If You Were a Pioneer on the Prairie (Anne Kamma)

Teacher's Guide Author: Stacey Seiden, 5th grade teacher, May Elementary School, Clark County School District


This teacher's guide is for the book If You Were a Pioneer on the Prairie by Anne Kamma. 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: If You Were a Pioneer on the Prairie by Anne Kamma describes what life was like for the pioneers on their move west and what life was like living on the prairie. Kamma explains that the pioneers weren’t going to the prairie, but they had to cross it to get to Oregon and California. The pioneers were worried, because the prairie was extremely dry and had very little trees. As they traveled, all they saw was grass. As more and more people started traveling through this region, they realized they could in fact live and survive on this land.

Book Themes: survival, determination, struggle, family, team work

Suggested Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Vocabulary
      • Students will choose ten words that are unfamiliar to them while reading the book. First, students will choose one word to write on an index card with a short definition. Then the entire class will stand in a circle. Students will take turns reciting their word and acting it out for the class. As they say and act out the word, the class joins in and repeats the word and acts it out at the same time. Follwoing this activity, students will use the dictionary to look up their other nine words. They will write the word, write the definition for each, use it in a sentence, and draw a picture of it. The words will be added for the end of the week vocabulary test.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 1.2 use knowledge of phonics, structural element, grammar, and syntax to read and determine the meaning of unfamiliar words in context
        • 1.4 use dictionaries and glossaries to find word origins, pronunciations, and to determine the meaning of unknown words
        • 1.9 develop vocabulary by listening to and discussing selection read aloud
    • Journal
      • Students will keep a journal as if they are a child traveling west with their family. The journal will be kept for one week. Students will have to dicuss both the move and what life was like living on the pairie with great detail.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 5.1 participate in writing daily writing activities (e.g., journals)
        • 5.5 write responses to literary selections by supporting ideas with selected examples
        • 7.1 use correct grammar when writing
  • Mathematics
    • Wagon Pricing
      • Students will create a list of important items to bring on their move west. Knowing that they could not take everything due to weight (a number will be given at the beginning), students will choose from a list of items what is most important and add their weights together. They will then decide whether or not they can take all they chose or if they have to change something.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 1.27 add and subtract decimals
        • 1.32 use a variety of appropriate strategies to estimate, compute and solve mathematical and real-world problems
        • 3.4 determine totals and change due for monetary amounts in problem solving situations
    • Word Problems
      • Students will create word problems for each other using time. Word problems can be how long it will take to get west or how long it takes to pack all their belongings etc.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 6.1 select, modify, develop, and apply strategies to solve a variety of mathematical and practical problems and to investigate and understand mathematical concepts
        • 3.8 identify equivalent periods of time, including relationships between and among seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, and years
  • Social Studies
    • Mini-Book
      • Students will use the internet and nonfiction text to learn and discuss why the pioneers decided to move west. Students will create a mini-book incorporating what they learned. The mini-book will consist of both wording and comic book-syle pictures.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 4.10 describe relationships among Native Americans, Europeans, Asians, and Africans
        • 4.2 record and interpret evens on a graphic organizer such as a calendar, time line etc.
    • Moving West
      • Students will map the area traveled by the pioneers. While mapping the area, they will discuss the hardships faced by the change in scenery.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.35 describe how the physical setting influenced an even in the past
        • 3.38 describe geographic issue and the possible impact it could have in the future
        • 3.1 use maps and map feature, including directional orientation, map symbols, and grid system to identify and locate major geographic features
        • 3.4 construct maps, charts, tables, and graphs to display information about human and physical features of the United States
  • Science
    • Natural Disasters
      • Students will explore historical documents and explain the effect of drought, prairie fire, and grasshopper plagues on the pioneer farm.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.3 investigate and describe various meteorological phenomena (flooding, snowstorms, thunderstorms, and drought)
        • 1.7 use models to explain how something works or how something is constructed
    • Moving West
      • Students will research the hardships the pioneers encountered moving through the desert like land. Part of this research will include how the land changed with the settlement of the pioneers
      • Standards Addressed
        • 4.8 investigate and describe how organisms, including humans, can cause changes in their environments
        • 4.10 investigate and describe how environmental changes allow some plants and animals to survive and reproduce, but others may die

Historical Overview of Book Themes

The overall theme of this book was how difficult life was moving west and how the pioneers coped with life once they moved to the prairie. While settlers weren't going to live on the prairie, they had to pass through it on their way west. People thought all kinds of wonderful things would happen for them if they moved west. They were most excited about owning their own land.

While times were tough at the beginning, the pioneers learned how to live on the land and make the best of it. Pioneers thought the only people capable living on this land were the Native Americans.

When settlers moved out west, there wasn't a tree in sight. Since there wasn't an abundance of trees, pioneers had to use what was available. Sod squares were cut from the soil. Not only were the walls constructed of sod, but most roofs as well, which sometimes led to wet bedding and clothes after a heavy rain. Only a minimal amount of lumber was needed, for a door and one or more windows. The sod homes proved to be cool in the hot summer and warm in the winter.

Additional Resources

  • Pioneers by ThinkQuest: pioneer life
  • Oregon History by End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center
  • Conestoga Wagons by Richard Ammon
  • If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon by Ellen Levine


Note: This teacher's guide was developed as part of one of the Clark County School District'sgrant 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. Teaching American History grants.


Sherri Aragon said...

Wow! This is very detailed. The journal writing would be a great activity that I could definitely try in class. My two suggestions would be to extend the lesson by having the students meet collaboratively with each other and compare their journals. Also, for the mapping activity the lesson can be extended by having them discuss what type of technologies that we have today would have made their travel easier. Good job.

Suzanne Hill said...

Your blog looks great. I especially like the math idea of pricing objects in the wagon and calculating the costs. I think you did a wonderful job on this. I can't wait to start writing down all the terrific ideas for use in my classroom. Your background information adds nicely to your guide.

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

What a wonderful idea to add the kinesthetic component to vocabulary words! This is a strategy I learned from Angela Orr during a We the People training. See http://keelerthoughts.blogspot.com/2007/07/wtp-middle-school-meeting.html for her ideas. Unfortunately, the videos of her acting out the vocabulary words were lost due to a technical problem. It'd be great it you would take video of some of your students' best vocabulary demonstrations and include them on this page.

In "Wagon Pricing," it would be helpful if you could include a link to the weight and costs of common items carried along the trails.

I love foldables and cartoons! I recommend having students use Comic Life (http://plasq.com/comiclife) when creating their comics for the "Mini-Book" activity. This adds a technology component to the lesson. Also, I highly recommend Dinah Zike's work (http://www.dinah.com/) when planning foldables.

Which primary sources do you recommend students consult during the "Natural Disasters" activity?

Jessica Alvarez said...

I really enjoyed your teacher guide. I liked how detailed it was and I got some really good ideas. I think that after the students write in their journals they could share with their classmates what some of their entries were. I also think that after the moving west activites you could have the students meet in groups to brainstorm ways that the pioneers could have avoided some of their problems.