Wagon Wheels by Barbara Brenner: Literature Unit Study Ideas

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.

Literature unit ideas for Wagon Wheels by Barbara Brenner
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Book Information

Title- Wagon Wheels

Author- Barbara Brenner

Recommended ages- early elementary

Synopsis-Wagon Wheels is historical fiction for kids, a look at life as a pioneer in 19th century America. The story is based on fact from accounts of a family that traveled to the black pioneer settlement in Nicodemus, Kansas. The Muldies are an African American family that have traveled to Nicodemus, Kansas to find free land as part of the Homestead Act. The family consists of a father and three boys. Their mother died on the long trip to Kansas.

The family survives a long, hard winter in a dugout. Then the boys’ father leaves them to go on ahead and find a place to build a new home. The brothers survive many hardships while living alone and waiting on their father. And when he sends them a map, they must travel 150 miles to meet him at their new home.

Language Arts

Sequencing- Print a blank timeline (there are several choices here) and place the Muldie’s adventures in order as you read.
Creative writing– Pretend you’re on a journey out West like the Muldie family. What would your trip be like? What kind of adventures would you have? You can use this notebooking page to write your story.
Character analysis– Choose one of the characters in the story. Think about all you know about that character. Use the character analysis chart in the free Graphic Organizers pack above to write about that character.

Science and Math

The prairie- The Muldie family was traveling to the prairie. Learn what a prairie is like- its plants, its animals, where prairies are located- from this site.

The prairieLearn about the prarie ecosystem with this video.

History/Social Studies

The Homestead ActRead about the Homestead Act and watch a video here. Use the Reading Response sheet in the free graphic organizers packet above to record some facts as you read.

Mapping- Print a map of the US. Mark on the map where the Muldie family started in Kentucky. Then mark where they ended up in Nicodemus, Kansas. (There are some printable US maps here.)
The Black Pioneer town- Read more about Nicodemus, Kansas, the real life town that welcomed black pioneers.
Pioneers- Life as a pioneer was hard work. The three Muldie brothers were left on their own while their father went ahead to look for a new place for them to live. This page from Ducksters has more information about life as a pioneer.
Dugout houses– The Muldie family lived in a sod house in Nicodemus, Kansas. Learn more about sod houses here.

Crafts and Fun

Make your own covered wagon and goods to take on your journey with these instructions.

Kids can color this covered wagon coloring sheet while you read the book aloud or after reading.

Make these great pioneer journals and have kids write in their journal as if they are on a journey to the West as a pioneer.

The pioneers didn’t have TVs, video games, or iPhones. Check out some of the fun games that pioneer children played here.

Literature unit study for Wagon Wheels by Barbara Brenner


Daily Life in a Covered Wagon

Other Resources

Find information and free printables to create a Westward, Ho! lapbook here.


Don’t forget to check out the other literature unit studies in this series.

Literature unit studies

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