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In Sarah, Plain and Tall, the first of the series about the Witting family, we learn that Mother passed away after Caleb was born. Caleb is the younger of two children. Several years passed and now Papa has placed advertising in the papers for a new wife and mother to his children. Sarah travels from Maine, and despite great adjustments, she decides to stay.
Skylark, the second in the series, opens with Sarah and Papa getting married and the family rejoices! It is spring! The flowers are blooming and the family celebrates the birth of a calf and kittens. As the summer progresses there is not a drop of rain in the entire area. Plants turn to dust, animals struggle, wells dry up and fires break out.
This is a good book to use for grades 3-5 social studies when your objective is to learn about the plains states and the struggles of prairie life in the early 1900’s. Use this lesson plan for Skylark for research ideas and discussion questions.
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Use the following questions for class discussion or writing opportunities. Brief answers are provided.
1. Why were hand written letters so important in the time that the story takes place? This was the most common form of communication. No email, No cell phones, not everyone had access to a telephone.
2. When Papa worries about the farm, what does Sarah do? She takes him for a walk in the fields and they talk. (page 19)
3. List the signs of the drought:
Leaves crumble, dirt from the fields blows over everything, wells are drying up, nothing is green , turkey vultures circle, families moving away, pond dried up, random fires start, dust gets into the cabin and into the food
4. List the ways everyone helped during the drought:
Stopped taking baths, hauled water from the river for the animals, conserved water wherever they could
5. On page 32 Sarah’s skirt catches on fire. With what you know about fire safety, does Papa do the right thing to put the fire out? Yes, his reaction is similar to “Stop,Drop,and Roll"
6. Jacob (Papa) says that his name is written in the land. What did he mean? He has been there so long that it is part of him and he is part of it. (Page 40 describes more of the importance in that statement.)
7. Sarah and the children go to Maine during the drought. Do you think this was a good idea? The family was so tense from worrying about the lack of water. This got them away from the situation. They had water and they could swim and fish. This way Papa would not have to worry about them. Also, Sarah was pregnant and it was better for her, too.
8. Although Maine was green and there were lots of things to do, the children became increasingly anxious and sad. Why? They missed their father and worried that they would never go back home.
9. What did Sarah do as a symbolic gesture when they finally returned to the prairie? She used a stick to write her name in the dirt to show her loyalty and love of the family and the land.
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Use the following as research ideas for entire class, small groups or individual students.
1.On a tri-fold piece of white construction paper:
Make a brochure for Maine or Kansas. Include geographic landmarks, small map, crops, etc. Encourage people to visit the state.
2. The drought sometimes caused schools to close! It also caused "dust pneumonia. Research the history of droughts and the hardships caused by them. Here is a helpful website:
3. Research train travel in the early 1900's.
4. The children rode in a car for the first time when they were in Maine. Research the early automobile history.
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Your students will enjoy this book because it describes the hardships of a prairie family seen through a child's eyes. The lesson plan for Skylark provides discussion and research opportunities that will fit well into language arts as well as a social studies unit.
Lesson Plan For Skylark: Sarah Plain and Tall Sequel
Sarah answers an ad in the newspaper to be a wife and mother to a family she has never met. She moves from the seaside of Maine to Kansas. So many adjustments for everyone! These articles will give you cross curricular ideas and then students will compare the book to the movie.