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Thirteen Ed Online
Lesson Plans
Frontier Life Story
Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students

Procedures for teachers is divided into three sections:
Prep -- Preparing for the lesson
Steps -- Conducting the lesson
Extensions -- Additional activities


Media Components

Computer Resources:
  • Macintosh computer: System 7.0 or above and at least 16 MB of RAM.
  • IBM-compatible computer: 386 or higher processor with at least 16 MB of RAM, running Windows 3.1. Or, a 486/66 or Pentium with at least 16 MB of RAM, running Windows 95.
Specific Software Needed:
  • PowerPoint (optional)
  • Web page building software (optional)


Students need the following supplies:

  • Class copies of BY THE SHORES OF SILVER LAKE, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
  • Copies of the Student Organizers.
  • Copy of the PBS series, FRONTIER HOUSE. (optional) Check with your local PBS station for air dates, or visit the program Web site to order copies of the program.

    Activity One
    Chapters 1-6: Medicine on the Frontier
    Chapters 7-13: Law and Order on the Frontier
    Chapters 14-18: Being a Good Neighbor on the Frontier
    Chapters 19-22: Food and Entertainment on the Frontier
    Chapters 23-29: Homes and Land Ownership on the Frontier
    Technology Sites
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    Introductory Activity:

  • Begin by filling out the "K" of a K-W-L chart (“K” stands what students already know, “W” for what whey want to know, and “L” for what they’ve learned) to find out what students know. Ask students what they think life would have been like for pioneers on the frontier back in the late 1800s. Put their responses in the “K” column.

  • Then, ask them what they want to know, and put their responses in the “W” column.

  • Then, ask them to think about these questions as they watch the first (THE AMERICAN DREAM) or second (THE PROMISED LAND) video of the four-part PBS series, FRONTIER HOUSE. Visit your local PBS station to check for air dates, or check the Web site to find out how to obtain the video.

  • After they’ve watched the video, ask them what they learned, and fill in the “L” column of the chart.

  • Then, ask students for any new questions the movie generated and put those in the “W” column. Keep this chart accessible throughout the duration of the lesson.

    Learning Activities:

    Activity One:

  • Introduce BY THE SHORES OF SILVER LAKE to students. Using the book cover and the following Web sites, have students answer the following questions:
    • Who is Laura Ingalls Wilder?
    • When did she live?
    • Is this story fiction or non-fiction?
    • What is the setting?
    • What did the U.S. map look like in 1880? What section of it was considered the “frontier”?
    Web sites for research:

    Activity Two:

  • Provide each student with a copy of BY THE SHORES OF SILVER LAKE. Tell students they will be reading the book in five sections (chapters 1-6, chapters 7-13, chapters 14-18, chapters 19-22, chapters 23-29).

  • Assign students the first section, chapters 1-6, for homework (students will probably need 2-3 days to finish the section) and hand out copies of the STUDENT ORGANIZER ONE: INDEPENDENT READING QUESTIONS. Students should complete these questions for homework along with their reading assignment.

  • After students have read the first section and completed their independent reading questions, divide the class into discussion/research groups of 3-4 students. These discussion/research groups should remain the same throughout the course of the lesson. Have students share their responses to the independent reading questions in their groups.

  • After allowing students to discuss their responses to the independent reading questions in small groups for 15-20 minutes, tell students that they will now be doing research to give them a clearer picture of what life was like on the frontier. Distribute copies of Research Question for Chapters 1-6 to each group.

  • Review the Research Question for Chapters 1-6 sheet with students, and tell them that for each research question (they will be researching one for each section of the book they read, so 5 total), they will first find clues within the book to help them answer the question. (To make this task easier, students should refer the relevant chapters listed under the question.) They will then research the question further using relevant web sites. Finally, they will compare frontier life to own lives.

  • Give the students time to research the question for chapters 1-6 within their discussion/research groups.

  • After students have finished researching, have each group should give an informal 5 minute presentation of what they learned. Add information from the presentations to the “L” section of the “K-W-L” chart you began in the introductory activity.

  • Follow the same steps for the remaining four sections of the book..

  • After students have finished a section of the book, assign the next section, as reading homework and ask students to complete the STUDENT ORGANIZER ONE: INDEPENDENT READING QUESTIONS. (This sheet is the same for every section of the book.)

  • Convene students in their discussion/research groups. Within the groups, ask students to discuss their responses to the independent reading questions. Hand out the organizers listed below, and assign students the research question relevant to the section of the book they have just read.

    Research Question for Chapters 7-13
    Research Question for Chapters 14-18
    Research Question for Chapters 19-22
    Research Question for Chapters 23-29

    Where noted in the research question handouts, you may want to show a FRONTIER HOUSE video to help students research their question.

    After giving students time to research, have each group give an informal presentation to the class, and add to the “K-W-L” chart.

    Culminating Activity/Assessment:

  • Have student reading/research groups choose one of the research topics about frontier life:

    • medicine
    • law and order
    • being a good neighbor
    • food and entertainment
    • homes and land ownership

  • Tell students that each group will prepare a PowerPoint presentation or Web page about the topic they have chosen displaying what they learned in their research. Their presentation should include a comparison of the aspect of life they studied on the frontier to that aspect of life today.

  • Students should then show their multimedia presentation to the class. Encourage students to ask questions during the presentations.

  • Ask students to write an essay (independently) explaining why they would rather live today or back on the frontier.


    Ask students to write a letter to one of the characters in the book explaining what the world is like today and which aspects of life have changed for the better and which for the worse.


    Cross-Curricular Extension:

    Art: Have students build a model of one of the Ingall’s houses or a diorama of a scene from the book.

    Drama: Have students reenact one of their favorite scenes from the book. They should be sure to create period-appropriate costumes and props.

    Overview | Procedures for Teachers | Organizers for Students