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Rowing to Old La Pointe

Row Your Class into the History of Madeline Island and Its Historical Museum. This teacher-submitted, elementary-level lesson plan appeared in Badger History Bulletin. Please adapt it to fit your students' needs.

Author: Mary C. Pautsch Reading Specialist,
Rice Lake Area Schools


Fourth-grade students visit Madeline Island as a culminating activity of their Wisconsin history studies. Before departing on the ferry for Old La Pointe, the students are guided through a two-week study and review of the geography, written and oral history, literature, and music of the area. Note: Although the experience of actually visiting this historic site is unique, the resources in this lesson plan can be followed for a virtual trip as well. Visit the Island School Web site.


Madeline Island is often referred to as "A Place of Encounters" because it and the Chequamegon Bay region provided the setting for some of the first recorded encounters between French voyageurs and the native Ojibwe people, beginning about 1659. Today, exhibits of rare and one-of-a-kind artifacts, most of them found on Madeline Island or one of the surrounding islands, tell the whole story of the area's exploration and settlement, from prehistory to the present day. Prehistoric relics from the days of Ojibwe habitation rest alongside trade goods, missionaries' effects, tools of the lumbering and maritime industries, and other remnants of the island's human presence.


  • Students will have a heightened awareness of Wisconsin history via literature, geography, photography, and music.
  • Students will review major themes of Wisconsin history studied throughout the year.
  • Students will be able to identify upwards of twenty people, objects, places, or concepts that led to the settlement of Madeline Island.



  1. Before either an actual or virtual trip, visit the Island School Web site. Its information includes background resources, classroom activities, and trip planning.
  2. In school, students first study the geography of the Apostle Islands, learning about the Ojibwe oral history of the islands, which describes the Megis Shell account of the Native American migration to the area.
  3. Download the song sheets for this activity from above, and if possible acquire the recorded versions. Discuss the verses in the different songs. Ask students to describe how the songs relate to the settlement of the island. Use lesson #3, "Madeline Island Ferry Line" from the Lesson Plan section of the Island School Web site to teach students the gestures to "Over to Old La Pointe."
  4. Also at the Island School Web site are resources on the fur trade and voyageur era. Use the site, a social studies textbook, or other resource to review this time period.
  5. Read aloud excerpts from the books, On Thin Ice, Windsleds at Madeline Island to generate a discussion about transportation to the island, and Trouble at Fort La Pointe (reviewed in this issue) to discuss the life of the voyageurs. Around the same time, listen to "Old Voyageur/A St. Malo," "Envoyons," and "C'est L'Aviron."
  6. Have students listen to and analyze the stories, The Birchbark House and Dreamcatcher, which illustrate Ojibwe life on the island.
    *Note: The remaining steps are for those classes that make an actual trip.
  7. Upon arriving at Madeline Island, students watch the thirty-minute video about the history of the island. In the movie, they review the settlement of the island and hear the song, "Over to Old La Pointe." The movie dramatizes all of the people mentioned in the song.
  8. After the movie, the guides ask questions and review facts about trading between the Ojibwa and the voyageurs. They show furs and clothes from that time period and dress one of the students as a voyageur.
  9. Students then go on a scavenger hunt featuring all the people, places and things they see in the movie and hear in the song, "Over to Old La Pointe."
  10. When the hunt is completed, students are given the referenced lyrics to "Over to Old La Pointe" which describes where all the people, places and objects mentioned in the song could be found at the museum. With this, students are able to guide themselves easily around the museum.
  11. Museum guides also lead the students around to each section of the old log building and around the Capser Center. In-depth stories behind the artifacts and their contributors are given.
  12. A member from the community of La Pointe guides a walking tour of the village. Within walking distance of the museum are the old school, library, fire department, church, and Capser Trail.


After the visit, students create journal entries about their favorite part of the fieldtrip. Students explain why they enjoyed the trip and what makes Madeline Island important to Wisconsin's history. Students also write about something new they learned at the museum that they hadn't learned in the classroom that year.


  1. Benton-Banai, Edward. The Mishomis Book. (St. Paul: Red House School), 1998.
  2. Erdrich, Louise. The Birchbark House. (New York: Scholastic Inc.), 1999.
  3. Ernst, Kathleen. Trouble At Fort La Pointe. (Middleton, WI: Pleasant Company Publications), 2000. 
  4. Nelson, Charles. On Thin Ice, Windsleds at Madeline Island. (Friendship, WI: New Past Press Inc.), 2001.
  5. Nelson, Warren. 30th Star (CD), Sioux River Song Farm, 1999. Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua, Washburn, WI 54891.
  6. Nelson, Warren. Riding the Wind (CD), Nelson-Ferris Concert Company, 1996. Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua, Washburn, WI 54891.
  7. Osofsky, Audrey, Illustrated by Ed Young. Dreamcatcher. (New York: Orchard Books), 1999.
  8. Wisconsin Cartographer's Guide and Bobbie Malone. Mapping Wisconsin History. (Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society), 2000.

Wisconsin Content Standards

  • Geography, A.4.2;
  • History, B. 4.1, 4.3, 4.4, 4.7, 4.9, 4.10, 4.11, 4.14;
  • Economics, D. 4.3;
  • The Behavioral Sciences, E.4.11, 4.14.

Online songsheets are available in Adobe Acrobat Format. To obtain the free Acrobat Reader, you can find information in our help section.

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