Teaching Heart's Polar Express Unit Theme
The Polar Express
For those that truly believe!!!!

Train Unit & Theme from Teaching Heart
Ideas, lessons, printables, games, party fun, and much more to match the story!!!

Updated - Nov. 2012

by Chris Van Allsburgh (Houghton Mifflin 1985)

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This is one of my favorite books. I read it to my class every year. It is a book that makes you feel the magic of Christmas. I never grow tired of it. Below are some ideas to match this great book. Now the movie has become one of my favorite Holiday treats.

Three Polar Express Day Games!

This packet includes:

1.) Polar Express Counting Game - The free Gingerbread Game here will show you what this game is like!

2.) Create a Polar Express Scene Dice Game! It is similar to the free winter dice game I posted here and shown below.

3.) Race to the Polar Express Dice Game.

Bonus - Polar Express Graph and Sort Sheet. Bonus Polar Ticket. Bonus Reindeer Food Tag.

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File Copyright 2012 by C. Gallagher www.teachingheart.net Graphics purchased from www.scrappindoodles.com/




Before Reading: Show the class the
cover of the book and read the title.
Have the class predict what the Polar Express is.

My favorite thing to do with this book is to read it as a Christmas present to my groups. What I do is set a scene for a train ride and simulate a ride to the North Pole.

Set up pairs of small chairs in two parallel rows with a center aisle for the imaginary train ride. In each child's chair place a warm cup of hot cocoa and softly play winter music as the group boards the train. When everyone has had his or her ticket checked and is settled, read the book aloud as you ride along. Encourage the students to tell you of the sights they see as they ride along. Ring your bell to add an extra dose of magic to the part of the book that talks of the bell.

Click here to download a ticket - you can modify to meet your needs! This one is large and has a penguin on it. If you would like a smaller one without a Penguin, please click here or look at both and pick the one you like!

Here is a new ticket created in 2010 by Teaching Heart. Click here to download!

After, I finish reading the book, I hand each student a bell to keep and wear around his or her neck. Finally we each d esign a paper bell. Give each student a cut-out of a large bell. You may choose to have them write on the bell or decorate the bell with glitter, buttons, and other art supplies.

Get a Train Cookie Cutter and make train cookies as gifts for your students.

You could decorate them in Christmas Colors & write the words Polar Express on them. The ones above were made for my son's second birthday party. A train theme of course.








 ocean liner





Discuss the vocab words above with your students. Place them on train cut-outs

Make a File Folder Game

Describe it

Students match adjectives from the story with the nouns they describe:  hissing steam, squeaking metal, hot cocoa, dark Forrest.lean wolves,quiet wilderness, barren desert, small box, little sister, loud blast, magical sound, silver bell, huge city, frozen sea.

Give your classmates or students a Choo Choo Chocolate Bar!!! You can wrap the bar in a free printable wrapper from Teaching Heart!

Click here to print this wrapper. Also, click here to check out our other Christmas Candy Bar Wrappers!

Train Poems, Songs, Fingerplays

Down By The Station

Down by the station, early in the morning,
See the little puffer-bellies
All in a row.
See the station master
Turn the little handle.
Chug! Chug! Toot! Toot!
Off we go!

Choo-Choo Train

This is a choo-choo train,
Puffing down the track.
Now it's going forward
Now it's going back.
Now the bell ringing,
Now the whistle blows.
What a lot of noise it make
Everywhere it goes!

Countin’ on the Railroad
(tune: I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad)
Lyrics:  Maurene Stapel

I’ve been countin’ on the railroad

All the way to ten

I’ve been countin’ on the railroad

And I’ll do it all again

Can’t you hear the captain shoutin’

All aboard 1 - 2 - 3

Can’t you hear the whistle blowin’

Count along with me

One little _____, Two little_____

Three little _____ and Four ______

Five little _____, Six little _____

Seven little _____, and Eight _____

Someone’s countin’ nine _____

Hear the whistle blow, oh, oh, oh

Someone’s countin’ ten _____

Loaded and ready to go.  Singin’

Chugga chugga, chugga chugga, woo woo

Chugga chugga, chugga chugga, woo, ooo, ooo, ooo

Chugga chugga, chugga chugga, woo, woo

Loaded and ready to go!


Snow Falling Down On Christmas Eve
The Sound of a Train and it’s time to leave.

The Polar Express is here!
The sound of a hissing steam engine is all I hear.

“All Aboard” calls the conductor.
I jump on the train and off we roll.
I know we are off to the North Pole.

The train ride is bumpy, but there is nothing to fear.
Soon we will see Santa and his Reindeer.

