Sarah, Plain and Tall (Patricia MacLachlan)—Chapters 1-3

Teacher's Guide Author: Luis Bachelier, 3rd grade teacher, Jay Jeffers Elementary School, Clark County School District


Teachers' guides exist for Sarah, Plain and Tall for chapters 1-3, 4-6, and 7-9.

Additional teacher's Guides are available for Patty Reed's Doll, Sallie Fox, and other exploration children's books.


Chapters 1-3 Overview: In Chapter 1 Papa tells his children Anna and Caleb that he has placed an advertisement in the local newspaper for a wife. Anna and Caleb want to remember their mother who died one day after Caleb was born. Papa receives a letter from a lady from Maine named Sarah who wishes to come for a month. In Chapter 2 Papa, Anna and Caleb each write a letter to Sarah each asking different questions about what she likes and dislikes. In Chapter 3 Sarah arrives by train and has gifts for all from her "former home." Sarah describes herself as "Plain and Tall."

Chapters 1-3 Themes: Dependence on family members, Women having a strong role in the family, Children's responsibilities, Vulnerability of the weather on the prairie, Rural life in the late 1800's, Animal companionship and the codependency of owner and animals.

Suggested Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Advertisement for Help?
      • In pairs or a small group, students will develop or create an advertisement as Papa did in the story. You will advertise for help-someone who will do all of your chores that Anna and Caleb had to do around their home. Students must include the reason for needing help as well as how much work is required each day. Parents can get involved and write down chores that they would like their child to do around the home. Look at different classified ads in the newspaper for ideas.Teacher and students can discuss bias, marketing, and propaganda when looking at the different newspaper ads.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (3) 6.7 Students will write a variety of communications in appropriate formats.
        • (3) 5.1 Students will use pre-writing strategies, both independently and collaboratively with peers, to plan written work.
    • View of the Prairie!
      • Students will write a paragraph or more about what they think Anna meant or thought when she looked outside and stated, "the prairie reached out and touched the places where the sky came down." Students who are limited in their language abilities can draw their scenario and write a shorter version along with their sketch. Use persuasive language to respond.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (3) 4.5 J Students will evaluate text (e.g. draw conclusions, make inferences).
        • (3) 4.2 B2 Students will identify, with assistance informal and formal language.
        • (3) 6.6 Students will write paragraphs that include supporting evidence.
        • (3) 6.4A Students will write persuasive responses to literary text.
  • Mathematics
    • The Wagon Ride
      • Anna and Caleb "saw the dust from the wagon rising above the road." Students will predict how far away (using time) the wagon was using familiar points of interest that were used in the preceding chapters. How long did it take the wagon to reach the fenced field, the windmill, the barn, the Russian olive tree and the finally the porch. They will map out there points of interest first, then students will write down predictions using mathematical words, phrases, and symbols to express their thinking.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (3) 3.13 Students will use elapsed time, beginning on the hour or half hour, to determine start, end and elapsed time.
        • (3) 3.6 Students will express mathematical ideas and use them to define, compare, and solve problems orally and/or in writing.
    • Farm to the Train Station?
      • Papa got up early for the long days trip to the train station and back. Using a map of today locate two points of interest that are a distance you think Papa traveled that day. Create a schedule using time for that day. How many miles do you think he spent? How much time do you think he spent at each location? Take everything into consideration-Did he feed the horses, give them water to drink, buy goods while in town, etc. Students can work in pairs and students who are limited in their language can contribute with a drawing or sketch to determine the solution. After the students answer the math problem, have each student write 1 or 2 problems with each others' story problem. This will give the students a better connection with the calculations and practice.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (3) A.2 Students will apply previous experiences and knowledge to new problem solving situations.
        • (3) D.1 Students will link new concepts to prior knowledge.
        • (3) C.4 Students will ask questions to reflect on, clarify and extend thinking to solve problems.
  • Social Studies
    • Mode of Transportation
      • Students will use a double bubble map (Thinking Maps) to compare and contrast two types of transportation. One must be a wagon and the other may be a car, bus, train or bicycle. The double bubble map must consist of at least fives differences and five similarities. Students will work in no more than four in a group. Working in groups help students who are limited in their language contribute with a drawing or sketch if needed.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (3) 5.0 Students understand the effects of interactions between human and physical systems and changes in use, distribution, and importance of resources.
        • (3) 1.12 work cooperatively in a group.
    • Sheep, Cows, and Chickens
      • Students will chart using a tree map (Thinking Maps) to discuss what each animal was used for and produced during this period. They can discuss the differences of today and during this time period also. The animals they will chart is a cow, sheep, chicken, horse, dog, or cat. Students will choose 3 animals from the list provided. They must have at least four items for each.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (3) 2.23 Students will describe various products from animals (i.e. food, milk, leather products.)
        • (3) 5.0 Students will understand the effects of interactions between human and physical systems and the changes in use, distribution, and importance of resources.
  • Science
    • Fog Bound Sea?
      • Students understand that changes in weather often involve water changing from one state to another. In a large group format- teacher will demonstrate using dry ice and water to see one change. A couple of students will pour slowly water into the dry ice and they will see changes occurring with the dry ice and what it produces. Students will be able to observe what Sarah means when she said in her letter to Anna"fog bound sea". Students will write or draw in their science notebooks what they observed.
      • Standards Addressed
        • (3) 1.3 Students will conduct investigations based on observations and questions raised about the world.
        • (3) 1.1 Students will identify, gather and safely use tools and materials needed in investigations.
        • (3) 1.5 Students will use a science notebook entries to develop, communicate, and justify descriptions, explanations, and predictions.
    • Gopher vs. Woodchuck
      • Students will research each animal that lived on the Caleb, Anna, and Papa's farmland. The students will present their findings by classifying their physical characteristics, behaviors and habitats. To present they will use visuals-any Thinking Map graphic organizer they find appropriate as well as orally presenting it to their peers using science based inquiry. (ERIC)
      • Standards Addressed
        • (3) 4.2 Students will investigate, compare, and contrast life cycles of various living things.
        • (3) 4.3 Students will investigate and describe the interactions of organisms with each other and their ecosystem.

