Chapter 13: The Valley of the Great Salt Lake

Teacher's Guide Chapter Author: Jessica Parker, 4th grade teacher, Steve Cozine School Elementary School, Clark County School District

Chapter Overview: The family learns that they still have mountains to climb and treacherous roads ahead. The group was becoming more admitted that the Hastings cut-off had proven to be an extremely difficult route and cursed the decision made by the team leaders. They forged ahead over the mountains until they came into the Great Salt Lake valley.
Soon after arriving in the valley, the party found a tattered note from Mr. Hastings warning of the difficulties ahead. Once they had put the note back together, they learned that it would be at least two days until they reached water and grass from that point forward. The party had been told that it would be only 40 miles of “dry drive” (meaning desert) from Fort Bridger. The group loaded as much water and grass as they could carry over 36 hours and then set out. The note mentioned an additional two days of driving through the desert but it did not mention the mountains that they would have to climb in the middle of that “dry drive”.
Chapter Themes:

1. Tension beginning to build about deciding to take the Hastings cut-off
2. Coming down into the Great Salt Lake Valley and loading up on supplies (i.e. water, grass, cooking)
3. Beginning the journey across the desert.
Chapter Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Activity Idea 1 Writing a script and acting out a scene
      • Have the students work in groups to create a short script from this chapter. This chapter is filled with a lot of anxiety at the trip taking longer than expected and then the shock of finding a warning letter. The students will create the script and perform the short “skit” in front of the class. I personally would have the students grouped in multiple ability groups of about 5 students and give each group a focus. Maybe one group creates and demonstrates a scene where the party finds the note, while another group focuses on the party’s reaction to the note.
      • Standards Addressed
      • Identify the text structures of a variety of selections (stories, plays, etc). (4)3.6
      • Select and use appropriate public speaking techniques. (4) 9.2

    • Activity Idea 2 Interview a Character
      • The students will create a list of about 5 questions. They will use these questions to “interview” two different members of the party (specifically two different characters that are described in the book). They are to ask questions about the party might be feeling at this point in the journey. Then they are to answer their own questions from the perspective of that character. The students should be encouraged to ask one question that reflects, one that predicts what will happen and at least one about how the character may be feeling. If they want to add something extra they could write a news story and describe how people are feeling and what they are thinking after they received the note that they have more difficult trail ahead. They should refer to the research and previous events in the book. I would encourage the students to work together in discussion groups after developing a few questions. This would be a good activity for the teacher to help scaffold for the lower level reading groups.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Identify and use pre-reading, during, and post-reading strategies to improve comprehension (access prior knowledge, make predictions, preview text, set a purpose, make connections to personal experiences and knowledge, connect, compare and contrast the story elements in text). (4) 2.1
        • Ask and answer questions with relevant details to clarify ideas
  • Mathematics
    • Activity Idea 1 How far have they come?
      • At this point in the story the Donner Party has come a significant distance. I would have the students map their traveled distance on a current map of the United States. They would design their own maps and they would be required to create a distance key. They would have done research throughout the reading of this text, so they would be required to mark significant locations of stops along the trail. I would teach them how to make a conversion table and have them measure in miles how far the party had traveled at this point in the story. I would also have them make a conversion table in metric units (kilometers). Once they finished their maps, we would use string on a large classroom map together and create conversion tables as a class.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Measure compare, and convert length in metric units. (4) 3.4
        • Collect, organize, display, describe, and interpret simple data to solve problems. (4) 5.

    • Activity Idea 2 Time to turn back?
      • I would have the students create a chart of how far the party could travel in a day. We would create a chart of the number of miles between each stop and how long it took the party to reach each major stop. They would create this chart up to the Great Salt Lake and then continue to fill it in as the party continued to their destination. We would also discuss whether or not it would have been advantages to turn back and take the other trail at any point. After a probability discussion, we would measure in mileage and time the difference. Using the mileage and time for both trails in their argument, I would have the students write about what they would do if they were in charge of the party.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Represent the results of simple probability experiments as fractions to make predictions about future events. (4) 5.9
        • Select, modify, develop, apply and justify strategies to solve a variety of mathematical practical problems and to investigate and understand mathematical concepts. (4) A.1
Social Studies
    • Activity Idea 1 Trail Museum
      • I would start this lesson with a motivational introduction like the class has been nominated as the staff of a new museum devoted to the Oregon Trail. The teacher and students would work together to develop museum exhibits and interpretive activities to present the viewpoints of both Native Americans and pioneers. Students may create interactive exhibits, papier-mâché artifacts, models, scenes with costumes, written activities for visitors to complete at the museum, and so on. When the museum is finished, invite other classes to come through the museum. A few students could even volunteer to be in pioneer Native American costumes could act as guides to help visitors learn at the classroom museum.
        Of course this activity would require a significant amount of time and research. I would have them use websites such as Oregon-California Trails Association: ; Oregon Trail: Http:// ; Pioneer Life: ; Westward Expansion, National Park Service: I would also use encyclopedias or Grolier online. I would have books available also:
        This is the Place: the Story of the Mormon Trail by William E. Hill, Jan C. Hill
        Children of the Westward Trail by Rebecca Steffof
        If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon by Ellen Levine
      • Standards Addressed
        • Describe experiences of pioneers moving west, including: Donner Party, Oregon/California Trails. (4) 4.4
        • Use technologies as an educational tool in all content areas. (4) 4.1

