Sign of the Beaver
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Potterya1.gif (383 bytes)  Newberry Honor Book


Book by Elizabeth George Speare   

  Reading Sections

Matt's Journal Pages (cabin)
Attean's Journal Pages

Chapters 1-6 #1 Journal Entries, etc.
Chapters 7-12 #2 Journal Entries, etc.
Chapters 13-17 #3 Journal Entries, etc.
Chapters 18-20 #4 Journal Entries, etc.
Chapters 21-25 #5 Journal Entries, etc.

Note to Teachers              Challenge Activities
Use after reading the book

Teacher Discussion Guide               Cover
Vocabulary Review KEY
End of the Book Quiz


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  Notes about the Author 

Elizabeth George Speare (1908-1994) was a respected and talented writer who won several Newbery Medals for her historical fiction books for young people. The Sign of the Beaver is a Newbery Honor book. 

She explained how Sign of the Beaver came to be written:

Where did I get the idea for this book? The answer is very simple. The idea was handed to me, a little gem, straight from the pages of history. Many years ago my husband and I spent a number of vacations at a small fishing camp in Maine. One afternoon, rather bored with dangling a line in the water, I drove into the nearest town of Milo and poked about in the small library. In a slim volume, The History of Milo, I came upon a short anecdote. The story was new to me, but I have since discovered that is has been retold in a number of histories of the state of Maine.

This true story took place in 1802 to the Sargent family who purchased wilderness land in the Milo, Maine area.  The young son's name was actually Theophilus, but Elizabeth chose to call him Matt.  The accounts of the bear,AN01351_.jpg (28574 bytes) the friendly Penobscot Indians, and the family illnesses were all part of the true story.

In 1996 a television movie called Keeping the Promise was made from the story.


See other teaching possibilities below:


 Matt's Clan:
1)Two historians-Daily Life in the Colonies , Early Settlements
2)Mapmaker-Map of Matt's family's journey from Quincy, Mass. to Maine
3)Architect-Log cabins , Making a log cabin
4)Chef-Johnnycakes , Food on the frontier
5)Craftsmen-Compass , Corn husk dolls
6)Sportsman-Colonial children games
7)Educator-Home school , Books , Hornbooks

 Attean's Clan:
1)Two historians- , Land and Water Preservation,
(Century of Massacres, Land in its Infancy),
4)Chef- Recipes , Iroquois food , Maple syrup
5)Craftsman-Making baskets , Bow and arrows
6)Sportsman-Games , Powwows , Bow and arrow for hunting
7)Educator-Storytelling , Legends , Language
8)Seamstress-Clothing (Iroquois)

Author Awareness Resources:
Author's profile
Why I wrote The Sign of the Beaver

Maine Today

Friendship. Think about how Matt and Attean are similar and how they are different. Discuss how these similarities and differences affected their growing friendship. Choose one of your friends. How are you like and different from this person?
Time. How did Saknis know it was time to move the tribe? How did Matt keep track of time? Create a poster showing different time keeping devices that people have used through history.
A Walk through Time
Seasons. Find the Penobscot River in Maine and discuss the reasons the Penobscot Indians moved with the seasons. Show this movement on a map. Read Penobscot stories. Explore other Indian tribes of New England.
The Penobscots Indians
The Legend of the Bear Family
Bee Stings. Look up treatments for bees stings. Discuss how medical treatments differ now from when Matt was attacked in 1768. What medical treatments are the same? How do Native Americans use plants as medicine?
Natural Relief From Insect Bites
Lanacane Itch Information Center
First Aid from The Police Handbook
Diaries. Write an entry in Matt's diary that you think he might have written on the day that Attean and his family leave for their winter hunting ground.
Survivors. Read about other survivors such as Robinson Crusoe. What skills do you need to survive in the wilderness? Build a miniature log cabin.
Log Cabins!
  • Matt decides to teach Attean to read. The only book that Matt has to offer Attean is Robinson Crusoe, a novel that is entirely too difficult for a beginning reader. Tell how you would go about teaching Attean. Remember that Attean cannot read English at all.
  • What things does Matt learn from Attean that help him to survive?
  • Do you think Matt could have survived on his own without the help of Attean and his grandfather? Why/Why not?
  • In your opinion which boy needs the friendship the most?
  • Matt lived alone with few possessions in the wilderness. If you were in a survival situation, and could only have ten possessions, what items would you choose? Why would you choose these ten items? Write your list in order beginning with the most important item.
  • Matt's family had only two books in their home. If you could have only two books, which two would you choose and why?
  • There are times in the novel when Matt is quite fearful. Tell about some of these times.
  • Make Wanted posters for Ben. Use the descriptions of him from the book.

The class will be divided into two major groups: Attean's Clan, and Matt's Clan.

II. Nine researchers from each clan are needed: two historians, mapmaker, architect, chef, craftsman, sportsman, educator, and seamstress.
Each researcher will present that information to his/her clan through a report, model, poster, Kid's Pix, etc. (use Resources for information)

III. Two coordinators are needed for each clan. They will be responsible for getting all the information from their researchers in that clan, and putting it together for presentation at the PowWow when both clans meet.

