Sacagawea (Liselotte Erdrich)

Teacher's Guide Author: Colin Haas, 5th grade teacher, Heckethorn Elementary School, Clark County School District _________________________________________________________________

This teacher's guide is for the book Sacagawea by Liselotte Erdrich. Additional teacher's Guides are available for Patty Reed's Doll, Sallie Fox, Sarah, Plain and Tall, and other exploration children's books.


Book Overview: The book Sacagawea is a fabulous picture book about a young Shoshone Indian girl who was captured by Hidatsa Indians when she was very young by. She was taken back to the Hidatsa Indians tribe where she learned their ways. She was impressed by all of the gardening they were able to do and how big the tribe was. At 14 she was married to a French trader named Toussaint Charbonneau who was a fur trader. When the Corps of Discovery reached their tribe Sacagawea was pregnant and had a son named Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau or “Pomp” as Clark called him. This baby would the youngest explorer of our time. Lewis and Clark hired Charbonneau to go with them and Sacagawea who was paid nothing went with them as an interpreter with her son on her back. Early in the expedition one of the canoes flipped over and if it was not for Sacagawea everything would have been lost but she was able to reach out and get most of the important items back because she remained calm. From there on in she was highly looked at by Clark. She became a very important asset of the trip and without her the Corps of Discovery would probably not have made it through this wilderness. Sacagawea spent a lot of time looking for roots to cure any form of disease and also guide the expedition through some of the countryside. When they met up with the Shoshone Indians she began to cry because she discovered that her brother was the chief. It had been many years she had been their and couldn’t believe she was back but it was only for a short period of time. The expedition went out again and eventually arrived at the Pacific Ocean. Sacagawea could not believe it when she saw the ocean and a huge whale that had washed up on shore. When the expedition started back Clark had become very fond of Pomp and wanted to adopt him when they arrived back in Missouri. Sacagawea could part with Pomp at this time but when Pomp grew a few years she let Clark adopt him knowing it was the best thing she could do for him. Under Sacagawea’s guidance the expedition arrived back safely. She and her husband parted ways with the Corps of Discovery and history is not sure whatever happened to her. Some say she died at an early age and others say she past when she a very old lady. She did have a daughter later on in her life. Whatever happened to Sacagawea the expedition would not have made it without her.

Book Themes: Learning the trail of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with the Corps of Discovery, the life history of Sacagawea, how the Louisiana Purchase was navigated

Suggested Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Be a Storyteller
      • After reading the story and discussing the book in depth have students create their own 5 to 8 minute first person performance detailing Sacagawea's story. The student performance could be from the perspective of any of the following or they could choose a different perspective of their own: Sacagawea William Clark Merriwether Lewis Pomp Seaman Charbonneau
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5.4.3): It is expected that students will read to evaluate new information and hypotheses by comparing them to known information and ideas (NS/PS 4.5.3)
        • (5.5.5): It is expected that students will write responses to literary selections by supporting ideas with selected examples. (NS/PS 5.5.4)
    • Sacajawea's Point of View Paper
      • From the perspective of Sacagawea after she has returned from the expedition, have her tell her story of the trip to her tribe. Have students select one thing they liked about the story to be the major focus of their paper, also other events can be included as well. Make sure the story is accurate and descriptive and is told at a the correct time period with Sacagawea's experiences.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5.4.3): It is expected that students will read to evaluate new information and hypotheses by comparing them to known information and ideas (NS/PS 4.5.3)
        • (5.5.5): It is expected that students will write responses to literary selections by supporting ideas with selected examples. (NS/PS 5.5.4)
  • Mathematics
    • Tracking the Trail with Sacajawea
      • Have the students study the trail that Corps of discovery took. Have them figure out how many miles they actually went and the different angles and lines that they took on this expedition. Then, make a map of the trail that Lewis and Clark took so the students can measure the expedition trails and also relate the trails to geometry. This will build their knowledge of these skills and also help them learn the vocabulary.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5.4.6): It is expected that students will identify, draw, and describe points, line segments, rays, and angles.
        • (5.4.7): It is expected that students will identify, draw, label, and describe plane, parallel lines, intersecting lines, and perpendicular lines. (NS/PS 4.5.6)
    • Indian Trading
      • When Sacajawea and the Corps of Discovery were on the expedition money was not a factor. However, trade was and different items were valuable. Have your students determine prices for items that were used for trade. Some of the items are beads, furs, army uniforms, tobacco, etc. Given this information, divide your students into different Indian tribes and have them trade these goods and using math skills as the basis of your lesson. This activity good blossom into a mini-society which you could correlate into a Social Studies lesson also.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5.A.2) It is expected that students will apply previous experience and knowledge to new problem solving situations.
        • (5.B.8) It is expected that students will read a variety of fiction and nonfiction texts to learn about mathematics. (NS B.3-5)
  • Social Studies
    • Be an Artist
      • Draw or paint a picture describing Sacagawea's experience with Indians or any other part of the trip. It could be of a specific event or something that she has seen. Remember they can't paint a picture that is in the book.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5.2.6): It is expected that students will make inferences using prior knowledge, textual information, and pictures.
        • (5.4.2): It is expected that students will record and interpret events on a graphic organizer, such as a calendar or time line (NS 1.5.2)
    • Be an E-Mail Writer
      • Have students generate questions they want to ask people who are experts in the field of the Lewis and Clark expedition. They should be well thought out, researched, and written.
  1. Please make it clear to your students that there is no guarantee their question will be answered, but it never hurts to try.
  2. Have them write the following words in the subject line of the e-mail: "Question from (first name) in (name of town). For example, "Question from Tim in Clayton."
  3. Have students type their question clearly in the e-mail.4. Send your e-mail to
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5.9.1): It is expected that students will use specific and varied vocabulary and apply standard English to communicate ideas. (NS 9.5.1)
        • (5.7.4): It is expected that students will use rules of capitalization.
  • Science
    • Plants and Food
      • Have students research and look in the book for the type of plants and food that the expedition had to find in the wild to survive. Sacajawea was constantly on the look out for various types of roots and plants for the expedition. Have the students find out what type of plants they could eat and what types of plants they could use for medicine by using their science books, books from the library, and of course the Internet. Next, have them split into teams so they can share in the research. A good science report should come out of this or maybe even a good science project.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5.4.9): It is expected that students will investigate and describe how environmental changes allow some plants and animals to survive in specific ecosystems. (L5C5)
        • (5.4.10): It is expected that students will investigate and describe how environmental changes allow some plants and animals to survive and reproduce, but others may die. (L5C5; L5C3)
    • Plant Science Experiment
      • Go out and find some of the various types of plants that Sacajawea was always looking for and have the students do an experiment on them. Students should use the scientific method to state and prove their experiments. Additionally, brainstorm with students so they develop a good plan of some ideas that should be researched and used. Students have creative minds and should be able to come up with several experiments from the items from those available.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (5.4.9): It is expected that students will investigate and describe how environmental changes allow some plants and animals to survive in specific ecosystems. (L5C5)
        • (5.4.10): It is expected that students will investigate and describe how environmental changes allow some plants and animals to survive and reproduce, but others may die. (L5C5; L5C3)

