The Long Winter: 30—"It Can't Beat Us" and 31—"Waiting for the Train"

Teacher's Guide Author: Tina Tenenholtz, 5th grade teacher, O'Roarke 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: At this point in the novel the Ingalls are still trying to survive the cold, stormy winter. They continue to twist hay daily. The daily routine also includes grounding wheat with a coffee mill so they can make brown bread to eat. School is still not in session and it is now April. Pa still tells the family not to give up. One day during the night, Laura is woken up by the sound of melting snow. She realizes that spring is here and the long winter has finally ended. Now the train is all they have to wait for. They are not able to move back to the claim until the train arrives with groceries and supplies. Everything is getting flooded with water from the melted snow, so the wait for the train continues. The Ingalls had no choice but to continue their "winter" routines. April is now almost over and still no train. Everything is still under water. Finally, a train was passing through Huron, but it was a work train that brought nothing but hope. The next train that came was the one that was snowed in all winter. No groceries were on this train, only telegraph poles, farm machinery, and an emigrant car. Pa was able to get some flour, potatoes, and salt port from Mr. Woodworth. It was very kind of Mr. Woodworth to share with the families that are still in need of food.
Chapters' Themes: Survival, Railroads, Blizzards
Suggested Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Compare and Contrast Essay
      • Students will use a Double Bubble Thinking Map as a prewriting activity to writing an expository essay that compares and contrasts the hardships that the Ingalls family endured with the challenges they face in their own life.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5)6.1 A. write expository essays and compositions that include comparing and contrasting
        • (5)6.1.B write essays and compositions, with assistance, using patterns of organization including compare and contrast [NS 6.5.1]
    • Writing Response to Literature
      • Students will write a response to the question, What would you have to do to survive if something you depended on daily was suddenly gone and you did not know when you would get more? The teacher will provide the following information prior to the start of the activity: The Ingalls family depended on kerosene. After their supply ran out they turned to had and made "sticks" by twisting it together. They did what was necessary to survive.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5)3.9 A. make connections to self,other text, and/or the world [NS3.5.9]
        • (5)6.1.C write to a given prompt
        • (5)6.4 A. write responses to text that demonstrate an understanding of motivation [PS/NS 6.5.4]
  • Mathematics
    • Serving up Math
      • The teacher will have to provide students with a recipe for "brown bread" and the ingredients to make it, as well as creating a worksheet to record the information needed to complete the activity. Students will have to measure out the ingredients to prepare the dough for the bread. While the dough is rising and baking, students will determine the equivalent periods of time it will take until the final product is finished in seconds, minutes, and hours. After that students will order the amounts of the ingredients used from least to greatest. When the bread is done baking, the students can estimate the weight of the bread, weight it, and then determine the volume. Before serving, students can divide the loaf into equal parts for the number of students in the group.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (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]
        • (5)3.4 measure volume and weight to a required degree of accuracy in the customary and metric system [NS 3.5.2]
        • (5)3.8 determine equivalent periods of time, including relationships between and among seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, and years [NS/PS 3.5.6]
    • Division Word Problems
      • On pages 317-318, Wilder shares with the reader how Ma made biscuits for breakfast and was able to divide the dough so there was enough for all six family members. Students will write division word problems that relate to sharing food with their family. They will also write in their math journal a response to the following question: If you had a certain amount of food and there was not going to be more available for awhile, how would you divide it among your family (who should get what and how much, just as in the book when Ma made biscuits and Pa had the biggest one and Grace had the smallest)? When finished or time allotted is up, pair students together and have them work on each others problems as well as sharing their responses to the question.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5)1.19 generated and solve addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems using whole numbers and decimals in practical situations [NS/PS 1.5.8]
        • (5) 1.22 use basic facts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division with speed and accuracy in computation and problem solving
  • Social Studies
    • Tracking the Ingalls' Route
      • Students will do research as to what routes the Ingalls family took on their journey westward. They will use a map and outline the routes they took. Clicking on this link, Tracking the Ingalls' Route, will lead you to the directions for this interactive activity. It can be modified for your unit. This is a nice way to add technology to your unit of study.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5)3.3 read and derive geographic information from photographs, maps, graphs, and computer resources [NS 1.5.3]
        • (5)3.13 identify and describe the locations of selected historical events [NS 3.5.1]
    • Create a Pioneer Town!
      • This Pioneer Town website has download able templates for students to construct a Pioneer Town. This would be good to do in small groups. For each building, there is a brief history given for more information. Also included is a link to more Laura Ingalls Wilder activities. Students can use their towns to simulate different parts of the novel or they can be used any way you see fit.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5)2.17 identify the resources needed for production in households, schools, and community groups [NS 6.5.1]
  • Science
    • Snow Art
      • You will need the following items for this project: Water & containers, Q-tips, Alum, Epsom Salt, Lite Salt, Sugar, & Black Construction Paper (4 half sheets would work just fine). Have students predict which solution will make the best "snow" in their journal or on paper. After the solutions are made have students draw "snow" pictures on the construction paper with the Q-tips. After looking closely at the crystals and the geodes, with a magnifying class, students should record their observations. Discuss how snow is made up of crystals.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5)2.2 classify materials by their observable, physical, and chemical properties [P5A4]
        • (5)2.3 investigate and describe that by combining two or more materials, the properties of the resulting material can be different from the original materials (vinegar and baking soda, drink mix, salt, and water)[P5A4]
    • Making Rock Candy
      • The following is a link for a recipe and the directions on how to make Rock Candy. Rock Candy is sugar crystals growing together. Since snow is made up of crystals, this is a good tie in to the novel and to activity 1. This activity can be done as a demonstration by the teacher or the directions can by given to students to do at home for extra credit.
      • Standards Addressed
      • (5)2.2 classify materials by their observable, physical, and chemical properties [P5A4]
      • (5)2.3 investigate and describe that by combining two or more materials, the properties of the resulting material can be different from the original materials (vinegar and baking soda, drink mix, salt, and water)[P5A4]

