Famous Person: LAURA INGALLS WILDER

Related Topics: The Frontier

Entertainment during the mid to late 1800's

Hardships faced by settlers in the mid 1800's to early 1900's

The Homestead Act

Children's Literature

Grade Level: 4th/5th

Author: Kami S. Harris


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Background:

On February 7, 1867, Laura Ingalls was born in the Big Woods near Pepin, Wisconsin. She was the second daughter born to Charles and Caroline Ingalls. Laura lived through a difficult period of history and overcame a variety of struggles. Yet through it all, she still managed to become a great author of children's books. It is through her contributions that many children have learned about life on the frontier.

Laura moved more than once in her life. In her early life it was always by covered wagon. Laura's father was inspired by the Homestead Act of 1862 which made it possible to obtain 160 acres of land with certain provisions. With this in mind he took his family to Montgomery County in Kansas and settled there. Not long after they had been there, they were forced to move out because the land that they had settled on was technically Native American Territory. In 1871, they moved back to Wisconsin. In 1874, the family settled in Plum Creek, Minnesota, and lived there for several years. Later, the Ingalls moved to the town of De Smet in Dakota Territory. They were the first settlers in the town. While here, the Ingalls once again attempted to get land through the provisions of the Homestead Act. They succeeded, and in 1886 Charles Ingalls officially had a farm of his own.

The settlers of the frontier faced many challenges including the threat of horrendous weather, starvation, plagues, and sickness. For example, in 1874 there was a giant Grasshopper Plague that swept in a Z shape across the lands of Oregon, Dakota Territory, Kansas, and Missouri. Lakes of grasshoppers three inches deep were not uncommon. The grasshoppers devoured everything around them. They ate the crops, the vegetables, clothing, and even each other. Many of the settlers had to leave the lands due to the plague.

The weather patterns often caused great distress for the settlers. The winter of 1880-1881 lasted for 7 months. The snow that winter piled 40 feet high on the railroad tracks. The trains carrying needed supplies could not get thru. People did not go more than a mile from their homes at the risk of getting lost in the blizzards and freezing to death. The supplies in town soon gave out. Two men daringly drove 15 miles away using sleds to bring in some wheat for the starving people. The people lived on the wheat through the winter. The houses that the settlers lived in were unfinished. Often they would wake up to the snow drifting into the house. Fuel for fires soon gave out and all that was left was prairie hay. They would twist the hay into large knots to feed the fire, and everyone had to take their turn at supplying the fuel for the fire. Some families perished in the blizzard, as did many animals.

The settlers faced many hardships, yet through it all they still managed to be happy. In her books, Laura tells of what they did for entertainment. Books were always a treasure, especially the Bible. Music was a great form of entertainment. In her books, Laura tells of Pa singing and playing the fiddle at home. Enthusiasm for any type of social event was great, and they were always well attended. Many of the young people socialized by sledding and sleigh-riding together.

In 1882, when Laura was fifteen, she became a school teacher. Laura did this to earn money for her sister Mary's college education. At the time, Mary became blind due to Scarlet Fever and was attending Iowa College for the Blind. Laura started teaching during winter term. The school that she taught in was an abandoned claim shanty twelve miles from De Smet. Laura had five pupils. Some of them were older and taller than her. The schoolhouse where she taught was cold and drafty. Laura was very homesick for her family. So that Laura would not be so homesick, a young man named Almanzo Wilder drove Laura to her home on the weekends through the harsh winter. This began a three year courtship between Laura and Almanzo. They were later married by the Reverend Edward Brown on August 25, 1885.

A year later Laura and Almanzo had their first daughter. They named her Rose. That winter was another hard one. Almanzo became crippled due to Diphtheria and over work. Travail seemed to surround the Wilder home. In 1888, Laura gave birth to a baby boy who died shortly thereafter. A week later the Wilder's home burned down. From 1888 to 1894, the Wilder family moved from Spring Valley, Minnesota to the piney woods of Florida, and later they returned to De Smet. In 1894 they moved to Missouri and there built what soon became known as Rocky Ridge Farm.

