Chapter 17: The Sierra Nevada

Teacher's Guide Chapter Author: Robert Mitchell and Christine Anderson, 5th grade teachers, Thompson Elementary School, Clark County School District

Chapter Overview:

This chapter starts out just as the Reeds pass Truckee Lake and run into snow. They had found the cabin by the lake, but passed it at this point. The Indians let Mr. Stanton know that they have lost the trail. Mrs. Breen takes possession of the earlier discovered cabin by the lake. The next day the party tries again to get through the snow, this time without the wagons. Again, they are unable to do so. By November 4th they have decided to settle down in the cabin and wait for the snow to melt. The Graves try again to get through on the trail, but the snow is now 10 feet deep. Many cattle wander off and are not seen again. People begin boiling hides to make a pasty substance to use for nourishment. The children cry because of terrible stomach aches caused by hunger. Many of them stay in bed and sleep much of the day. Some tell stories to pass the time. On Christmas they celebrate with some beans, small pieces of bacon and an apple that Mrs. Reed had hidden away for Christmas dinner. Again, some of the Reeds try to get through the pass, but have to turn back. They spend a lot of time praying together for their survival.

Chapter Themes:

Acceptance (coming to terms with a grave situation)
Feeling of defeat
Creativity (improvising to survive)
Letting go

Chapter Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Activity Idea 1 Venn-Diagram
      • Create a Venn-diagram to compare and contrast the the Reed family Christmas with a typical Christmas the students would experience.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 2.4.3 Apply strategies of summarizing, paraphrasing, and drawing conclusions to aid comprehension.
        • 4.4.2 Identify and compare main ideas and important concepts of texts.
    • Activity Idea 2 Diary Entry
      • Students will create a diary entry in which they recount the experiences, as Patty Reed, during the time in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Students should use details from the chapter to support their entry.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 5.4.4 Write responses to literature using supporting details from the selection.
        • 5.4.5 Write compositions with a main idea and supporting details.
  • Mathematics
    • Activity Idea 1 Estimating measurement
      • Determine how tall 10 feet of snow actually is. Determine how many times the students could stack themselves to reach 10 feet. How much snow would be over their heads in feet.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.4.1 Estimate and convert units of measure for length, area, and width within the same measurement system.
        • 3.4.2 Measure length, area, temperature, and weight to a required degree of accuracy in customary and metric systems.
    • Activity Idea 2 Feet to inches
      • Convert 10 feet of snow into inches.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 3.4.1 Estimate and convert units of measure for length, area, and width within the same measurement system.
        • 3.4.2 Measure length, area, temperature, and weight to a required degree of accuracy in customary and metric systems.
  • Social Studies
    • Activity Idea 1
      • Students will create a map of the state of Nevada displaying major physical features as well as trails people used at the time of Westward expansion.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 4.3.5 Construct a map of Nevada displaying its human and physical features.
        • 4.3.1 Identify and use intermediate directions on a compass rose to locate places on a map.
    • Activity Idea 2 Foldable
      • Create a 2-part foldable which shows what the area in which they were stranded would look like in Patty Reed's day and what it would look like today.
      • Standards Addressed
        • 4.3.15 Give an example of how a place where they have lived has changed in their lifetime.
        • 4.3.23 List reasons why people move to or from a particular place.
  • Science
    • Activity Idea 1 Stages of Water
      • Students will create 3-column notes headed "Water", "Steam", and "Ice". They will show pictures of water in each stage and discuss the similarities and differences. Students will list traits of each stage in the appropriate column of their notes.
      • Standards Addressed
        • P.5.A.2 Explain that water can be a liquid, a gas, or a solid and can go back and forth from one form to another.
        • 4.3.1 Investigate and describe the properties of water.
    • Activity Idea 2 Water Cycle
      • Students will create a flow chart of the water cycle using pictures to represent each stage.
      • Standards Addressed
        • E.5.A.2 Describe the water cycle, including the role of the sun.
        • 4.3.1 Investigate and describe the properties of water.
Historical Overview of Chapter Themes

Starvation led to the deaths of many members of the Donner Party. While not necessarily historical it is interesting to understand what happens to the human body when it is deprived of food. By definition, starvation is the result of a severe or total lack of nutrients needed for the maintenance of life. Adequate nutrition has two parts, nutrients and energy (calories). The human body can survive without the necessary nutrients if it has enough calories. However, eventually various conditions eventually set in, many of which will eventually result in death.

The human body will combat malnutrition by breaking down its own fat and eventually its own tissue. The body's structure and functions are both affected. Starving adults may lose as much as 50% of their normal body weight before death. Symptoms of starvation include:
shrinkage of vital organs and gradual loss of their function
chronic diarrhea
loss of muscle mass and muscle weakness
lowered body temperature and sensitivity to cold
decreased ability to digest food (due to lack of digestive acid production)
diminished mental concentration
immune deficiency

Complete starvation in adults leads to death within eight to twelve weeks. In children, malnutrition is marked by slow growth.

People can recover from severe starvation. Children, however, may suffer from permanent mental retardation or growth defects if their deprivation was long and extreme.

Additional Resources

  • The Water Cycle, by Don L. Curry and Gail Saunders-Smith

1 comment:

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

It might be neat to make a three-dimensional topographical and physical map of Nevada so students can really see the relationship of the Great Salt Desert to the Sierra Nevada. Another idea would be to have students create a large playground map of Nevada and add physical features onto this map. This would be exactly the same as what you have now, but would add a kinesthetic feature to the activity to strengthen content retention for non-traditional learners.

Wasn't the height of the snow (at least by the end of the winter) much higher than 10 feet?

How could you explicitly link your science activities to the history of the Donner Party?