Orphan Trains

A WebQuest for 5th Grade Language Arts

Designed by

Suzanne Bare, Lavonne Fortner, Julie Hedrick, and Sandy Speaks

  Introduction | Task | Process | Evaluation | Conclusion | Credits | Teacher Page


Choo, Choo!!!!  All aboard for the exciting study of Orphan Trains.

A Family Apart  (The Orphan Train Adventures #1)

This year we are studying orphan trains and preparing for point of view/clarificatoin writing.

You are to read A Family Apart by Joan Lowery Nixon and prepare a point of view essay. 


New York City in the mid-1800's is a rough place to raise six children alone.  When the widowed Mrs. Kelly realizes that she can't keep her children from starving, or from breaking the law. she makes the agonizing decision to send them west on the Orphan Train.  At least they'll be raised by families who can care for them. 

The children do not understand the love behind her decision.  The oldest child, 13-year-old Frances Kelly, is further dismayed when she realizes that her siblings will be divided among different families.  In order to care for her youngest brother, Frances disguises herself as a boy and becomes "Frankie."  When she joins her new family, she finds herself not only in a new environment, but also right in the middle of breaking the law-helping slaves to escape on the Underground Railroad.  This exciting adventure story takes readers on a thrilling ride through one of the darkest chapters in American history.

By Michael Foster, Seneca, KS

Websites containing related information on Orphan Trains.


Teacher guides

The Task

Ma should have/should not have placed her children on the Orphan Train.

*Introductory paragraph stating your point of view.
*2nd, 3rd, and 4th paragraph should include reasons, details, and   elaboration.
*5th paragraph should be the concluding paragraph.

The paper will be scored according to state standards.  Each paper will receive a score of 1, 2, 3, 4.

You will be scored using the rubric provided below.

Additional Assignments:
Study the genre-historical fiction
Historical Topics Mentioned in A Family Apart

  • Orphan Train
  • Underground Railroad
  • Missouri Compromise
  • Immigration
  • Irish Potato Famine
  • Pony Express
  • Buffalo Bill Cody
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Election of 1860
  • Border Wars ("Bleeding Kansas")
  • Fugitive Slave Act

Create newspaper using historical facts found in A Family Apart.

Title: St. Joseph Weekly West 

Year: 1856

Key Word:  Sacrifice

Art Activity:

Create your own version of a diorama.  Depict an important event.  Show the setting and characters in 3-D format.  Be prepared to show and explain the event shown in your diorama to the class. 

The Process

Using information from the book. Complete the following chart to assist you as you choose your point of view.
Reasons Ma Kelly should send her children on the Orphan Train: Reasons Ma Kelly should keep her children:


You will be evaluated according to this rubric.

The following information was developed from  http://www.intercom.net/local/school/sdms/mspap/wkidinf.html











  • I saw the prompt and tried to write a response.  I wrote very little and what I wrote is confusing or inaccurate.
  • If I have details they are not enough to explain the topic.
  • If I do have an organization it is not clear or I stray far from it.
  • I may not address the intended audience.
  • I did not use any language choices to help with style or tone.
  • My paper has little development and a minimum amount of information.  The information does not clearly explain the topic and some of it might even interfere with my explanation.
  • I used details but they may be wrong detailsor they may not help to explain the topic.
  • I wrote for the intended audience.
  • I did not really make any language choice to help with style or tone.
  • My paper is fairly well developed I have enough information to inform the reader about the topic.  The information is clearly presented with some elaboration.
  • There are some specific details that adquately explain the topic but some of the details may not really help explain.
  • I have an organization and I try to stick to it.
  • I wrote for the intended audience.
  • I use language choices to maintain a style or a tone.
  • My paper is well developed and I have more than enough information to inform the reader about the topic.  The information is clearly presented with lots of elaboration.  
  • There are plenty of specific details that more than adequately explain the topic.
  • I have a clear organization and I don't stray from it.
  • I wrote for the intended audience.
  • I frequently use language choices to maintain a style or a tone.


WOW!!!  We just finished our trip on the orphan train.  What an educating adventure!  Hopefully you have gained a better understanding of this time in history.

Credits & References

Text:  A Family Apart
By Joan Lowery Nixon

Websites containing related information on Orphan Trains:

Teacher guides:

Rubric was developed from the following website:

Animated image provided by:

Book image provided by:
Barnes and Noble

Last updated on August 15, 1999. Based on a template from The WebQuest Page