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Charles Major

bearGrade Level:



Science : Environment
Social Studies : History
English : Literature


Charles Major’s children’s novel, The Bears of Blue River, discusses early life in Indiana. It touches on environmental issues that are still pertinent today, such as deforestation and endangered species.


1) To explore pioneer life in Indiana.
2) To examine the deforestation of Indiana by early settlers.
3) To examine the reckless hunting and killing of black bears, which eventually leads to the animal’s placement on the extirpated species list.


This is intended to be a five-day lesson plan that provides an in-depth look into early life in Indiana. More or less time can be spent on this lesson per the teacher’s inclination.

Day 1

Social Studies:

First, determine the students’ pre-existing knowledge of the pioneers. Ask the students to share what comes to mind when they hear the word “pioneer,” and write the students’ responses on the board in order to keep track of what has already been said.

After getting the students’ ideas, begin the lesson on pioneers and early settlers in Indiana.

Discuss with the students:
1) The various reasons that people began to move west.
2) Factors that led some pioneers to settle in the Indiana territory, such as the river systems that led them through the dense forests.
3) The pioneers’ attitudes toward the vast wilderness.


Determine the students’ knowledge of the environment. This will help you decide how extensive this environment lesson should be. On day 2, deforestation and endangered species will be discussed. If the students have very limited knowledge of environmental issues, provide them with enough background to be able to discuss these two topics.


Read aloud the first two chapters in The Bears of Blue River. After today, the students will be responsible for reading the rest of the book at home. Nightly reading assignments will be decided upon by the teacher, depending on the class and grade level.

Day 2


1) Define deforestation.
2) Define endangered, threatened, and extirpated species.
3) Provide examples of each for clarity.


1) Activity #1: research reports. Students will choose an endangered animal in Indiana from the endangered species list. They will then research the species and write a report based on their findings. In the report, students should be sure to include a description of the species, including its size, behavior, life span, natural habitat and the food that it consumes. In addition, the students should discuss the status, current population, threats to the species, and ways that they can be protected. Students will have two weeks to complete the report.
2) Library time: Take students to the school library in order to begin researching their endangered species.

Day 3

Social Studies:

Students will be split into four groups, and each group will be assigned a season. They will then come up with a short skit to be performed tomorrow in class showing a typical day in the life of a pioneer in that season.


1) Activity #2: adopt-a-tree. The class will take a field trip to a local park. Once there, the students will then pick a tree to “adopt.” Using sketchpads and pencils, students will draw a picture of their tree. They will also include a separate drawing of the shape of the leaf for their tree, using as much detail as possible. If students have trouble drawing the detail of the leaf, they can also place the leaf on the ground with the paper over it and rub the pencil over the paper. This will provide an accurate reproduction.
2) The environment lesson will take place while at the park. Discuss the effects of deforestation with the students. In addition, talk about the black bear and its introduction to the endangered species list.


1) To gauge what the students have learned from the reading so far, have them write a short essay answering the following question:

In chapter 3, Balser and his friends go into the woods alone to pick berries. They are very self-sufficient and hunt for food to make lunch. What difficulties would you have finding and preparing your food that Balser and his friends did not have? If you were a child in pioneer times, how would your life be different from how it is now?

2) Discuss the students’ responses to the essay question.

Day 4

Social Studies:

Activity #3: Students will perform the plays about pioneer life that they created on day three.


1) Creative story: Have the students write a creative story telling what would have happened to Balser if Liney had not come back to help him and had not blinded the bear with the fire.
2) Discuss the students’ responses to the creative story activity.
3) Library time: Take the students to the school library in order to continue researching the endangered species.

Day 5

Social Studies:

Activity #4: This activity will be a follow-up to the endangered species reports. Duplicate the outline of a T-shirt on a piece of paper. Each student will draw a picture of his or her endangered species on a “T-shirt,” along with a message.


Activity #5: With permission, the students and teacher will collaborate and choose a spot on school grounds to plant a tree. Talk with the students about what needs to be done to care for the tree. To follow up with this activity, have the students water the tree once a day for a week, and then once a week until the end of the school year.