Sign of the Beaver: Vocabulary and Activities for Teaching

Sign of the Beaver: Vocabulary and Activities for Teaching
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About the Story

The Sign of the Beaver book by Elizabeth George Speare is an historical fiction classic and winner of a Newbery Honor. It is the story of a

twelve-year old pioneer boy who is left alone to protect his family’s cabin and tend the crops. He befriends an Indian boy and together they have adventures and learn to accept their different cultures. Students will use context clues, dictionary skills and other activities to learn some new vocabulary from the book.

New Word Fun… Let’s Get Started

Listed below are twenty vocabulary words from the book. Next to each is the page number where the word appears. Use this as a resource for your students to use context clues to figure out the meaning of the new word. Then have them use a dictionary to see a more complete meaning. Dictionary work can be done with a partner.


1. blunderbuss - page 4; short-barreled gun with flared muzzle

2. chinking - page 7; filling in the cracks. Matt used clay from the bank along the creek when he was chinking the spaces between logs.

3. flint - page 8; hard gray rock used with steel to produce an igniting spark

4. gaunt - page 94; thin and haggard from hunger or age

5. ramshackle - page 85; in a state of disrepair

6. typhus - page 131; infectious disease with an eruption of purple rash, which historically caused death

7. lustrous - page 124; shining

8. Manitou - page 107; similar to spirit, Indian boy searches for it


9. puncheon table - page 3; table made with a rough board that has a flat side

10. breechcloth - page 28

11. proprietors - page 9; the owner of a business

12. pewter - page 133; an alloy of tin sometimes used to make kitchen utensils and dishes

13. johnnycake - page 5; type of cornbread made in a griddle

14. stockade - page 78; a barrier formed from upright wooden posts

15. contortions - page 81; twist or bend out of its normal state

16. tribute - page 75; intended to show gratitude, respect or admiration

17. pungent - page 78; sharp strong taste or smell

18. comradeship - page 114; a companion who share’s one’s activities

19. boggy - page 23; wet, muddy ground too soft to support a human body

20. caribou - page 121; large North American reindeer

Word Work Activities

1. Write a word on a file card. Write a short definition on another card. When you have all the words and definition written down on cards, turn them face down on the floor or table. Play a memory game, matching the word with the definition.

2. Students can choose an assigned number of words to make a picture dictionary.

3. Students can write sentences using the words. Check for correct word meaning, complete sentences, correct capitalization and punctuation.

4. Play twenty questions. One student gives clues to a vocabulary word that his team needs to guess.

Fill in the Blank Activities

1. We sat at the ______________to eat dinner.

2. The Indian stew had a ___________odor that filled the air.

3. Winning the gold medal was a _________to his skill.

4. The large ____________ hid among the forest trees.

5. The outbreak of ____________ killed many settlers.

6. Matt found the Indian’s wigwam beyond the _____________ made of wooden posts.

7. He used the ____________ to shoot at the rabbit.

8. We used a recipe with cornmeal and made some _____________ to eat with dinner.

9. The old _________________ cottage needed many repairs.

10 Mr. and Mrs. Smith, ___________ of the Main Street Pizza Shop, gave us free pizza on the day of the game.

Your students will enhance their learning by doing the vocabulary activities in the Sign of the Beaver book. Some of the words will be seen in again in the study of pioneers in Social Studies.


  • Classroom teaching experience.

This post is part of the series: The Sign of the Beaver Lessons and Activities

Use The Sign of the Beaver for cross curriculum activities in English and Social Studies. As you read, students will be drawn in by the adventure, drama and triumphs of main character, Matt. A young Indian befriends Matt and teaches him survival skills. Do journaling, vocabulary work and games!

  1. The Sign of the Beaver Book Chapters: Matt’s Journal
  2. Teach New Vocabulary in the Sign of the Beaver Book
  3. Sign of the Beaver Movie: Keeping the Promise