    • Activity Idea 2 Travel Then and Now
      • Discuss the use of a Venn diagram and how it helps organize information so you can learn from it. Have the student create a diagram and on one side put “Travel Then” and on the other side put “Travel Now”. In the center, title it “both”. Discuss and have the students brainstorm what it’s like to travel. Unfortunately it’s common in CCSD to have students who haven’t been further than the grocery so it might take a UnitedSteaming video and a lot of discussion on what you might need on a road trip. Then have the students brainstorm what “Travel Then” and have them describe details. After filling in the Venn diagram have the students fill in what is similar in traveling for both time periods. When they are finished, have the students write about or draw which “kind” of traveling they prefer.
        For a technology component, have the students create their Venn diagram on Kidsperation.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Record events on a graphic organizer, such as a calendar or time line. (4) 4.1
        • Discuss how and why people from various cultures immigrated and migrated to the American West. (4) 4.11

  • Science
    • Activity Idea 1 Animals on the trail
      • Have the students research what animals would be useful on the trail. I would use much of the resources I listed in the Social Studies section. They would use a science journal and record their findings. They would create charts that would list and describe the uses of animals on the trail and how they were utilized during that time period. They would create pictures or diagrams of how the animals may have been harnessed and how they would do work. They would also describe in their chart how these animals would act without human interaction.
        I have used Grolier Encyclopedia online ( for multiple research projects online. It has a wealth of information on animals and historical information. I would recommend that the teacher go to this site first and check out books from the library on horses, oxen, mules, burrows and even possibly dogs.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Compare learned and inherited behaviors in animals. (4) 4.1
        • Generate investigable questions based on observations and interactions with objects organisms and phenomena. (4) 1.1
    • Activity Idea 2 Cooking with fire
      • Throughout Patty Reed’s Doll there are multiple mentions of how they cook. The students also have some idea of how cooking requires some kind of heat. I would find pictures online (Google images is a great place to start) of the cook pots and utensils the pioneers may have used. I would also discuss what modern cooking materials are made of. I would then have the students begin to discuss what kind of cooking material would be best. We would discuss what types of materials the pioneers would have had available to make their cooking pots and then I would start teaching about heat conduction. Once they understood heat conduction, we would discuss what materials conduct heat the best. We would also compare cooking on a fire, to a wood fire stove and an actual stove and which type of heat would cook best. The students could create different diagrams that would show how different cooking methods and materials (past and present) would work.
        An additional suggestion for management of this lesson could be having the students decide or be assigned a specific type of cooking material and heat source combination. The students would create a diagram of how well that material conducts heat and how well it works with that heat source. They could present their findings to the class.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Describe how heat can move from one object to another by condition, and some materials conduct heat better than others. (4) 2.5
        • Compare a model with what it represents. (4) 1.6

Historical Overview of Chapter Themes

In chapter 13 of Patty Reed’s Doll, the Donner Party came upon the Great Salt Lake valley. After crossing over the Wasatch Mountains they had wasted much of their time, food and energy, they came upon this desert. When they came through in 1846, Utah had not yet been settled by the white pioneers. The Mormon settlers, who were escaping religious persecution, began to establish this area of Utah a year after the party passed through in 1847. Although the Donner Party did not encounter any Native Americans there were a few tribes. These tribes had no doubt begun to move on since the hunting had been greatly diminished with the number of trappers and white settlers passing through the Great Salt Lake valley.

The main theme in chapter 13 was about how the Donner Party, who were told by a wagon train that they were essentially following(whom Hastings was leading), that they had 2 days and 2 nights of traveling through a desert. This came as a shock since that been informed that the section of the journey would be significantly less. They had already come through a dense forest and over mountains. Utah has very significant about of fresh water springs and the families were fortunate enough to have been able to camp and replenish supplies that would aid them in their journey through the desert. Though the party loaded as many provisions as possible it still would not be enough since they truly had no idea how long their journey would be.

The Great Salt Lake and the surrounding desert were formed by the ancient Lake Bonneville. As the ancient lake receded some 18,000 years ago, it left behind a desert of salt and minerals. The Great Salt Lake itself is one of the largest lakes in North America. Summers in this region of Utah have been long, dry and hot, while winters are fairly short. The high levels of now and precipitation in the mountains, but Salt Lake City usually only receives only about five inches of rain a year.

Additional Resources


teach14 said...

I really enjoyed reading your ideas, they were great and I can't wait to use them. I really like the were you are going to have the students create interactive exhibits, papier-mâché artifacts, models, and scenes with costumes, to me, anything that allows students to do hands-on activities is awesome. I also think its great you plan on inviting other classes to come in to enjoyed the museum. I also thought you provided more then enough web resources for the students to use.

I am not sure what your time line is for all these great activities, but you might want to take that into consideration, just a few of the activities.

teach14 said...

I would also think about doing something with the Great Salt Lake in Utah, for some it might be something they can relate to , since some have been there or may be from the area. Great job!

Donelle said...

I love your idea of checking the cooking methods. I was thinking of how to do something like that but understand the dangers of fire. I think it is a wonderful idea but how are the students going to test their theories? It seems like a lot of people have continued the same ideas. I know I had some of your math ideas for my chapters in 9 and 10. Great job!!

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

Phenomenal work, Jessica!

I like that you merge script writing with performing the script. Often, teachers have students do one activity or the other. This method is a much richer opportunity to internalize student learning of the material.

I agree with your colleagues that the museum idea is incredible! I would use the museum starting at the beginning of the book and they would work all throughout the unit. It's a great opportunity for cross-curricular instruction and a great way to bring in technology. You could have students debut their museum (an "Opening Night") by having a pioneer festival. Some students could perform self-written Chautauqua characters, some could be museum docents, some could enact "day-in-the-life" events and everyone could each period food. WOW! I love this museum idea - it has so many possible extensions!