Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

Teacher Guide by Ashley Trudeau

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our Elementary School Category!

Sarah Plain and Tall Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Sarah, Plain and Tall Include:

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan is the story of Sarah Wheaton, who travels from Maine to the prairie in response to a family’s advertisement for a wife and mother. This simple tale of belonging and family will inspire readers of all ages.

Sarah, Plain and Tall Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Character Map Graphic Organizer | Sarah, Plain and Tall

As students read, a storyboard can serve as a helpful character reference log. This log (also called a character map) allows students to recall relevant information about important characters. With character mapping, students will record this information, helping them follow along and catch the subtleties which make reading more enjoyable!

You can click on this map and create a copy on your teacher account. Feel free to use it as is, or to edit it for the level of your class. Printing it as worksheets, for your students to complete while reading, is a fast and easy way to incorporate this character map into your classroom.

Here is an example for Sarah:

Physical Appearance

  • plain
  • tall
  • brown hair
  • sometimes wear a yellow bonnet
  • hair in bun

Character Traits

  • not mild-mannered
  • caring
  • sly
  • nurturing


  • "She reached up and took off her yellow bonnet, smoothing back her brown hair into a bun. She was plain and tall."
  • "Sarah is Sarah. She does things her way, you know."
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Sarah, Plain and Tall Vocabulary Lesson Plan

Copy Assignment

Another great way to engage your students is by creating a storyboard that uses vocabulary from Sarah, Plain and Tall.

In this activity, students demonstrate their understanding of vocabulary words using sentences and corresponding images. Students may be provided the vocabulary words, or they can use words that they have discovered through their reading of the text. The sentences and images validate the understanding of the word and the context that it was used in the novel.

Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the story:


adj. having a sharply strong taste or smell

”The grasses flattened. There was a hiss of wind, a sudden pungent smell. Our faces looked yellow in the strange light."


v. to look searchingly

”What's that?" asked Caleb excitedly, peering over Papa's shoulder.”


adj. rough in texture, structure

”She sank her fingers into their thick, coarse wool.”

Other vocabulary words from the book that can be used are:


(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in Sarah, Plain and Tall by creating visualizations.

  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the story and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

Copy Assignment

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Sarah, Plain and Tall Summary

Copy Assignment

Students decide on what they think the important parts in the text are, and categorize them into the beginning, middle, and end of the story. Having students decide on the beginning, middle, and end will help them break up the text, and make it easier to choose one or two main events to create. Students can plan their ideas with a partner or individually and decide what main parts they would like to add to their storyboard.

The storyboard below shows one example for the beginning, middle and end, but you could set a number of frames for the students to use based on the ability of the student, or length of the text.

Example Sarah, Plain and Tall Summary


Anna, Caleb, and their father all miss their mother who died a few years earlier. Anna's father decides to place an ad in the paper, asking for a wife. Sarah Wheaton, from Maine, responds to the letter and decides to come. When she comes, she brings things from the sea, for the children. Sarah always talks about Maine and the sea.


Sarah fits in with the family right away. She learns how to do things on the farm and helps just like a mother would. Anna and Caleb are very happy and hope that she will stay forever. Sarah meets Maggie, a nearby neighbor, and they talk about how they miss their old lives. Maggie tells Sarah that there will always be something to miss, wherever you are.


Sarah drives the wagon into town. Caleb and Anna are worried, because they think she wants to go to town to leave them. They are relieved when she comes back. Sarah tells them she does miss her old home, but would miss them more. Sarah had gone into town to surprise the family, by getting pencils the colors of the sea.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Make a storyboard summary of Sarah, Plain and Tall.

  1. Make a picture that shows the beginning of the story.
  2. Make a picture that shows the middle of the story.
  3. Make a picture that shows the end of the story.
  4. Write a sentence under each picture.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

Copy Assignment

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Identify Themes in Sarah, Plain and Tall

Several themes are present in the novel. Students can pick a theme to explore, and should support their choice with specific details or events from the text. One prominent theme is “new beginnings”. The characters in the story are all searching for something new to light their lives.

New Beginnings

Example 1

Sarah is a new beginning for Anna, Caleb, and their father. The family will always miss their mother, but are desperately in need of a new light in their life.

Example 2

Anna, Caleb, and Jacob are a new beginning for Sarah. They are a chance for Sarah to make a new life, now that her family in Maine no longer needs her help.

Other themes that could be used are family, or abandonment.