Historical Overview of Book Themes

The one major theme of this book Sacajawea is exploration. The Lewis and Clark expedition was one of the most famous exploration trips in US History. Without their notes, maps, and guides westward expansion would probably not have happened as quickly. They owe a lot of their success to Sacajawea because right from the start she became a valuable member of the Corps of Discovery.

Sacajawea saved the trip early on when her husband lost control of one of the boats and valuable supplies went overboard. Sacajawea stayed calm and was able to retrieve many of these items and the trip could continue. There are thousands of explorations that have taken place in history and all of them have a key figure such as Sacajawea who stood out during the trip. Without people like her explorations could not have happened.

Christopher Columbus discovered the new world when he was on an exploration to find a quicker route to get to Asia. If he had been funded by Spain and did not have the exploration gene in him the United States might not be here today. Other explorations that are very notable are when the Pilgrims first came over to the New World to settle and practice their beliefs. They traveled to a world that a white man had never been to and really did not know what to expect. They came with very little but learned to adapt in a world that was very foreign to them. From there many people came over to the new world and explored all along the coast to find a place of their own.

Without exploration many things in this world would be unknown to people. Exploration is still continuing day and scientist are finding all sorts of new and old artifacts about early tribes. They also are finding new species of animals and some that have been believed to be extinct. Exploration is something that a person has to have in them to go as a famous Star Trek saying goes “To go where no man has gone before”. This is a great saying because not everyone can be an explorer like Lewis and Clark and especially Sacajawea.

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.


Jess said...

I thought your overview was great and your activities would work great with the intermediate level (which isn't always easy with picture books). Your math activity where the students studied the trail was great. Adding in geometry was such a great idea. You could even have them measure the length and convert the units for an extension. Your activities were great (and thanks for being one of the first blogs up so I could get an idea of the expectations)!

LaToyshia Parson-Bass said...

Excellent ideas! In 5th grade, we're getting ready to read the Lewis & Clark Expedition (in Trophies). I just got some great extension ideas from reading your teacher's guide. I really like the idea of the students giving prices to certain trade items. I think I even have an idea to extend this activity even more. Maybe I'll share it once I have it all worked out.

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

The geometry lesson particularly intrigues. I was thinking that there would be something that could be done with the alternative routes taken on the return trip. I'm not sure, though, how to make it a strong math lesson. Any ideas?

I love how you are looking for extensions beyond even what you have here (e.g., the bartering lesson leading to a mini-society). Always thinking like a teacher...

I think you could take both social studies lessons one step further. For the drawing, why not give students the opportunity to use any visual arts format they choose? Some may choose to use technology programs, others may choose chalk, and some may choose photography or sculpture. You could also work collaboratively with the art teacher.

For the emailing activity... why not choose ten questions from those written by students in the class (you can teach the democratic process to help them decide on the most important/best 10 questions. Then, email those questions to an expert in the field. There are lots of academic historians and museum curators that are eager to help children learn about their passion - the story of Lewis and Clark. The students would be so excited to hear the responses. Heck - you could even plan a videoconference between the students and the expert!