IV. One person in the class will research the author, Elizabeth George Speare, and prepare a presentation to be shared at the PowWow.

Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
Reading Level: 5    Read Aloud Level: 4
Topic(s): cultures, friendship, life in the past

TeacherView by Carmen Talavera
Grades taught: 5-6
Craig Williams Elementary School
Lakewood, California USA

The Review
During the summer of 1768, Matt Hallowell and his father stake a claim in Maine territory. Matt is left alone to guard the house when his father returns to Massachusetts to get Matt's pregnant mother and sister. While waiting months for his father to return to their cabin, Matt is befriended by the Penobscot Indians. Chief Saknis and his grandson, Attean, save Matt when he is almost killed by a swarm of bees. To thank Saknis and Attean for saving his life Matt teaches Attean to read English. During this time Attean is teaching Matt to become a skilled hunter. Saknis offers to adopt Matt and take him north with the tripe as it moves to new hunting grounds. Matt knows that he would be proud to be Attean's brother, but he also knows he must wait for his own family.

The Activity
Some of the activities you can do with this novel are:

R-E2. Use reading strategies such as making inferences and predictions, summarizing, paraphrasing, differentiating fact from opinion, drawing conclusions, and determining the author’s purpose and perspective to comprehend written selection

R-E3. Analyze selections of fiction, nonfiction and poetry by identifying the plot line distinguishing the main character from minor ones; describing the relationships between and motivations of characters; and making inferences about the events, setting, style, tone, mood and meaning of the selection


Writing (Grades 6-8)

PO 4. Present clearly written and organized information

PO 4. Use personal interpretation, analysis, evaluation or reflection to evidence understanding of subject

W-E3.Write a summary that presents information clearly and accurately, contains the most significant details and preserves the position of the author

Evaluation Category

Evaluation Criteria

Healthy Survivor 100% A. The presentation will have a clear explanation of what has been learned with three inferences based on observations and clear illustrations. B. You will have at least three notes on changes you would have made if you had been in Matt's position. C. Both activity sheets on Ms. Rosenbaum's web page have been completed with at least 90% accuracy.
Hungry Survivor 85% A. The presentation will a clear explanation of what has been learned with at least two inferences based on observations and an illustration. B. You will have two or three notes on changes you would have made if you had been in Matt's position. C. Both activity sheets on Ms. Rosenbaum's web page have been completed with at least 80% accuracy.
Malnourished Survivor 75% A. The presentation will have an explanation of what has been learned with at least one inference based on observations and a illustration. B. You will have at least one note about a change you would have made if you had been in Matt's position.  C. Both activity sheets on Ms. Rosenbaum's web page have been competed with at least 70% accuracy.
Starving Survivor 65% A. The presentation will have an explanation. B. You will have completed the activity sheets on Ms. Rosenbaum's web page.
Decaying Non-Survivor 50% A. You will have attempted and explanation an attempted the activity sheets.

1. Before you begin the book have the class look at the cover and predict what the story is about.

2. Go over the key words, discuss with the students what they would need to survive alone in the wilderness. Make a list.

3. As you read the story, have the students keep a journal of all of the problems the boy faces followed by the solutions.

4. After reading Chapter 3, have each class member make a wanted poster, listing all of the descriptive information given about Ben. Ask students to include a drawing of what they think Ben looks like.

5. In the story, Attean's family marks their territory with a beaver on the tree. Have each student select an animal and draw a picture of it on a tree.

6. Attean cannot believe the kind of work that Matt has to do. In Attean's culture, Matt's work is considered that of a woman. Make a list of the activities Matt has to do and then a list of the activities Attean does. Now see how many of the activities are similar.

7. After you finish the book, talk about the several events that caused Matt and Attean to change their attitude toward each other.

8. Matt had to decide between going north with the Beaver Clan or waiting alone during the long winter for his family. Have the class list reasons for going and reasons for staying. Next, have them write one paragraph about what they would do if they where in that situation, and why. Hold a debate where students argue for going or staying.

9. Here are some questions that may help to get the students thinking:

A. If Matt and Attean met after a 20 year separation, describe their conversation.

B. Share an important lesson you have learned from a friend.

C. What good things resulted from Ben's visit?

D. If Ben were arrested and tried for his crime how might his lawyer defend him?

E. How are Matt and Attean alike? How are they different?

F. Which of your prized possessions would you be willing to give to a friend?

Assessment Plan:
From the students journals they will choose one event and write in detail the problem and how that problem was resolved. The students will be assessed using the six traits of writing.

Each student makes a "birchbark" diary out of brown paper grocery bags that have been cut to approximately 8" x 11" pieces( this takes mucho bags, so start saving them).  We bind them together by first using a paper punch to punch holes down the left side, then sew them together with twine.

Students then decorate the cover using Indian symbols or whatever. A journal entry is completed after each chapter is read.   I begin by modeling the first 4-5 chapters and writing an entry to Ma and Pa from the main character's perspective.

The next 4-5 chapter entries are done in small groups; then for the latter part of the book students complete their own individual entries.  By the end of this book students have a good "handle" on writing a summary.  I assess the last few chapter's entries for a grade.