The first gift of Christmas will be handed out.
“I want a bell from Santa’s Reindeer” is what the children shout.

The Polar Express stops at the North Pole
I feel like we have stopped in a snow bowl.

Santa picks me up and places me on his lap.
He asks if I would like a new ball cap.

He can tell I would like a bell.
He hands me one and says, “This bell looks swell!”

Do you hear the sound?
I believe I will hear it all year round!

What a magical night.
The Polar Express has filled me with delight!


By:  ColleenGallagher @ www.teachingheart.net

Here is the engine on the track          (hold up thumb)
 Here is the coal car, just in back (hold up pointer finger)  Here is the boxcar, to carry freight    (hold up middle finger)
 Here is the mail car, don’t be late!     (hold up ring finger)
 Way back here at the end of the train   (hold up little finger)
 Rides the caboose through the sun and the rain.

The Railroad Track
A __ was on a railroad track
Its heart was all a-flutter.
Along came a choo-choo train
Toot, toot, __.

Create word card pairs of food items that change form, such as: peanut/peanut butter, cracker/crumbs, tomato/catsup, orange/juice. Children fill in the blank spaces in the chart with the correct pairs in the correct order.


I purchased the above wooden whistles. They are so cute. We did some activities with them at outdoor recess. Blow your whistle three times...

I also purchased this train craft for the students to work on at a center for our holiday party. They enjoyed making their own Polar Express.

Here are bell necklaces. Can they hear the bell?

Looking for lots of bells for sorting or patterning?

Get the Polar Express CD and play pass the box of hot chocolate while playing the song Hot Chocolate!!!
Except when the music stops, allow the child to take out a pack of hot chocolate. Play till everyone has gotten a pack of hot chocolate!

You could also make your students their own Snowman Soup Packet as a gift!
Click here to learn how to get the printable.

Elf your students! Check out my post!


Polar Express and Hot Chocolate!

I love all the Holiday Themed Marshmallows they have out this year. Not sure if they had the snowmen last year or if they are new this year, but they are yummy!!! They would be fun to use with a Polar Express Unit

I have a free set of printables to go along with the Gingerbread, Snowmen, and Holiday shapes. You just need to buy the mallows and you are set! I got mine at Walmart.

The first page in the set is for Preschool and Kindergarten. They must sort, count, write the numbers, and then circle the shape they have the most and least of! (I put a set amount in a baggie for each student)

The following page is for first and second graders. They must sort, tally, graph, and then read their results by answering questions about their data.

Gingerbread and Snowman Marshmallow Sheet – Click Here! to download these two sheets.

I have a similar sheet in my Preschool and Kindergarten Gingerbread Packet here. It only uses the Gingerbread and Holiday Mallows.

You can learn more about
this sheet by clicking here!

For more fun and free winter resources please visit our winter index here.



Click Here to Learn More At Amazon!

Click Here For a Free Sample From This Book

Some More Books About Trains

Emotions Chart

Here is an example chart you may want to make with your class!


Why Did the Boy feel that way?

When do you feel that way?







Questions to Ask???

Why do you think the author had the boy lose the bell?

Why do the boy and his sister hear the bell but their parents don't?

How would you describe the mood of the book?

What was your favorite part?

Have you ever rode in a train before?

A Center - Ride a Rhyme on the Polar Express

This is a rhyme center that is found on CDROM #2. You can use it in a pocket chart. You may want to make many and have the students take them to their desks to complete. As part of the center, there is a center sheet that goes along with the activity. The student completes the center sheet after they finish the center activity. They complete the center independently, but you can check their work later - if you choose.

This is a rhyme center. The student makes a chain of trains by matching the rhyming words.

To learn more about CD #2, click here!

A Class Book entitled: "Comforting Friends"

This book could be in the shape of hugging arms.  The children in the story were really concerned about the boy who lost the bell.  After discussing this, have children write about times when they confronted friends or were comforted by friends.

Introduce the Vocabulary of the Story

Cut out an engine shape from construction paper and write the title, "The Vocbulary Express" on it. Cut train car shapes on other pieces of paper. Write one word from below on each cut-out. Make a train out of these cut-outs as you introduce the words in this story...

elves, train, city, sleigh, conductor, slippers, reindeer, steam, robe, cars, pocket, Santa, bell

Creative Writing

Write a fantasy story about a time you were aboard a magical train.

Write a story about one thing you lost.

