Chapter 8: The Valley of the Platte

Teacher's Guide Chapter Author: Eva Brown, 4 grade teacher, MJ Christensen Elementary School, Clark County School District

Chapter Overview: By entering the Valley of the Platte, it severed as a turning point for the many pioneers traveling west. It was in this valley that they discovered the mountain men and the trappers, where they learned of landmarks and their meanings, where they discovered a valley so desolate and bare that many began to wonder what they got themselves into. It was also a time when many of the pioneers saw different kinds of animals for the first time, like the excitment of the children to see prairie dogs, or the men killing their first buffalo. There is also a mention of building boats to cross the Platte River, and of how the women came together to help after the death of the grandmother. This is the chapter that is the beginning of many problems they are about to face especially since they see the cliffs in front of them and the dry weather they have to travel through. It is also at this time when many families will begin to have problems with others on the trail, this is when the party is over and real life living begins.

lChapter Themes: Boat Making, Animals on the Prarie, Women on the Trail, Scott’s Bluff, Mountain Men and Trappers

Chapter Activities

  • Language Arts
    • Activity Idea 1: Write and illustrate favorite part
      • Description: This chapter has many different themes, after reading this chapter SW choose their favorite part, create a picture then rewrite this theme in their own words
      • Standards Addressed
        • Standard 1: 4.4.2 Identify and compare main ideas and important concepts of text
        • Standard 2: 5.4.4 Write responses to literature, using supporting details from the selection
    • Activity Idea 2: Create a crossword puzzle
      • Description: SW create a crossword puzzle using 10 important terms or vocabulary words in the chapter
      • Standards Addressed
        • Standard 1: 1.4.5 Use knowledge of vocabulary and context clues to determine meaning of unknown words
        • Standard 2: 1.4.3 use knowledge of common Greek- and Latin-derived roots and affixes to determine the meaning of words in context
  • Mathematics
    • Activity Idea 1: Money-buying supplies
      • Description: In this chapter, the Mountain men have certain supplies the families need, if a price tag was attached to each item (buffalo robe $1.00) and you only have $5.00 to spend, what would you get, and how much money would it cost. SWBT create word problems using the supplies need to purchase from the Mountain men in order to continue their journey. In this chapter, the Mountain men have certain supplies the families need, if a price tag was attached to each item (buffalo robe $1.00) and you only have $5.00 to spend, what would you get, and how much money would it cost.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Standard 1: 1.4.8 Generate and solve, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems using whole numbers in practical situations.
        • Standard 2: 3.4.4 Use monetary amounts in practical situations
    • Activity Idea 2: Measurement
      • Description: SW have to use computer to research different rivers the pioneers crossed and create a line graph comparing these rivers, including the Platte. (
      • Standards Addressed
        • Standard 1: 3.4.2 Measure length, area, temperature, and weight to a required degree of accuracy in customary units
        • Standard 2: (4) 2.13 Search a database to locate specific information (e.g. encyclopedia, library catalogs…)
  • Social Studies
    • Activity Idea 1: Trails used to travel westward
      • Description: SW research and label on a map, different trails pioneers used when traveling west.
      • Standards Addressed
        • Standard 1: (4) 3.3 gather geographic information from electronic sources
        • Standard 2: (4) 4.4 describe experiences of pioneers moving west, including Donner Party, Oregon/California trails
    • Activity Idea 2: Writing a letter
      • Description: TW share historical documents showing the different roles all different types of women played in the movement west, using resources from "A Place to Grow" by Glenda Riley. SW choose a women from the Riley book and write a letter back to a friend in Independence telling of the different women and their adventures
      • Standards Addressed
        • Standard 1: (4) 4.11 Discuss how and why people from various cultures immigrated and migrated to the American West.
        • Standard 2: (4) 4.4 describe experiences of pioneers moving west, including Donner Party, Oregon/California trails
  • Science
    • Activity Idea 1: Animals/Buffalo
      • Description: In this chapter, the men hunted and killed their first buffalo, SW learn that the Indians used buffalo skin to write on and the S will also use the skin (brown paper, crumbled up) to write a letter to the pioneers behind them about the Valley of the Platte and what they can expect to seeStandards Addressed
        • Standard 1: (4) 1.6 compare a model with what it represents
        • Standard 2: L2D understand that there are many kinds of living things on earth
    • Activity Idea 2: Prairie Dog Town
      • Description: Teacher will read "Prairie Dog Town" by Anne O’Brien and SW take notes. SW create a Tri-foldable on Prairie Dogs
      • Standards Addressed
        • Standard 1: L.5.A1 Describe inherited behaviors in animals
        • Standard 2: L2C Understand that living things live in different places
Historical Overview of Chapter Themes

The Platte River has played an important role in the westward movement by providing the route for several trails, including the Oregon and Mormon trail. The Platte River is part of a system that drains a large portion into the Great Plains in Nebraska and the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and Wyoming. It starts as a tributary from the Mississippi River. The Platte River was obtained by the United States when we purchased the Louisiana Territory, and it is even mentioned in some writings by Meriwether Lewis. Not only was the Platte important because it supplied a route west, it was also popular to the many trappers who explored the area around it. Not only did the pioneers use it to get fresh water and game, it also served as a path for them to follow westward. This river laid in an area that consisted of flat land as far as the eye can see. On this land were hundreds of burrows, each one like a big whole in the ground filled with hundreds of prairie dogs. These dogs were sought by the trappers as well as the other animals that lived in the area, such as: owls, rattlesnakes, and sometimes a coyote or to.
Additional Resources


T. Russell said...

I felt this was a really well rounded group of lessons. I would be able to teach this book as a unit with a guide like this.

I would attach an economic lesson about wants and needs to the math lesson about buying supplies.

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

Creating a crossword puzzle - how fun! Perhaps the whole class could make a huge crossword puzzle together (using one inch square blocks). If another class did this at the same time, the classes could then trade their puzzles and solve them. [Note: I'm not usually a fan of puzzles, but this is a great way to have students work with puzzles while being engaged in higher-level thinking and while using creativity.]

How will students compare the rivers? Length? Speed of flow? Depth?

I like that in both this lesson and the previous lesson you ensured students were educated about the role of women. Their plight is often ignored, yet they had very hard lives and had to be extremely strong in body and spirit.