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Compare and Contrast Settings | Sarah, Plain and Tall

There are two settings in the story. The prairie, where the events of the story take place, and Maine, where Sarah is from, and which can be seen in her vivid illustrations of the sea.

In this activity, students will use information from the text to compare and contrast the prairie and the sea.

Here is an example of the differences between the Prairie and the Sea:


  • grass
  • fields
  • dirt roads
  • middle of the country
  • fresh water ponds
  • "Outside, the prairie reached out and touched the places where the sky came down.”


  • salt water
  • sand dunes
  • shells
  • sea birds
  • on the coast
  • "The sea is salt. It stretches out as far as you can see. It gleams like the sun on glass. There are waves.”
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Sarah, Plain and Tall Summary

The story opens with Caleb, a young boy, asking his sister, Anna, about their mother. Their mother had passed when Anna was young, and Caleb was just born. Caleb and Anna both miss their mother and wonder why their father, Jacob, doesn’t sing anymore. Jacob says he has forgotten the songs, but there may be a way for him to remember them. He tells the children he has put an ad in the newspaper for a wife, and Sarah Wheaton, from Maine, has responded. The children eagerly write letters to Sarah, and she responds to each separately.

Sarah agrees to come for a month, as a trial. On the day she arrives, Caleb and Anna are nervous and excited. They worry she will be lonely for her home. Sarah brings the children gifts from the sea, and her own collection of shells.

Winter turns to spring, and Sarah fits in perfectly. She picks flowers, makes meals for the family, cuts and grooms hair, and most importantly, she sings. Throughout, Sarah always talks about the sea. She sketches pictures of the ocean, but there is always one thing missing; the colors of the sea. Caleb and Anna feel that she is missing home and will leave them.

Matthew and Maggie, nearby neighbors, come to visit. Maggie and Sarah get along very well and find that they have many things in common. Maggie also moved to the prairie, to be Matthew’s wife. Maggie tells Sarah that she does miss her old life and the hills of Tennessee, but there will always be something to miss, no matter where you are.

The next morning, Sarah tells Jacob she wants to learn to do some of the things he does on the farm. She also tells him that she wants to learn how to drive the wagon, so she can go into town. This worries the children.

A storm comes and the family takes shelter in the barn. As the storm passes, Caleb points out that the sky looks like the colors of the ocean; the colors that are missing from Sarah’s sketch.

Jacob teaches Sarah to drive the wagon, and she takes it into town. Jacob works quietly for the day, while the children worry that Sarah will not return. They wait and fret until it is almost dark, when, finally, Sarah arrives back to the house. Sarah returns with special gifts, including pencils the color of the sea, so that she can finish her drawing. The children tell Sarah about their worries and she tells them that no matter how much she may miss Maine, if she were to leave, she would miss them more.

Essential Questions For Sarah, Plain and Tall

  1. What can be gained from experiencing new places and people?
  2. What was life on the prairie like?
  3. How do you think a person who leaves their home to move somewhere they’ve never seen before would feel? Can you relate?
  4. What is family?

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•   (English) Sarah, Plain and Tall   •   (Español) Sarah, Llana y Alta   •   (Français) Sarah, Plaine et Haute   •   (Deutsch) Sarah, Ebene und Groß   •   (Italiana) Sarah, Plain and Tall   •   (Nederlands) Sarah, Plain and Tall   •   (Português) Sarah, Simples e Alta   •   (עברית) שרה, מישור וטול   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) سارة، واضح وطويل القامة   •   (हिन्दी) सारा, सादा और लंबा   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Сара, Равнины и Талль   •   (Dansk) Sarah, Plain og Tall   •   (Svenska) Sarah, Plain och Tall   •   (Suomi) Sarah, Pelkkä ja Tall   •   (Norsk) Sarah, Plain og Tall   •   (Türkçe) Sarah, Düz ve Uzun   •   (Polski) Sarah, Plain i Tall   •   (Româna) Sarah, Plain și Tall   •   (Ceština) Sarah, Plain a Tall   •   (Slovenský) Sarah, Plain a Tall   •   (Magyar) Sarah, Plain és Tall   •   (Hrvatski) Sarah, Ravna i Visoka   •   (български) Сара, Плейн и Тал   •   (Lietuvos) Sara, Paprastas ir Talis   •   (Slovenščina) Sarah, Plain in Tall   •   (Latvijas) Sarah, Plain un Tall   •   (eesti) Sarah, Plain ja Tall