Parts of Contractions and Compound words File Folder Game:

"Ring Out"

Using two sides of a bell pattern.  Paste a side on each part of the folder.  Paste the words on one side of the bell and use Velcro to place the contractions on the other side.  If you wish to do compound words:  glue the first part of the word on one side of the bell and use Velcro to place the second half of the word on the other side. Compound Words: outside, snowflakes, downstairs,outstretched,northward,nightgowns Contractions: I'd, let's, couldn't, that's, It's, I've

Make your winter lessons something your students will love!!!

Check out our Winter Warm Up Packet


Our Gingerbread and Snowman Packet

or Do It Yourself Christmas Treats for Students, Teachers, and Classmates!!

What a find!!! Post has a Limited Edition Cereal called the Polar Express. It is like chocolate Lucky Charms with marshmallows in the shapes of bells, trains, mountains, snowflakes, and reindeer. Being the teacher I am and a HUGE Polar Express fan, I am sure many heard me shout when I saw this in my Grocery Stores (Giant Eagle), cereal aisle. Here is what the box and the cereal look like. Unfortunately, this cereal is no longer made...

I have created a Polar Express sorting and graphing sheet for you to use with or without the cereal. Click below to print and use. (Please do not link directly to these sheets - you may link to this page.)

Sorting The Polar Express

Graphing The Polar Express

It is my guess that this cereal was only in stores in 2004. So I created two more sheets that you will not need the cereal for.

Graphing w/o cereal

Sorting w/o cereal



Polar Express Counting Game and the Polar Express Roll a Christmas Train Game! – Click here to purchase – ONLY $1.00 for 2 fun games to use on your Polar Express Day! The free Gingerbread Game here will show you what this game is like!

Santa is found in the Winter Shapes Macaroni and Cheese... wish there was a train... but still fun for this unit. Click here to download the free printables!

Word Pictures; Read one of Fred Gwynne's books about word play, such as The King who Rained.  Talk about homonyms and descriptive phrases.  Have students make drawings to illustrate theses phrases from Polar Express:

"apron of steam"   

"train standing perfectly still"

"large pocket watch"   

"took his outstretched hand"

"He cupped his hand around his mouth"

"it broke my heart to lose the bell"

"train gave a sudden lurch" 

"crashed his whip"   

"elves cheered wildly"

"huge city standing alone at the top of the world"      

"Beautiful sound"  

"Polar Express raced northward"



Read Some Other Books By Chris Van Allsburg...

Ben's Dream

The Garden of Abdul Gasazi

Two Bad Ants

Just a Dream


More Train Ideas:

Encourage young children to make a “human train”,  “choo-choo-ing” around the classroom or playground.  In advance, you might draw chalk tracks for the train to follow.  Teach students these traditional whistle signals:
--Stop: one short toot
--Go:  two long toots
--Stop at the next station: three short toots
  Have children line up, each with his/her hands resting on the waist of the person in
  front.  Let children take turns being the engineer, riding in the front car, or the
  locomotive.  The engineer can wear a cap, and use the whistle to signal the rest of the
  cars to stop, go, or get ready to stop at the next station.

Book Idea to Match The Little Engine That Could, by Piper, and Little Toot, by Gramatky.

Read aloud both stories to the children for story time.

Use Venn diagrams to compare and contrast. Write the name of each story above each circle. During discussion time place different attributes into each circle and similar attributes into the interlocking parts.

Sent in by Carol Levine

Book Idea to Match Freight Train, by Crews.

Pre-Reading Activity-Have children state the color of each boxcar, and state the type of boxcar shown.

Math Activity-Make flashcards in the shapes of the pictures in the book. Have each boxcar represent a number with the engine being the subtract symbol and the caboose being the addition symbol. Have another boxcar represent the equal sign. Then have children set up an equation.

Leave the flip side of the flashcards blank. Ask the children which train comes first, second, last. Have them use the picture book as a guide.

Sent in by Carol Levine

Check out these sites too:

Classroom Activities PDF

The Polar Express (PDF)
Very cute book using the Brown Bear Format.
This will make a good activity
to use with your Polar Express Unit.

Winter Theme Page With Tons of Ideas!!!

The Polar Express Glyph by Marilyn Vaughn
Students will complete and cut out their train. Make a train mural in your classroom. The students will count the responses for each question and create a graph of the responses using
Microsoft Excel or Graph Club.

Polar Express Story Questions Free Unit With Lots of Printables (Grades 1-2)
JACKPOT! Hey, Kindergarten and Preschool Teachers... Check out this awesome FREE Polar Express Mega Packet. LOVE IT! This is from Living Life Intentionally!!! Her printables page is amazing! Such a GREAT BLOG!!! Lots more!


You could also make your students their own Snowman Soup Packet as a gift!
Click here to learn how to get the printable.


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