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The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare



Book Summary Novel Activities Vocabulary Words Writing Activities Discussion Topics Online Test




Book Summary


In 1768, Matt and his dad moved to Maine territory to build a log cabin in a new township. After they build the cabin, Matt's dad has to leave to bring the rest of the family from Massachusetts. His family consists of Matt, his dad, his mom, his younger sister Sarah, and a baby that has not yet been born. Matt is worried about being left all alone, but he must stay in order to protect the family's house and land. Matt keeps track of time by making notches in sticks, one for each day. Meanwhile, he must also fish, hunt, and keep the corn crops growing to stay alive.

After being attacked by a large swarm of bees, Matt's life is saved by an Indian boy, Attean, and his grandfather, Saknis. When Matt asks how he can repay their kindness, Saknis requests that he teach Attean to read.  Although they are unsure about one another at first, the reading lessons begin. After each lesson, they spend the rest of the day hunting and fishing. The boys come to know each other as Attean learns to speak and read English from Matt, while Matt learns to become a skilled hunter from Attean. When it's time for the tribe to move to new hunting ground, Saknis offers to adopt Matt and take him with the tribe. Though many months have passed, there is no sign of Matt's family. Matt would be proud to be Attean's brother, but he also knows he must wait for his own family.

As Christmas is approaching, Matt’s family does return. They were delayed after being quite sick with typhus.  His family was proud of Matt and all that he accomplished and they looked forward to their life together in the Maine territory.


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Novel Activities


1. Imagine you are going to spend several weeks camping in the forest alone. What items would you bring that would help your survival?

2. Have you ever been stung by a bee? Matt was stung by a whole hive of very angry bees. Find out how to treat a bee sting.

3. Ben is a stranger who shows up at Matt’s cabin. Matt graciously fixes him food, and Ben greedily eats every bite. Full and tired, Ben falls asleep on the floor of Matt’s cabin. Upon awakening, Matt discovers that Ben is gone, along with his father’s prized rifle. Create a wanted poster to help catch Ben.


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Vocabulary Words


pewter savage salvage contemptuous
squaw chagrined sinew stockade
boisterous genial manitou dignity


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Writing Activities


Sensory/Descriptive: Matt and Attean were extremely lucky to survive their encounter with the angry mother bear. Think about the way the author uses vivid details to create a sense of danger and excitement throughout the scene. Imagine you are Matt and write a journal entry to capture the vivid details of the scene along with the emotions he is feeling before, during, and after the encounter. Include as many sensory details as you can.


Imaginative/Narrative: In The Sign of the Beaver, Matt faced a very difficult decision. Should he leave with Attean and his family or remain at the cabin to wait for his family? Think about a time when you were faced with a difficult decision. Write an essay to describe the dilemma.


Analytical/Persuasive: In The Sign of the Beaver, the men in Attean’s tribe were hunters. They went on great hunts and brought back animals to feed and clothe the tribe. It was the women, or “squaws,” who had the task of cleaning, preparing, preserving, cooking the meat, and utilizing the rest of the animal. Attean considered “squaw work” to be unimportant and rather menial. It was the work of the hunters that he admired and considered to be of prime importance. Matt, living alone, did “squaw work” each day. Which role do you think is more important?


Practical/Informative: Matt and Attean encounter many different animals in their daily interactions with nature. Beavers, bees, and bears are among these creatures. Choose one of these animals and conduct research to learn more. Then, write a research report.


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Discussion/Journal Topics


Chapter Three: “It was then that he noticed. His father’s rifle was not hanging over the door. In a panic, he searched the cabin, his own bed, the corner shelves, under the table and the stools. He rushed back to the door and on to the edge of the forest. It was no use… Ben was gone, and so was the rifle."

Chapter Seventeen: “My father go out on a war trail.” Attean said. “He go to find white man who killed my mother. He not come back.”

Chapter Nineteen: “My grandmother very surprised white boy go long way for Indian dog,” Attean explained. “She say you welcome.”

Chapter Twenty-two: “I not understand.” Attean scowled. “How can man own land? Land same as air. Land for all people to live on. For beaver and deer. Does deer own land?”


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Online Test


Your students can take an online test with immediate results at:

The Sign of the Beaver Online Test


The Professional Development Institute has a complete literature unit for this novel. For more information, click the link below.

Sign of the BeaverThe Sign of the Beaver Literature Unit (Check out the sample pages!)


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