Laura started writing farming articles, and in 1911 her first article was published in the "Missouri Ruralist." When most people Laura's age would be ending their careers, Laura wrote her first book, Little House in the Big Woods. It was published in 1932, when Laura was sixty five years of age. She later had six more books published. Laura won a variety of awards and honors for these books. She was the very first person to receive an award from the Children's Library Association for her lasting contribution to children's literature. Later, the "Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal" was established in Laura's honor for her outstanding talent in writing literature for children. It is still given to an outstanding children's author or illustrator every three years.

In February of 1957 Laura Ingalls Wilder passed away at the age of 90. Though she is gone, her legacy and standard she set for children's literature lives on. People everywhere still enjoy the stories of Laura, and because of her we have a valuable link to the past. In 1974, a weekly television series based on Laura's life was released that is still shown today. Laura Ingalls Wilder is thought of warmly in the hearts of people everywhere. She overcame the hard travails of frontier life and moved on to be someone that we can all look to as a good example of what to live by. Near the end of her life, Laura made the following statement,

The 'Little House' Books are stories of long ago. Today our way of living and our schools are much different. It has been many years since I beat eggs with a fork, or cleaned a kerosene lamp; many things have made living and learning easier. But the real things haven't changed; they can never change. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong. Great improvements in living have been made because every American has been free to pursue his happiness, and so as long as Americans are free they will continue to make our country even more wonderful. (Anderson, p. 239, 1988)

 

References:

Aber Linda W. (1995). 1 Minute Biographies and Activities. Huntington Beach, CA: Teacher Created Materials, Inc.

 

Anderson William T. (Ed.). (1988). A Little House Sampler. U.S.A.: University of Nebraska Press.

 

Davis, Anita P., & Selvidge, Marla J. (1995). Focus on Women. Huntington Beach, CA: Teacher Created Materials, Inc.

 

Fritzer, Penelope, & Bristor, Valerie. (1996, January/February). People and Places in the Laura Ingalls Wilder Books. Social Studies and the Young Learner, pp. 11-14.

 

Irby, Rebecca, & Greetham, Phil. (1997) The Story of Laura's Life.[On-Line]. Available: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/p_greetham/life.htm

 

Irby, Rebecca, & Greetham, Phil. (1997) The Story of Laura's Life.[On-Line]. Available: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/p_greetham/homested.htm

 

Irby, Rebecca, & Greetham, Phil. (1997) The Story of Laura's Life.[On-Line]. Available: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/p_greetham/grasshop.htm

 

Irby, Rebecca, & Greetham, Phil. (1997) The Story of Laura's Life.[On-Line]. Available: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/p_greetham/blizzard.htm

 

Irby, Rebecca, & Greetham, Phil. (1997) The Story of Laura's Life.[On-Line]. Available: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/p_greetham/

 

Slegg, Jennifer. (1997) Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal.[On-Line]. Available: http://vvv.com/jenslegg/medal.htm

 

Swinwood, Laurie. (1994). A Literature Unit for Little House in the Big Woods. Huntington Beach, CA: Teacher Created Materials, Inc.

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Objectives:

1. Given certain background information, students as a whole group will be able to list hardships that Laura Ingalls Wilder and other people that lived during the same time period went through.

2. Students will be able to interview someone who grew up in a different era than them, and discuss what they found out.

3. Students will be able to list the dates of experiences that the person they interviewed went through as well as what was going on in history at the time the person they interviewed grew up on the Laura Ingalls Time-line.

4. Students will be able to discuss what hardships they have seen others face, what hardships they have faced, and what attributes people have that overcome hardships.

5. Students will be able to discuss what types of entertainment that Laura Ingalls Wilder had using a Venn Diagram, and see how they compare with today's forms of entertainment.

