Sarah, Plain and Tall: A Literature Unit Study

This post is part of the 31 MORE Days of Literature Unit Studies series. You can find all of the links to the thirty-one studies in this post. If you’d like to use these ideas to create your own unit study, this post has step-by-step instructions as well as a free unit study planner. (Want to know more about what, exactly, a unit study is? This post will help.)

While you’re reading and working on your unit study, you can dowload this free printables pack of graphic organizers for reading. It has a plot chart, venn diagram, KWL chart, two mini book report organizers, a character analysis chart, a plot outline chart, and a reading response sheet where students can record facts while reading.

Sarah, Plain and Tall is a sweet and gentle story told from the perspective of Anna, a little girl on the verge of growing up who’s missing her mother. It’s historical fiction set in the US West during the early 1900s, so it’s a great choice to use when reading US history.

Literature unit study for Sarah, Plain and Tall
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Book Information

Title- Sarah, Plain and Tall

Author- Patricia MacLachlan

Recommended ages- elementary (1st-6th)

Synopsis- Young Anna and her little brother Caleb are growing up in Kansas with their father. Their mother died when Caleb was born, and their father has sent an advertisement back East for a wife and mother. The story is told from Anna’s point of view, and when Anna hears of the response of a lady named Sarah, she’s anxious and excited to meet her.

Sarah arrives on the prairie homesick for Maine, but she’s sweet and good, and the children like her and want her to stay. The story develops as readers get a glimpse of Anna’s hope that Sarah will like their family and their home enough to stay.

Language Arts

Creative writing– Sarah answers Jacob’s ad with a letter describing herself. Write a letter describing yourself to someone. Illustrate it by drawing a picture of yourself.

Character analysis- The children like Sarah from the beginning. Use the character analysis worksheet in the free graphic organizers pack above to describe Sarah as you read the story.

Creative writing- At the end of the book, we aren’t really sure how the story is going to end (until you read the sequel). Write an ending for the story. (Let younger children dictate.)

Sequencing- Many things happen after Sarah comes to Kansas. Use a blank timeline to record some of the things that happened to Sarah and the family.

Vocabulary- has some vocabulary words from Sarah, Plain and Tall that you can practice. Words for chapters 1-5 are here. Words for chapters 6-9 are here.

Science and Math

The ocean– Sarah comes from Maine and lives near the ocean. Learn more about the oceans of the world here.

The ocean- This video has more information about oceans and ocean life. As you read and watch about oceans, you can use the reading response sheet in the free graphic organizers pack to record some facts.

The prairieLearn about prairies from this video. You can record some facts on the reading response sheet in the graphic organizers packet.

Compare and contrast– Sarah often compares the prairies of Kansas with her home in coastal Maine. Use a Venn diagram (from the graphic organizers pack) to compare oceans and prairies.

Seabirds- Sarah sends the children a book about seabirds. Learn more about seabirds here. What kinds of seabirds do you think Sarah would have seen in Maine?

History/Social Studies

Geography- Sarah comes from Maine and travels to Kansas to meet Anna’s family. Find and label Maine and Kansas on a blank US map.

Geography- Label the five world oceans on a blank world map. (You can use the website listed under science to help.) Which ocean would Sarah have lived near in Maine?

Pioneers- Anna and her family were pioneers. Learn about the American pioneers from this page on Ducksters and on this page from Scholastic.

The transcontinental railroad– Sarah came to Kansas on the train. Learn about the transcontinental railroad that connected the eastern US with the West.

Crafts and Fun

Make a story quilt to illustrate the chapters in the book. Use squares of fabric or construction paper. Draw a picture with markers or fabric markers and illustrate what happens in the chapter. At the end, you can put your squares together to make a quilt. (This page has a little information about making a story quilt.)

Create a diorama of either the ocean or the prairie. If you need information about to make a diorama, this page has a step-by-step guide.

Make these tea light lighthouses after you talk about Sarah’s home by the sea.

Pioneer children didn’t have many toys (and certainly not the electronic devices we have today!). They had a few simple, homemade toys. Make a yard doll with these instructions.

Sarah, Plain and Tall unit study


Going West!: Journey on a Wagon Train to Settle a Frontier Town (pioneers)

A Pioneer Sampler: Daily Life of a Pioneer Family in 1840 (pioneers)

Dandelions (pioneers)

Seashore(One Small Square) (ocean and coast)

Seashells, Crabs, and Sea Stars: Take Along Guide (coast)

Seashells by the Seashore (coast)

The Transcontinental Railroad (True Books) (transcontinental railroad)

Locomotive (transcontinental railroad)

Other Resources

The Hallmark movie version of Sarah, Plain and Tall and very close to the story of the book. It’s worth watching after you read the book.

There are several other books that follow Sarah and the rest of the family. You can find these on Patricia MacLachlan’s Amazon page.

This short video lets kids “meet” author Patricia MacLachlan.

CurrClick has a great Sarah, Plain and Tall lapbook from Hands of a Child. (This one isn’t free.)

Don’t miss the other literature units in this series!

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