Janice Uptegrove / Andrea VanCleave (Kidspiration)
Grade Level 4
Smithville Upper Elementary
The Orphan Train


Joan Lowery Nixon wrote a children’s Literature book entitled A Family Apart about an Irish family in New York. The father of the family died prematurely leaving his widow and 6 children. The family cannot afford to make ends meet and the mother makes the difficult decision to place her kids on the Orphan Train. The story revolves primarily around the oldest child Frances and her youngest sibling Petey, who are adopted by an abolitionist family in Missouri. We used Kidspiration to make Character Webs as well as the story schema of the book. Students were allowed to choose the character for their web. Additionally, we tried to emphasize how the characters were feeling in the book and to incorporate their feelings into the character webs.


Students will read the book about the Orphan Train and the period of time in which the Children’s Aid Society began its work. They will discuss the characters’ feelings, and the historical events that took place during this time period.


1. Literary interpretation

2. Critical thinking

3. Inference

4. Collaboration

Materials needed

1. Multiple Copies of A Family Apart By: Joan Lowery Nixon

2. Computers

3. Kidspiration


1. Read the book, A Family Apart

2. Instructions on how to use the Kidspiration program.

3. Provide students with feedback on character feelings/traits.

On the computer

1. Have students discuss how each main character is feeling and the character's traits.

2. Have the students choose a character for their Kidspiration Webs.

3. Students will write their character’s feeling/traits on the topic of their Kidspiration Web.

4. Students enter examples of their character’s feelings/traits from the book on the sub-topics to each feeling.

Follow-up activities

1. Students will present their Kidspiration Webs to their Missouri class.

2. Students will share their Kidspirations with their partner classes in New York.

3. Students will discuss and questions their collaborative classes about the book and the Orphan Train.

4. Students will listen to experts who traveled on the Orphan Train or are a survivor of the Orphan Train.

5. Students will hold a reflective session with their collaborative classes about what they have gleaned from the book, the experts, each other, and their historical studies.

( This collaboration can be done between two classes in a school building)