K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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Learning outcomes


  • Students will learn about the Native American Ojibwa culture in the 1800’s.
  • Students will consider the impact of Europeans on this civilization.


  • Students will compare and contrast the Ojibwa culture of The Birchbark House with their world toady.
  • Students will observe the cycles that affect the Ojibwa way of life.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

3 weeks


Copies of The Bircbark House by Louise Erdrich


None required. Teacher may want to do a KWL before beginning the book to assess students’ prior understanding of the historical culture of forest Native Americans.


For each chapter of The Birchbark House, we have attempted to provide:

  • A series of questions, some of which are factual recall and others require interpretation of the text.
  • Vocabulary words to discuss.
  • A suggestion for a drawing or map
  • Either a request for making connections between the story and the wider world OR a summary of the story to this point.

We read two chapters per week. The students were assigned literature circle roles to prepare for our weekly discussion. These preparations were the foundation for the study guide development.

The students recommend that you choose some of the questions to answer but not require them all.

Chapters 1-2

Chapter 1 Questions

  1. What is Omakaya’s tribe?
  2. Predict what will happen next.
  3. Did anything in these chapters surprise you?
  4. In what region does the story take place?
  5. Why did Omakayas creep under the side of the summer house?
  6. Choose one character and make a character map.

Chapter 1 Vocabulary

  • nimble
  • namesake
  • hummock
  • swales
  • dappled
  • fragrant
  • awl

Chapter 2 Questions

  1. Describe Old Tallow.
  2. Whom did Omakayas want as her new brothers? Why?
  3. Do you think this was a good idea? Explain.

Chapter 2 Vocabulary

  • isolated
  • rangy
  • disdain
  • launch
  • warily
  • runt
  • intimidate
  • cringing
  • abruptly
Illustration or map
  • Draw a map of where you think these people live.
  • Draw a picture of Old Tallow’s cabin.
  • What are some things that are the same back then and today?

Chapters 3-4

Chapter 3 Questions

  1. Talk about Omakaya’s life.
  2. Do you like the book so far? Why?
  3. What is the book about?

Chapter 4 Questions

  1. Why did Omakayas keep the crow?
  2. Choose one word to describe the paragraph at the top of page 62.
Illustration or Map
  • Draw a picture of the birchbark house.
  • If these chapters took place today, what would be the same, what would be different?
  • Take a small part and rewrite it as if it happened today.

Chapters 5-6

Chapter 5 Questions

  1. Why did Omaykayas love Dagwaging?
  2. Why did Angeline and Omakayas dive into the bushes?
  3. Who are the useless ones?
  4. Which way did they want to move?
  5. What were Fishtail’s difficult words? Why were they difficult?
  6. Why were they going to move?

Chapter 5 Vocabulary

  • repaired
  • wove
  • harsh
  • medicine
  • comfortable
  • vision

Chapter 6 Questions

  1. Why doesn’t Two Strikes like to work?
  2. Why does Pinch get all the attention?
  3. Why did Pinch get scared in the canoe?
  4. Describe something funny in this chapter.

Chapter 6 Vocabulary

  • intensity
  • chokecherries
  • threatening
  • suspicious
  • wary
Illustration or map
  • Draw what you think Omakayas looked like when she saw the cubs.
  • Using the description on p.75, draw Fishtail’s pipe.
  • Think about how the people in the story behave.
  • What are some of the things that are the same as the behavior we have today?

Chapters 7-8

Chapter 7 Questions

  1. Make a list of the things Omakayas’ family did to get ready for winter.
  2. How did Omakayas feel about Grandma’s praying?
  3. What was Nokomis’ advice to Omakayas concerning the bears? Why do you think she said this?

Chapter 7 Vocabulary

  • parched
  • ferocity
  • caulking
  • interior
  • scarce
  • sheaves
  • agility

Chapter 8 Questions

  1. Why did Fishtail visit the school?
  2. Why did Pinch throw snowballs?
  3. What were some things that made Old Tallow unusual?

Chapter 8 Vocabulary

  • mysterious
  • intricate
  • fragrance
  • particular
  • frenzy
  • evidence
  • remarkable
Illustration or map
  • Read page 105. Draw a picture of the lake rocks on the hearth.
Connections or summary
  • Is the school that Fishtail goes to like the ones we go to? Explain why or why not.
  • Draw a timeline of the events in the story so far.

Chapters 9 and 10

Chapter 9 Questions

  1. Why is Chapter 9 called the Blue Ferns?
  2. What was Grandma’s story about?
  3. Predict what will happen next.

Chapter 9 Vocabulary

  • gumbo clay
  • vigilance
  • bolting
  • calicos
  • bandolier
  • gloating
  • inevitable

Chapter 10 Questions

  1. What are some signs of smallpox?
  2. Why did Omakayas follow Neewo inside?
  3. Do people today still get smallpox? Why or why not?