6. Students will be able to make a poster advertising entertainment activities in their community.

7. Students will be able to write an autobiography of their life.

8. Students will be able to discuss why they would or would not try to get land through the Homestead Act.

9. Students will be able to create a news show based on the accomplishments that they see themselves attaining in the future.

 

Time Allotment: Approximately 8-9 class periods.

 

Resources Needed:

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Procedures:

Introduction: Give a brief overview of what the students will be doing in the unit. Introduce the Laura Ingalls Time-line and tell the students to refer to it whenever they need to know how things relate to each other in time.

 

1. Interview. Using the background information above, tell about the hardships that Laura and many other people moving across the plains underwent. Include information about weather, food, moving, and illness. Make a list of these particular hardships on the board under the titles: weather, food, moving, illness, and other. Have students interview a person that grew up in an era that the student has not personally experienced. For example, they could interview someone who grew up during the depression, or a major war. Have the students use the questions in Appendix page 1 as a resource for their interview. Also, have the students include any other information that they find interesting. The majority of the interview questions deal with hardships faced and how they were overcome.

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2. Think-Pair-Share. After students have completed their interviews, have them individually think about what adversities the person they interviewed underwent, and what they did to overcome these adversities. Have them share their findings with a partner. As a whole class have students discuss their particular findings. Depending upon the range of time periods--limited, however to the 20th century--that the people interviewed grew up in, this activity should give the students a broad overview of the different types of hardships that people in different eras faced.

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3. Time-line. Place a time-line of Laura Ingalls Wilder's life up around the classroom. (A small version of the time-line is included in the Appendix on page 2 ) As students talk about the different eras that the person that they interviewed grew up in, the students can write the person's name and time period that they grew up in on the time-line. (The students should be able to get this information from question 1 on their interview sheet.) Underneath the date, the student can write what particular things were going on in history at the time that the person they interviewed grew up. (The students should be able to get this information from question 2 on their interview sheet.) Students must also write their name next to their contribution so that they can be assessed.

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4. Carousel/Brainstorming. Divide the class into groups of 4-5. Around the perimeter of the room, have the following headings: Hardships that You Have Faced, Hardships that Others Have Faced, Ways that You Have Overcome Hardships, Ways that You Have Seen Others Overcome Hardships, and Attributes that People Have that Help Them Overcome Hardships. Have chart paper under each heading for the students to record their ideas on. Give each group of students a different color of marker, and instruct them to write all their responses with that color. Assign each group of students to a different heading. Give students about 3 minutes at each station (longer if necessary) and have them rotate around to the different headings after this amount of time. After everyone has had a chance to go to each station, have each group at the station they end up last, write their names on the chart in their color of marker. (This will allow you as a teacher to see what group has made what contributions.) Have students do the following depending upon which chart they end up last: "Choose five hardships that you think are the most difficult," (for the headings Hardships You Have Faced and Hardships that Others Have Faced) "Choose five ways that you think are best for overcoming hardships," (for the headings Ways that You Have Overcome Hardships, and Ways that You Have Seen Others Overcome Hardships) and "What attributes do you think help people the most in times of trial?" (for the heading Attributes that People Have that Help Them Overcome Hardships). Have one person from each group share what they decided upon and why.

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5. Venn Diagram and Wall Quilt. Discuss with the class that even though the people of this time period went through many hardships, they still found various ways to find joy in life. Using the background information above, tell the class the forms of entertainment that Laura Ingalls Wilder had on the frontier. After discussing these forms of entertainment, have the students list different forms of entertainment in their community on the board. Students may need to look at brochures and phone books of the community to give them ideas. As a class, make a Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting the similarities and differences in the entertainment during Laura's time with the forms of entertainment found in their community. Give each student an 8X8 inch square cut out of construction paper. Squares should be different colors. Using the list of entertainment forms from their community as a reference, students should create a poster advertising entertainment activities in their community on the quilt square. After students have completed their poster, they will display their projects by putting together a patchwork quilt with their squares. (Adapted from Mahoney, A. [1996]. My Town's Wall Quilts.[On-line]. Available: http://ericir.syr.edu/Virtual/Lessons/NEW_Dec96/mahoney.html). Quilting was a popular craft among pioneer women in the 1800's. Patchwork quilts were also made by Laura Ingalls Wilder. This should be mentioned as the reason the students are putting their posters in quilt form. This will be a visual dichotomy between our time period, and Laura's.

