Lesson: The Polar Express

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Lesson Objective

1. Write a retelling of THE POLAR EXPRESS. 2. Identify parts of a story that are reality and fantasy. 3. Read THE POLAR EXPRESS.

Lesson Plan

1. Begin lesson by discussing copyright date of the book: 1985.  Emphasize that the story was written over 20 years ago.  The movie students may have seen was based on the book. 


2. Depending on the number of books at your disposal, have students read the story with partners or small groups.  You will need several copies for the students to reference later in the lesson.


3. Ask the following questions after students complete reading:


What is the main character's name?  The author only refers to him as "the boy".


Why do you think the author doesn't give the boy a name? Accept reasonable responses....it provides mystery; allows you to use your imagination.


What is the setting of the story?  Christmas Eve in the boy's home, North Pole, and Polar Express.


Explain the significance of the bell.  The bell only rings for those who truly believe.


4. Pass out a copy of Reality & Make Believe Chart to each student.  If you have a SmartBoard or Digital Presenter, project a copy.  As a large group, work together to identify parts of the story that are REALITY and MAKE BELIEVE.  The teacher should fill in the chart with student responses while the class copies.  See Reality & Make Believe Chart Answer Key for suggested answers.


5. Give each student a copy of Writing Paper.  Their homework assignment is to write a retelling of the story.  Give students time to read back through the books and take notes for the retelling.  The books should remain in the classroom.  I usually give students 2 - 3 days to complete the retelling since they must share the books.  Writing Paper p. 2 are additional pages if students need extra paper to write the retelling.


6. A Retelling Rubric is given for the teacher to use for assessing students' retellings.


7. If there is extra time, allow students to read some of Chris Van Allsburg's other books.  Remind them to work on their Picture Book Reports.



Be cautious when discussing the reality and make believe chart.  I was often surprised at how many fifth graders still believed in Santa!  I tiptoed around this because I didn't want my classroom to be the place where students discovered the truth about Santa.  


Depending on the maturity of my class, I passed out a single bell with a piece of ribbon to those who "truly believed" as the characters in the story did.  They tied the bells to bookbags, shoes, jackets, etc.  It is always fun as long as it doesn't become too much of a distraction.


This lesson could easily be 90 minutes if you have the time!  

Lesson Resources

Writing Paper Pg 2  
Writing Paper  
Retelling Rubric  
Reality and Make Believe Chart Answer Key  
Reality and Make Believe Chart  


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