A Lesson on Diversity with The Polar Express
Read the book, The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allburg. Do a character study about the main character in the book. Discuss his unbelief at the beginning of the story. Ask, "What made him believe in Santa Claus by the end of the story?" The students should answer, that he found the bell under his Christmas tree on Christmas day. Notice in the story that not everyone could hear the bell, because not everyone believes in Santa Claus. Do not urge students to believe or not believe. It is their choice. You are just presenting a story.
Next, discuss the imagery in the story. The train signifies a journey. List all of the things, good and bad, that happen on the train. If a train is like a journey, then many people, even adults, spend time working through their beliefs throughout their lifetime.
Train shaped pattern, click here to download one pattern with lines, and one without lines
To create the train books, photocopy the train patterns onto construction paper. You will need two trains per student (one with lines and one without lines per student). Staple them together on the edge. The outside will be decorated and the inside will contain the writing sample.
Belief in something is a personal choice. Different cultures hold different beliefs. Each person has a right to his or her own beliefs. We are not to hurt someone's feelings if his or her beliefs are different than ours. You may have a student or students in the class whose family does not believe in Santa Claus, or you may have a student who is struggling with his or her belief in Santa Claus, based upon an influence from a sibling or classmate. This lesson should teach students to be sensitive to, and to celebrate other people's differences.
Allow students to decorate one of the train patterns.
Interview each student individually to let them tell you what they believe about Santa Claus, this way there is not an outside influence from another student or students. Using one of the train patterns, have the students write the words, "Santa Claus is __________." The students can either write their sentence independently, with guidance, or can dictate it for the teacher to write, depending on their needs and developmental level.
After each student has had an opportunity to share his or her beliefs, allow the students to talk about their trains at circle time.
Using a classroom bulletin board, make the frame into a train. This is fairly easy to do. The bulletin board itself is the box car of the train. All that is needed is a large smoke stack, and wheels, which can be taped to the wall. Use the picture as a model.
On the train, post each student's writing sample by stapling the train books to the finished bulletin board. By posting all responses in this way, you have shown the students to value each other's beliefs.
For more lesson plans on diversity from Bright Hub read, Exploring Diversity Through Making Sock Puppets.