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6. Writing Activity. Using the background information above, tell the story of Laura Ingalls Wilder's life and contributions. (During this mini-unit, you may want to consider reading one of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books as a source of background information about Laura's life and the time period that she was in. A list of Wilder's books are listed in the Appendix on page 3.) Point out that Laura wrote about her life, and because of her detailed stories, much of frontier life can be explored and learned about in an interesting way. Have the students write a 1-2 page autobiography about their life that could be passed on to their progeny. The autobiography should include important aspects of the time period that we currently live in that would help future generations better understand this period of history. Topics could include descriptions of their home, school, and family life, what types of entertainment they enjoy, etc. (Adapted from Aber, L.W. [1994]. 1 Minute Biographies and Activities. U.S.A: Troll Associates Inc.)

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7. Corners. Tell the students that Laura Ingall's father received land as a result of a bill that the U.S Congress passed in 1862 called the Homestead Act. Give students a handout that contains information on the Homestead Act (See Appendix page 4). Have the students individually read the information. At the bottom of the information on the Homestead Act the following question is asked: "If you were twenty one years of age, a citizen of the United States, and living in 1862 would you try and get land through the Homestead Act? Why or why not" Place the following four statements that answer the question in different corners of the room while the students are reading: 1) I would because it would be an easy way to get 160 acres of free land. 2) I would because I would want to build a house and take care of some land anyway. 3) I wouldn't because I would not want to move my family away from everyone and start a life on the prairies. 4) I wouldn't because we may be far away from the city, and we could get really cold and run out of food. When the students are finished reading the handout, call the students attention to the four statements that are placed in the corners of the room. Ask students to decide which statement they agree with most, and have them go to that corner. In pairs, have students explain to each other their reasons for going to that particular corner. Have the students share their ideas with the whole group that is at the corner. Ask individual students from each group to explain the group's reasoning to the whole class. After the discussion, ask if anyone has changed their view, and why. Explain the background information found in the Appendix on page 5. Be sure and point out that though the Homestead Act may seem like an easy way to get free land, it wasn't. Also, talk about the Ingalls family and how the Homestead Act affected their lives. (The information about how the Homestead Act affected the Ingalls family is also found in the Appendix on page 5.)

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8. Role-Playing. Using the background information given above, share information about the "Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal." Point out that this award was established in Laura's honor for her outstanding talent in writing literature for children. It is given to an outstanding children's author or illustrator every three years. Discuss how everyone has important gifts and talents. Discuss that people also have dreams and goals that they would like to someday fulfill. Have the students think of an award that they can see themselves receiving in the future. The award can be one that is in existence today, or the students can create an award of their own. Give the students a copy of the handout found in the Appendix on page 6. Have them individually answer the questions and include any other pertinent information. Have students design a news show where they pretend to be famous people who are being interviewed for awards that they have received. (The students can use the handout as a reference for questions that can be asked on the news show.) The students can use any format they would like for the news show. (They could have a talk-show format or something like they would see on the ten o'clock news.) Encourage students to use creativity, and include scenery, music, special effects, etc. Have students take turns being the reporter and the person being interviewed. Have each group share their news show with the rest of the class by performing it in a drama type production or sharing a recorded video tape of the show.

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Assessment:

1. Contributions to group discussion and list of hardships will be assessed informally through observation.

2. Interview sheets from individual students will be assessed for content and completeness.

3. The listing of dates and experiences of the person that they interviewed written on the time-line will be assessed.

4. Students participation in Carousel will be assessed anecdotally. (Group contribution can be assessed because of the different types of marker used.)

