Lauren Tarshis’s eleventh book in her popular I Survived Series tackles the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
Eleven-year-old Oscar lived in Castle, Minnesota with his father and mother. After his father died in a blizzard, Oscar became the “man of the house” looking after the farm.
Mr. Morrow, who was an artist for a Chicago newspaper, came to Castle to draw pictures of the farmland. He spent a lot of time drawing Oscar’s farm during the day and sitting on the porch talking to Mama at night. The two wrote letters after he went home. One day Mama announced that she and Mr. Morrow were getting married, and they were all moving to Chicago.
Oscar traveled by train to Chicago. While in the train station, he was tricked into leaving the baggage unguarded. Otis and his gang of thugs stole it. Mr. Morrow told Oscar it was no big deal. He wanted to treat Mama and him to a fancy meal at the Palmer House. They rode a taxi to the hotel. As they were going inside the hotel, Oscar saw the girl who had tricked him into leaving the baggage. Oscar left the hotel to chase her down.
Oscar discovered the girl, Jennie, was an orphan who had helped the thugs in order to have food for her little brother, Bruno. As Oscar was walking away, he found himself in a firestorm. Oscar took refuge from the flying sparks in a chicken coop. While there, Oscar saw Jennie and Bruno’s house catch fire.
What should Oscar do? Would he run inside a house to rescue the girl who tricked him?
FREE Teaching Ideas for
I Survived the Great Chicago Fire, 1871
Lessons from History: The Chicago Fire of 1871 contains an interview between Lauren Tarshis and Casey Grant from the National Fire Protection Association.
Lauren Tarshis’s website offers several free activities to use with the book.
Each of these links goes to DOC files that can be edited to meet the needs of your students.
- Comprehension Questions
- Making Inferences, Compare/Contrast, Cause and Effect, Figurative Language, and Context Clues
Compare before and after photographs of the fire. This website from Chicago Magazine is a great place to start. Another great source for before and after photos is The Great Chicago Fire & The Web of Memory.
Have students create a Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting Chicago statistical information from the time of the fire to today. Students should include:
- size of the city compared to other US cities in land area and/or population
- modes of transportation
- means of communication
Have students illustrate the song “Old Mother Leary”.
If you would like to try out the I Survived the Great Chicago Fire, 1871 Book Unit before you buy it, this download contains free samples including:
- Vocabulary Practice for Chapters 1-2
- Comprehension Questions for Chapters 1-2
- Constructed Response Question for Chapters 1-2
- Photos to Show What the Rest of the Unit Looks Like
I Survived the Great Chicago Fire, 1871 Book Unit contains graphic organizers for an interactive notebook. Vocabulary, comprehension, constructed response writing, and skill practice are all included. Printable and digital versions are available.