is an extension on pioneer life style focusing around the covered wagon.
  • Dakota Dugout by Ann Turner: This is short story about a family's life and hardships in dugout-style home.
  • American Expansionism 1783-1860 by Mark S. Joy: This is an extensively researched based book of secondary resources that supports the ideals of American expansionism.


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.


Sherri Aragon said...

The assignment you completed really is great. The vocabulary activity you have with students in groups and turn it into a fun activity is an activity that will keep students engaged. Extension to time-line might be after they work in groups present to class so everyone can see the different perspectives. The other is in Science-another extension activity could be compare and contrast the lifestyles by possibly using a Venn Diagram of Laura's family versus families today in Las Vegas. The way you presented your material was great. Thank you for sharing.

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

I really like carousel activities and am pleased to see you using it. I usually ask students to brainstorm all possible responses to each question, but am thinking your request to come up with a single group answer may be a better idea. This requires students to brainstorm, but also requires they quickly come to consensus. My hesitancy comes because I'm worried that each group will have a leader emerge and all the other students will simply accept his/her response to the question instead of engaging in compromise. What do you think?

You are very creative. I like how you encourage student writing by having students use alternative genre such as comic strips.

I'm not sure creating a timeline is a good method for describing events of each chapter. Timelines do show sequencing, but I think a flow chart may be a better strategy. In the class lecture (, I provided several example thinking maps from the Colonial Williamsburg collection. I think merging a linear map with one that allows decision making would make a good match.

You create lessons that are educational while being fun. I like your suggestion of using arrows to have students compete in the "Supply and Demand" lesson. Too often, we shy away from competition in classrooms due to self-esteem concerns. This concerns me because adults do complete in the "real world" and I question whether we are preparing students for that world.