5. Contributions to group discussion on forms of entertainment will be assessed informally through observation.

6. Student posters will be assessed based on content and creativity.

7. Students individual autobiographies will be assessed for creativity and content.

8. Student discussion and contribution to Corners will be assessed anecdotally.

9. Students news show will be assessed anecdotally as they are preparing so that the teacher can see who is participating. Final news shows will be assessed based on preparedness, content, and creativity.

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Appendix

 


Appendix p. 1

 

Name:__________________

 

Interview Questions

1. What time period did you grow up in?

 

2. What was going on in America (or elsewhere) at this time that affected your life?

 

 

3. What particular hardships did you face?

 

 

4. Which hardship was the most difficult?

 

 

5. What did you find helped you in time of struggle?

 

 

6. Did you feel like the hardships that you faced helped you become a better person? If yes, in what way?

 

7. Any other interesting information?

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Appendix p. 2

Laura Ingalls Wilder Timeline

 

February 7, 1867 Laura Elizabeth Ingalls was born in Pepin, Wisconsin.

 

1867-1870 Laura's father, Charles is inspired by the Homestead Act of 1862 which

made it possible for him to claim land near Independence. They built a

home and a stable, but are forced to leave because the land they settled on

is technically Native American territory.

 

1871 The Ingalls family move back to Wisconsin.

 

1874 The Ingalls family moves to Plum Creek, Minnesota.

Grasshopper Plague (Explained in her book, On the Banks of Plum Creek)

 

1879 Because of the Homestead Act the Ingalls move to De Smet in Dakota

Territory. (This area is now South Dakota.)

 

1880 and 1881 Severe blizzards (Laura writes about this in her book, The Long Winter)

 

1882 Laura becomes a teacher. (She was fifteen years old.)

 

1885 Laura marries Almanzo Wilder.

 

1886 Laura and Almanzo have their first child, Rose.

 

1886 and 1887 Hard winter (Laura writes about this in her book, The First Four Years)

Almanzo becomes crippled due to Diphtheria and over work.

 

1888 Laura and Almanzo have a son that dies in infancy.

 

1888 Laura and Almanzo's house burns down a week after their baby dies.

 

1888-1894 Laura Almanzo, and Rose move to Spring Valley, Minnesota, the piney

woods of Florida, and later return to De Smet.

 

1894 Laura, Almanzo, and Rose move to Mansfield, Missouri while they built

Rocky Ridge Farm.

 

1911 Laura's first article is published in a journal.

 

1913 Rocky Ridge farm is finished.

1932 Laura's first book Little House in the Big Woods is published.

 

1954 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award is established.

 

October 23, 1949 Almanzo dies at the age of 92.

 

February 10, 1957 Laura dies at the age of 90.

 

1974 Weekly television series based on Laura's life begins.

 

References:

 

Aber, Linda W. (1994). 1 Minute Biographies and Activities. U.S.A.: Troll Associates Inc.

 

Davis, Anita P., & Selvidge, Marla J. (1995). Focus on Women. Huntington Beach, California: Teacher Created Materials Inc.

 

Irby, Rebecca, & Greetham, Phil. (1997) The Story of Laura's Life.[On-line]. Available: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/p_greetham/life.htm

 

Irby, Rebecca, & Greetham, Phil. (1997) The Story of Laura's Life.[On-line]. Available: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/hompages/p_greetham/grasshop.htm

 

Irby, Rebecca, & Greetham, Phil. (1997) The Story of Laura's Life.[On-line]. Available: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/p_greetham/blizzard.htm

 

Skinwood, Laurie. (1994). Literature Unit, Little House in the Big Woods. Huntington Beach, California: Teacher Created Materials Inc.

