O Pioneers! Lesson Plan

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

This lesson plan will help students examine the characters from the story and extract meaning from unknown words as they read ''O Pioneers!'' by Willa Cather.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson on O Pioneers! by Willa Cather, students will be able to:

  • Analyze the characters.
  • Determine the meaning of words both in context and through the use of reference materials.


120 minutes

Common Core Curriculum Standards


Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.


Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).


  • brandish
  • corpulent
  • dubiously
  • laconic
  • petulance
  • probity
  • recumbent
  • sanguine
  • solicitude
  • volubility


  • copies of O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
  • word cards
  • dictionary
  • 3' x 3' pieces of paper
  • pens

Reading & Discussion Questions

    • Read Willa Cather's O Pioneers! as a class, and discuss the following questions:
    • What is the setting of the story?
    • Who is the protagonist in this story?
    • Why do Alexandra, Carl, and Emil go to town?
    • What do the members of the Bergson family do with the advice John Bergson gives them?
    • Why do many of the Bergson's neighbors move away?
    • How is Alexandra different from her brothers?
    • What happens as a result of Alexandra's decision to take out an additional mortgage and buy more land?
    • Describe Emil's romantic interests after he returns from college?
    • What does Alexandra's response when the other farmers want to send Crazy Ivar to an asylum say about her character?
    • Why are Lou and Oscar suspicious of Carl?
    • What are Alexandra's daydreams?
    • What happens when Emil tells Marie about his feelings for her?
    • How do Alexandra and Carl respond to the murders?
  • Ask if there are any questions, then give the students the lesson's printable worksheet to check for understanding.
  • Check the answers as a class.


Character Analysis

Materials: copies of O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

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