Chapter 10 Vocabulary

  • kindled
  • partake
  • taut
  • stupor
  • bleak
  • oblivion
  • tentative
Illustration or map
  • Draw a picture to go with the story that Grandma told.


  • Draw a Venn Diagram that shows what’s different and the same in treating sickness in Omakaya’s time and today.

Chapters 11 and 12

Chapter 11 Questions

  1. Who made the earth?
  2. Who got the dirt?
  3. Why did Grandmother tell this story?
  4. Why did Andeg look for the acorns?
  5. Why did the dog bite Omakayas ?

Chapter 11 Vocabulary

  • bitter
  • physically
  • intrigue
  • recovering
  • determined
  • particularly
  • vicious

Chapter 12 Questions

  1. What kind of writing is zhaganashimowin?
  2. Who was talking to Omakayas in the woods? Why?
  3. Why did Pinch make the first kill?
  4. Who burned their feet?
  5. How did Omakayas help Pinch?

Chapter 12 Vocabulary

  • etched
  • scrolls
  • incredible
  • sallow
  • trough
  • refrain
Illustration or map
  • Draw a picture of Pinch doing something.
  • How are the bears like people?

Chapters 13-14

Chapter 13 Questions

  1. What will happen next?
  2. What did Omakayas learn from Andeg?
  3. Why did she cry?

Chapter 13 Vocabulary

  • bound
  • debt
  • bliss
  • harsh
  • indistinguishable

Chapter 14 Questions

  1. Why did LaPautre try to steel a trap from Old Tallow?
  2. Why did Andeg land on Pinch’s head?
  3. Why did Old Tallow seize Omakaya?s hand?

Chapter 14 Vocabulary

  • poised
  • diversion
  • portentous
  • guffaws
  • harbored
  • abrupt
Drawing or map
  • Draw a picture to show that spring is returning to the land where Omakayas lives.
Summary or Connections
  • Draw a flow chart that shows the main points in Chapter 14.
  • Discuss the cycles you saw in the story.

Culminating Activities

  1. Choose an event from the book and create a puppet show of it.
  2. Create a shoebox diorama that shows how Omakayas lived.
  3. Do research on Omakayas’ tribe, the Ojibwas. Share what you learned with the class either as a book, poster, or as a Powerpoint slide show.
  4. Make a list of the crafts mentioned in the Birchbark House. Choose one of these and try it out.
  5. What things were important in Omakayas? life? Make a list and then create a mobile that shows some of them.
  6. Write a menu for a restaurant that serves only food and drink that Omakayas ate. What would be a creative name for the restaurant?


Assessment will be based on student completion of teacher selected or student selected activities.


This book is a good choice for literature circle discussions. Recommended reference: Literature Circles, Voice and Choice in the Student-Centered Classroom by Harvey Daniels

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Reading: Literature

        • Grade 3
          • 3.RL.1 Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.
          • 3.RL.3 Describe characters in a story (e.g., their traits, motivations, or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events.
          • 3.RL.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, distinguishing literal from nonliteral language.
          • 3.RL.5 Refer to parts of stories, dramas, and poems when writing or speaking about a text, using terms such as chapter, scene, and stanza; describe how each successive part builds on earlier sections.
        • Grade 4
          • 4.RL.1 Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
          • 4.RL.3 Describe in depth a character, setting, or event in a story or drama, drawing on specific details in the text (e.g., a character’s thoughts, words, or actions).

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 3

  • Goal 1: The learner will apply enabling strategies and skills to read and write.
    • Objective 1.03: Integrate prior experiences and all sources of information in the text (graphophonic, syntactic, and semantic) when reading orally and silently.
    • Objective 1.04: Increase sight vocabulary, reading vocabulary, and writing vocabulary through:
      • wide reading.
      • word study.
      • listening.
      • discussion.
      • book talks.
      • book clubs.
      • seminars.
      • viewing.
      • role play.
      • studying author's craft.
  • Goal 2: The learner will apply strategies and skills to comprehend text that is read, heard, and viewed.
    • Objective 2.02: Interact with the text before, during, and after reading, listening, or viewing by:
      • setting a purpose.
      • previewing the text.
      • making predictions.
      • asking questions.
      • locating information for specific purposes.
      • making connections.
      • using story structure and text organization to comprehend.
    • Objective 2.04: Identify and interpret elements of fiction and nonfiction and support by referencing the text to determine the:
      • author's purpose.
      • plot.
      • conflict.
      • sequence.
      • resolution.
      • lesson and/or message.
      • main idea and supporting details.
      • cause and effect.
      • fact and opinion.
      • point of view (author and character).
      • author's use of figurative language (e.g., simile, metaphor, imagery).
    • Objective 2.05: Draw conclusions, make generalizations, and gather support by referencing the text.
    • Objective 2.06: Summarize main idea(s) from written or spoken texts using succinct language.