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Appendix p. 3

List of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Books

•Little House in the Big Woods

•Farmer Boy

•Little House on the Prairie

•On the Banks of Plum Creek

•By the Chores of Silver Lake

•The Long Winter

•Little Town on the Prairie

•These Happy Golden Years

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Appendix p. 4

Homestead Act Information

The Homestead Act was passed by congress in 1862. It allowed for citizens of the United States to claim 160 acres of land. There were certain conditions that had to be fulfilled in order to file for land. The person had to build a home on the land as well as take care of it, live on the land at least six months out of the year, be 21 years of age, and a citizen of the United States. They had to do this for five years, and finalize the claim for the land within two years of fulfilling the five year requirement.

Think about the following question:

*If you were twenty one years of age, a citizen of the United States and living in 1862 would you try and get land because of the Homestead Act? Why or why not?

 

References:

Irby, Rebecca, & Greetham, Phil. (1997) The Story of Laura's Life.[On-line]. Available: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/hompages/p_greetham/homested.htm

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Appendix p. 5

Information About the Homestead Act: How it Affected Lives, and How it Affected the Ingalls Family

The Homestead Act seemed to provide an easy way to get land. However, the land had never been farmed before, so it took about 2 years before a person could grow any good crops on the land. One source says that "A farmer in the Great Plains needed two or even four times [160 acres]...to support a family with agriculture, and much more if he wished to raise cattle" (http://vd1.magibox.net/lonesome_turkey/support/html/homesteaders.html). Thus, even though 160 acres seemed like a lot of land, it was not an adequate resource for a family moving out on the prairie.

While the land was being prepared to give an adequate crop to provide for the needs of the settler on the 160 acres, the settler usually had to support himself and his family with other kinds of work. This meant that the settler would have to do another job besides the tedious labor of farming. Often this type of job had to be found in the city. If the city was not close to where the settler's land was, it may be difficult for the settler to spend 6 months of the year on their farm. Thus, they may not fulfill the requirement of living on the farm for 6 months in the year.

Other problems with the Homestead Act occurred. Lands that were more desirable ended up in the hands of the railroad and speculators. This meant that if settlers wanted good land they had to pay expensive prices rather than accept the poorer government lands.

 

The Role the Homestead Act of 1862 played on the Ingalls family:

Charles Ingalls, Laura's father, was inspired by the Homestead Act of 1862. They chose some land about 14 miles from Independence and built a house. In 1870 they were forced to leave because the land that they had settled on was Native American territory. Later the Ingalls moved to De Smet in Dakota Territory. They were the first family to settle there. In 1880 they filed another claim for land through the Homestead Act that was 3 miles from De Smet. In 1880 and 1881 winter lasted seven months. There was little food or fuel for fires to keep the families warm. Because of this, it is speculated that Charles Ingalls had to wait an extra year before the farm that he and his family had lived on became his because he and his family had to spend 8 months in town.

 

References:

Aber, Linda W. (1994). 1 Minute Biographies and Activities. U.S.A.: Troll Associates Inc.

 

Anderson, William T. (Ed.). (1988). A Little House Sampler. U.S.A.: University of Nebraska Press.

 

Irby, Rebecca, & Greetham, Phil. (1997) The Story of Laura's Life.[On-line]. Available: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/p_greetham/homested.htm

 

Irby, Rebecca, & Greetham, Phil. (1997) The Story of Laura's Life.[On-line]. Available: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/p_greetham/life.htm

 

The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia [Computer Software]. (1993). Grolier Electronic Publishing Inc.

 

Swain, K.O. (1997) Homesteaders.[On-line]. Available: http://vd1.magibox.net/lonesome_turkey/support/html/homesteaders.html

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Appendix p. 6

Name:_________________________

 

What award can you see yourself winning in the future?

 

What types of achievements would you have to make to receive an award like this?

 

How much work do you think it would take to get you to this point?

 

What types of hardships do you think you may encounter as you try and strive for this dream?

 

What type of attributes do you think you need to be able to accomplish this goal?

 

Do you think that people who achieve goals do it by themselves or with others help? Explain.

 

If there is any other information that you would like to share please do so below.

 

*These questions can be reworded and used as you interview or as you are interviewed.

 

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