Sarah, Plain and Tall (Patricia MacLachlan)—Chapters 7-9

Teacher's Guide Author: George Probert, 3rd grade teacher, Rowe 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.


Book Overview: In chapter 7, as the family receives some help with their field work and farm animals from their neighbors. Sarah has a heart to heart talk with her new neighbor Maggie, and is able to express how much she misses her family and home near the sea. Maggie suggests that a garden will help cheer Sarah up. So Sarah decides to take the wagon, alone, into the village to get the materials to plant her garden. In chapter 8, the family experiences a hailstorm. They frantically try to bring the animals in the barn for protection. During the time in the barn, the children learn more about the sea in Maine from Sarah. Caleb and Anna have never seen the ocean and want so desperately to conceptualize the ocean. In Chapter 9, after the hailstorm, Sarah ventures off to the village to get the seeds for her garden. While she is away, Anna and Caleb fear that she will not return because they think that they made a bad impression on her. Sarah returns home and the children are elated upon her return. Sarah gives the children a gift three colored pencils: blue, gray, and green. According to Sarah, throughout the novel, these are the colors of the sea. Since Sarah missed the sea so dearly, the children will use these pencils draw her pictures of the sea so Sarah will always have the sea wherever she lives.

Book Themes: sharing and giving, cooperation, loneliness, fear of losing someone, making people feel welcome, flowers, sadness, fear of the unknown, learning to do new things, friendships, summertime, independence, confidence in one’s abilities, farming, nature, protecting basic needs, resilience and determination, love that grows over time, trust, hope, fear of desertion, fear of not being accepted, creativity, art, relating to the unknown, belonging and acceptance

Suggested Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Character Trait Maps
    • Using a large piece of construction paper, students will fold it twice to make four rectangles. Unfold and draw lines along the creases. Inside each of the four parts students will draw a Bubble Map. In the center of a bubble Map, students will write the name of a character from the story. In each extending bubble, students will write a word that describes that character. Words must be adjectives.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.3.2: Describe physical and personality traits of characters; describe the motivation for a character's actions; make inferences and draw conclusions about a character(s) based on evidence.
    • Writing a Friendly Letter
    • Students will write a friendly letter from the point of view of one of the children. This letter should be addressed to Sarah and should explain how they feel about her being in their lives and the hopes and desires they have for the future.
      • Standards Addressed
      • 6.3.7: Write friendly letters following an established format.
      • 5.3.2: Draft paragraphs about a single topic that addresses audience and purpose with an introduction, supporting details, and a conclusion.
  • Mathematics
    • General Store Shopping Trip
      • Students will be given a list of items that were available at a general store during the era of this book. Students will be told that they have a given amount of money to spend. Students will make a shopping list of items that they believe would be needed for a household in the late 1800’s, but the sum of the products they are purchasing must not the exceed the amount of money they are allowed to spend.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 1.3.7: Add and subtract two- and three- digit numbers with and without regrouping. Add and subtract using money as a model.
        • 3.3.4: Read and write money notation.
    • Calculating Map Distances
    • Students will be given a map of the United States with various drawn trails and paths that lead from Maine to South Dakota. Students must determine the distances of various combined trails on the map.
      • Standards Addressed
      • 5.3.1: Pose questions that can be used to guide data collection, organization, and representation.
      • 1.3.7: Add and subtract two- and three- digit numbers with and without regrouping.
  • Social Studies
    • Oceans and Continents
      • Sarah is always referring to the sea. Students will create and use blank maps of the world (without titles and directions) to identify the oceans (Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Arctic) and continents (North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, Antarctica, and Africa) of the world. Students will identify the nearest ocean in relation to where they live. Students will identify the continent on which they live.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.3: Use maps, globes, photographs, and graphs to collect geographic information. (NS 1.3.3)
        • 3.4: Construct a simple map, including titles, symbols, and directions. (NS 1.3.4)
        • 3.43: Locate Las Vegas, Nevada on world maps and globes.
        • 3.44: Locate hemispheres, continents, and oceans on maps and globes.
    • Population
      • Students will conduct a Google Search to determine the populations of Maine and South Dakota in 1880, 1950, and 2000. Students will create a bar graph for each state to represent the state’s population data. Using the graphs students will compare and contrast the data and write 2 statements that are true about their graphs.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.2.1: Construct a graph or chart to compare population distribution in different areas (NS 4.3.6)
        • MATH 5.3.1: Pose questions that can be used to guide data collections, organization, and representation. Use graphical representations, including number lines, frequency tables, and pictographs to represent data.
  • Science
    • Flowers
      • Students will plant seeds of the same flowers that appear in Sarah Plain and Tall: zinnias, marigolds, and nasturtiums. Over the course of time (4-6 weeks) students will measure and record growth daily in a science journal. At the end of 6 weeks, students will compare the similarities and contrast the differences of the 3 flowers.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 1.4: Keep a record in a science notebook, of observations and measurements taken over time. (N5A1)
        • 4.2: Investigate, compare, and contrast the life cycles of various living things.
        • 4.7: Investigate, compare, and contrast identifiable structures and characteristics of plants and animals that enable them to grow, reproduce, and survive.
    • Clouds
      • Students will be able to identify the three basic types of clouds (cirrus, cumulus, and stratus). During the course of a month, students will take daily observations of the skies to record the type of clouds seen that day. Using the data from the daily observations, students will create a bar graph to represent the number of the types of clouds that were seen that month.
      • Standards Addressed
      • 1.4: Keep a record in a science notebook, of observations and measurements taken over time. (N5A1)
      • 3.1: Investigate and describe that the Earth is composed of different kinds of materials (rocks, soils, water, air).

