Lesson Plans and Resources

Lesson plans for Emily’s Story: The Brave Journey of an Orphan Train Rider

A. Activities

  1. Conduct an essay contest to pen stories about a grandparent or other older relative who has had a positive impact on the student’s life. Author Clark Kidder is available to serve as the judge for such a contest. Contact him via email at ckidder@att.net. The curator of a local or county historical society, as well as an orphan train rider, or a descendant of one, would also be candidates to serve as a judge.
  2. Create trading cards that depict an orphan train rider, which could include those who rode the orphan train with Emily, or another that could be found in a book, or on the Internet.  Include the child’s name, birth date (if known), the name of the institution they came from, the destination that the train was headed for, etc. The students could each give a short report about the rider they chose to “sponsor” for their particular card, or write a short fiction or nonfiction story about the rider’s life.
  3. Conduct a play based on the book. Present the play to parents, other classes, local civic groups, etc.
  4. Take turns reading selected passages aloud from the book.
  5. Select one of the following characters from the book and discuss what else you would have liked to read about this person:  Emily’s mother, Emily’s father, Reverend H. D. Clarke, Anna Laura Hill, Emily’s brother, Richard, or any other person in Emily’s life. Taking what you know (or think you know; you can embellish), write a letter from that person to Emily.
  6. If Emily had kept a diary, what would she have written in it during her stay at the orphanage, during her trip on the orphan train, during her stay at one of the foster homes, during her employment at the Sanitarium, after Earl’s marriage proposal, after the death of one of her sons, or during her elderly years, as she looked back on her life? Pick a time period, and enter your thoughts in the diary.
  7. Arrange interviews with local orphan train riders, their descendants, or people knowledgeable about the orphan trains.
  8. Make a diorama of what a train car might have looked like.
  9. What would Emily have written in a letter to her parents during her stay at the orphanage or during her stay in one of the numerous foster homes? Pretend you are Emily and write such a letter.
  10. Make flyers or posters advertising the coming of the orphan train to your hometown.
  11. Draw a map showing the route Emily (or another) orphan train rider would have taken from New York City to the Midwest.
  12. Make a model of a train car for the orphan train.
  13. Make a graph showing the number of children placed in various states.
  14. Interview a Human Services Worker about homeless children and families in your particular county or state.
  15. Create an Orphan Train Concept Chart divided into two columns that outline the pros and cons of placing out children via the orphan trains.
  16. Divide children into groups that represent a potential foster family. Discuss or write the reasons why your family is desirous of an orphan train child, and what the child will be expected to do in regards to household duties, chores, etc.
  17. Have each child write an orphan train poem. Themes may include the feelings you had when boarding the orphan train; fear of being sent to an unknown home; sadness, happiness, and other emotional feelings associated with being placed in an orphanage, or being placed out. For some children, the trip west was seen as an opportunity, but to others it meant heartbreak and disappointment.
  18. Encourage the children to prepare (with a teacher or parent) one of the following recipes from Earl and Emily’s cookbook:

Home Made Ice Cream

6 Eggs

4 cups of sugar

3 Tablespoons of Corn Starch

2 Quarts of milk

1 Teaspoon salt

1 or 2 bags of ice cubes

Mix together in pan. Cook until it begins to boil, and becomes quite thick. Cool. Add two Tablespoons of vanilla, two pints of whipping cream, and two pints of half and half. Freeze. Pack space surrounding freezer canister with ice, applied in layers, sprinkling salt on the ice as you slowly fill the freezer. (Earl and Emily often used ice sickles that had formed on the eaves of the house and farm buildings). Makes six quarts. The use of a manual ice cream maker (versus electric) would further duplicate the method used by Earl and Emily.

Molasses Popcorn Balls​

​2 cups of brown Karo Syrup

3 cups sugar

3-4 Tablespoons Molasses

1 Tablespoon butter

1 Tablespoon vinegar

One 2 lb. bag of popcorn to pop (approximate)

Mix the first five ingredients together in pan. Bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Boil until mixture reaches the “hair” stage. Hold the spoon above the pan, and let a small amount of the mixture drip down into the pan. A very fine hair-like thread should form, and curl back upwards toward the spoon in a wispy fashion. Add one teaspoon of vanilla and a half-teaspoon of baking soda. Mixture will bubble up and turn a lighter color.

Pour mixture over lightly salted popcorn. Dip your hands in flour to form the popcorn balls. Leftover syrup can be used to make taffy. Butter your hands well before pulling the syrup into the size that you prefer. Taffy will lighten as it is pulled. Work quickly, as the syrup hardens fast. Cut into pieces while still somewhat soft.

B. Handout

  1. How did Emily’s interaction with her brothers and sisters impact her life?
  2. How did meeting and marrying Earl impact Emily’s life?
  3. Describe the roles of geography, terrain, and weather in the shaping of Emily’s story.
  4. Was placing children on orphan trains a fair practice?  Why or why not?
  5. What other options could have been implemented instead of sending the children on orphan trains?
  6. How would you have felt in the same situation?  What would have been your greatest fear?
  7. What would you like your adoptive family to be like? Would you have preferred a home in the city to one in the country?

Resources and Research Activities for Educators and Others

  1. Study early railroad maps and early plat maps of the region identifying train routes taken by the orphan trains, as well as residences of characters from the book.
  2. Visit the Wisconsin Historical Society website to learn more about life in Wisconsin and Rock County during the Twentieth Century.
  3. Visit New York historical societies and museums (online or in person) from the ancestral communities of Emily, Reverend Clarke, and Anna Laura Hill.
  4. Encourage scholars to visit local, county, regional or state historical societies or museums online and in person with the objectives of discovering records of people that rode on the orphan trains.
  5. Encourage students and/or scholars to undertake their own research and oral interviews of living orphan train riders in their state or local communities.

Useful Web Sites​

Directory of Historical and Preservation Societies — http://www.preservationdirectory.com/preservationorganizationsresources/organizationcategories.aspx

Rock County (WI) Historical Society — http://www.rchs.us/

Wisconsin Historical Society — http://wisconsinhistoricalsociety.org/

Milton (WI) Historical Society — http://www.miltonhouse.org/

How to conduct oral interviews — http://www.indiana.edu/~cshm/techniques.html

Cyndi’s List—http://www.cyndislist.com/orphans.htm#Orphans