Historical Overview of Chapter Themes

Pioneer life was so different from life today. Getting to the land they planned to settle was often a challenge. The roads were muddy, rock trails. there were no bridges, which made crossing even the smallest creek a problem. Fallen trees, getting lost and wild animals also caused problems.

Once the family got their land they made a shanty to live in until their log cabin could be built. The father and sons cut a lot of trees and stacked them into a rectangular structure. The gaps in the logs were filled with small strips of wood and mud, called chinking. The roof was made of shingles that were sliced from logs. The shingles were held down by smaller logs because nails were unavailable. A doorway and a window were cut. A door was made from split logs, and since glass was unavailable, greased paper covered the window.

A fireplace was also added. Since there were no matches and neighbors might live miles away, the fire was always kept burning. There were no walls dividing the cabin, so blankets set off a bedroom. Children usually slept in the loft.

When the cabin was finished the land had to be cleared. Oxen pulled a plow to break up the land for planting. Once the grain was harvested it was hauled to a grist mill.

Pioneer women always had plenty of work to do. To help with their many tasks settlers invented devices that saved time and labor. To prepare food, women used a variety of wooden tools. Pioneers often churned their own butter and sometimes made extra to sell to a store.

Besides labor-saving inventions, pioneers also created items to decorate their houses. Human hair wreathes were popular. Hair was saved from brushing and cuttings then coiled into shapes. Since pictures were rare, a hair wreath was a cherished keepsake of a loved one.

Pioneers did not spend all their time working. They played games, such as wresling, running, horseshoes, and tug-of-war.

Additional Resources

  • by Lennon Parker: This site a history recap written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Featured are actual pictures herself and of the real people the characters are based on. Also included are links to more information.
  • by Unknown Author: This is a great weather website for kids that is interactive. It teaches children about how blizzards form, has activities and games for students to play, and it shares stories about winter weather. Other types of weather are also included. There is a link for that gives teachers tips too.


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...

I really like the hands on activities you chose. I think the kids would like making the rock candy and eating it. The thinking maps on hardships was cool. I would have liked to see the recipe for the brown bread and wondered how you would group the students for the activity. All in all great blog!
Jon Geiger

collinsm12 said...

It is a well rounded unit. I liked the rock candy idea and the other hands on activities. In writing, you could try journal writing about a day in the life of...Or I saw one teacher use the book to teach figurative language. Nice job!

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

In your "Serving Up Math" activity, you do a nice job of finding many, many possible math applications for working with the bread. Often, teachers use baking to teach very basic science concepts (chemical reactions and hygiene) and fractions. You've taken baking many steps farther by having students measure the bread which I had never considered before reading your teacher's guide. It might be interesting to compare the size and weight of the loaves to bread we buy in stores and determine the price, calories, and other nutritional values per piece. Be sure to also discuss the difficulties of baking bread over a fire as opposed to an oven that self-regulates temperature.

Thank you for the "Tracking the Ingalls' Route" website. This is a great resource for mapping the Ingalls' lives.

Why don't you have students create their own rock candy? Though it takes a long time for the water to evaporate naturally, students will enjoy watching the slow process.