Historical Overview of Book Themes

Resilience and Determination

I chose the topics of resilience and determination because the people of who participated in the westward expansion were a hardy, tough, resilient, and determined group of people. They had to face many unknowns and stay the course to survive. In Joy Chapter 2, people were offered free land in exchange for promising to settle and develop the land for 5 years. This was one of the main reasons for people moving west. They wanted to get a fresh start. In Sarah, Plain and Tall, Sarah is portrayed as a very strong-willed person and in Riley women of the west had to be strong, often do hard laborious work in the house and on the land, and juggle a family as well. Despite many hardships, people of the westward expansion were determined to make their new lives in the west livable and as successful as possible. Given that the prairies had no trees, homes were improvised: sod homes, shacks, paper for windows, etc.

Additional Resources (I am posting some websites that you might find useful when using this book as part of a literature study in your class.)

  • Sarah, Plain and Tall Lesson Activities by Mountain City Elementary School: This website offers some great lesson activities for comprehension through question, vocabulary development, and quizzes.
  • Webquest for Sarah, Plain and Tall by Dora Tamayo & Dina Martinez M.: This website offers teachers an web based approach to the study of Sarah, Plain and Tall. Students would follow the instructions of the webquest to complete the task that has been presented to them. In this case, students will be attempting to retrace the possible routes Sarah had taken from Maine to Kansas.
  • Sarah, Plain and Tall Literature Unit by edHelper: If you have an account (if not you can create one), you can access these great activities (worksheets, book reports, vocabulary, quizzes, word walls, crosswords, etc.) that can be used in conjunction with the novel.
  • Science Notebooks by The North Cascades and Olympic Science Partnership: This is a resource for teacher to help them learn how to use science notebooks in their classrooms. This website offers some great ideas on how to use them and how it helps students refine understanding.


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.


Kat DeBeer said...

I really enjoyed the lesson on planning a prarie. This lessonwill really engage third graders. This would be an ideal opening lesson for the overall theme.

I also really enjoyed the lesson on "Writing a Letter to Sarah". because the book had several letters sent back and forth from Sarah, Anna, Caleb and theri father, students would have great exaples to draw from.

Tina Tenenholtz said...

I think your science lessons are great. Students love to watch their science projects grow before their eyes. However, I don't know how easy tracking clouds in Las Vegas would be. Maybe you can have some students track clouds from the area where the story takes place using the internet then comparing and contrasting Las Vegas with another town or city.

I also liked that you have used technology in your activities. Students really enjoy using computers.

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

I like the "General Store Shopping Trip Idea" and think it could be extended in several ways. For example, have student actually create a general store in the classroom and shop. You could combine two classes for this activity or separate the class into several groups of shoppers and shop owners. To complicate the activity, have some shoppers barter for goods. I would also have students complete a homework assignment to go to a store and find the prices today. They could use percentages to determine the percent of increase of the time difference. Also, would you please create a link to a list of items (and their costs) in general stores of the 1800s?

If you have a playground map of the world on your campus, have your students practice learning the oceans and continents using kinesthetic means. You might even have students create a playground map ( and then have contests to see which student can use chalk to fill in all the names of the continents and oceans the quickest.

I love that you included the technology component into your activities (see "Population"). It's nice that you have them engage in online searches. It would be great to have them create their graphs on paper and then have them replicate the graphs using Excel.

For your science activities, you do a nice job of reinforcing the scientific method by having students collect data to make conclusions. Be sure to add hypothesis. I agree with Tina that it may be difficult to track clouds in Las Vegas and it would be better to track them in the locations of the story. Perhaps you could find a webcam available online that would allow you to do this.