Historical Overview of Book Themes

A women's role in society was drastically influenced by many beliefs of the times. One of the ideals was the concept of "Republican motherhood." This concept stated that women should stay at home to raise children because only women could turn children into responsible adults and productive American citizens. This unfortunate belief severely limited the roles a women might other wise have taken in society. According to Glenda Riley in her book, A Place to Grow- Women in the American West many historians reflect that the women of these times were bonnet wearing mothers sitting on porches watching their husband's labor on their farmland. To the contrary, many women worked extremely hard to keep up with the growing demands of the role that they needed to play. They cooked, sewed, cared for the children, feed the animals, cleaned and cared for the home amongst the harshest of weather and economic times. Many married and single women were asked to bear many children not only to help the population but to offer more hands of the farm. Single or unmarried women were considered highly skilled laborers who assisted to the rural economy which in turn were essential to the progress of her relatives or parents well being. With many men having gone west in search of new land, many women found themselves poor and unmarried or living far away from family and friends. Many young women born of these farms tended to migrate in search of a better life to the drudgery and isolation of farm life. Isolation was an experience more common in these times.

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.


Mitch Kalin said...

I liked your advertisement activity. I think that it was clever and the students should enjoy doing it. Creating an ad for someone to do your chores should make this a writing assignment that they do not mind.

One suggestion that I would have is to add a drawing element to your view of prairie assignment. This would let lower level students be successful and would also be something to differentiate it from normal writing assignments.

One question that I had was the use of modes of transportation as a theme of the first few chapters. Was that really a theme or just something that was discussed?

Kristin Karyczak said...

You have included an excellent variety of activities. Your math activity: Farm to Train Station is a great way for students to understand time and distance. As an extension, it would be interesting to see if students could look up actual scheduled times that airplanes take off from the points they have chosen. They could figure out how long it takes to get from each place according to the airplane schedule.

mhughes said...

I agree with Mitch with regards to your advertisement idea. The idea can develop into a mini lesson on empathy for Pa to find help. You can also have the students learn about techniques of persuasive writing. They can look at old adds, if you have time to print them off, and compare them to our adds that we use today for the same product or how we look for hired help. Maybe the parents can get in on the act and write down chores that they would like their child to do around the house.

kristenzim said...

I enjoyed your ideas of how to incorporate Thinking Maps (a required daily lesson component) into your lessons for this book. One additional activity would be to have the students begin a diary and write from the point of view of one or several of the characters in the book. Another extension would be to incorporate technology in some way. Students in many areas would have a difficult time understanding the vastness of a prairie. A video clip or website would aid their understanding.

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

When consider genre, teachers often forget professional writing. Your "Advertisement for Help" activity teaches students that advertisements are a writing form and they require a specific toolset to complete successfully. Along with this activity, I would have students discuss bias, marketing, and propaganda.

You math activities require higher level thinking and practical application! This is a great way to reinforce problem solving skills.

It may be nice to compare the uses of farming animals then and now. Also, ask if the pioneers had alternative resources to meet the purposes of these animals and whether we have alternatives.