The Polar Express Activities, Math & Word Problems For First & Second Grade

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Quickly becoming a classic and a favorite for kids of all ages, try reading The Polar Express out loud to your students. Then use these math, word and problem solving activities to help your students learn even more from the book. These are geared towards primary grade students, but can be modified for different grades or skill levels.

Patterns & Shapes

After reading the book, talk about the when events in the story happened. Ask the what time they think the train picked the boy up and what time they think they opened presents the next day. Remind the students of the two times that clocks are mentioned in the book - when the conductor checks his watch for the train to leave and when the clock struck midnight at the North Pole. Then to practice time give each student a large piece of manila paper. Have the students fold it into four sections. Then use a blank clock stamp to stamp a clock in each station. Tell the class to think of four events in the story and to write the time that they think they happened and draw in the hands on the clock to match. Then they can write the event and draw a picture. Remind them to put the events in the correct order from the story. This activity also doubles as a sequencing activity.

Your students can practice patterns after reading The Polar Express. Give the each student some small rectangles cut out of white paper and some smaller white circles to use as wheels. Have them glue the wheels to the bottom of the rectangles to make train cars and then to glue the cars onto a larger piece of paper to make a train. Then give them snap cubes and let them make several different pattern towers with the cubes. When they are finished, have them choose their favorite and color their trains to match that pattern.
For a math center activity place a variety of different bells at your center. Let your students sort the bells in as many different ways as they can.

To practice shapes give groups of two or three students a copy of the book The Polar Express. Have them work together to go on a shape hunt through the book. What objects can they find in the illustrations that are circles, squares, rectangles and triangles? Older students can also find 3-d shapes. This activity would also work as a math center.

Problem Solving

You can also use The Polar Express for solving word problems. You can change the numbers in any of these problems to adjust for different levels.

“How many of each?” problems are great open ended activities for students. They are also good for students who are learning their addition and subtraction facts. Don’t assign more than one or two at a time so the students have plenty of time to figure out the answers and write about how they solved the problems. Encourage your students to find at least two different solutions to the problems. After the students have had time to work, bring the class together to talk about the solutions and the ways they solved the problems.

  • There were 10 children in the little boy’s train car. Some were boys and some were girls. How many of each were there?

  • There were 12 gifts under the Christmas tree. Some were red and some were green. How many of each were there?

  • Standing around Santa’s sleigh was a group of reindeer and elves. If there were 9 in all, how many of each could there have been?

  • On the train the children ate 20 candies with nougat centers. Some of the centers were vanilla and some were chocolate. How many of each kind were there?

Encourage your students to draw pictures or use manipulatives to solve the following problems. Depending on how much problem solving they have done previously, second graders and even first graders can handle these problems. Remember that you can easily change the numbers to make the problems easier or harder. Once again only assign one or two problems at a time and give the students lots of time to solve them and show their work.

  • If Santa is on his sleigh attached to 8 reindeer, how many legs are there in all?

  • Each train car has 4 wheel and six windows. If there are 5 cars, how many wheels are there in all? How many windows? How many wheels and windows together?

  • There are 20 children on the train. How many eyes are there? noses? fingers?

  • There are 10 cups of hot chocolate. If cup needs 3 marshmallows, how many marshmallows are needed?

Solving word problems can be difficult to teach, but your students will be excited to solve these problems related to The Polar Express.