Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Happy Holidays

Farica King
Santa Rosa District Schools


After using Chris Van Allsburg's POLAR EXPRESS as a writing prompt, students create a holiday story while working in cooperative learning groups.


The student uses an effective organizational pattern and substantial support to achieve a sense of completeness or wholeness (for example, considering audience, sequencing events, choosing effective words; using specific details to clarify meaning).

The student uses conventions of punctuation (including but not limited to commas, colons, semicolon, quotation marks, apostrophes).

The student uses conventions of capitalization (including but not limited to the names of organizations, nationalities, races, languages, religions).


- Van Allsburg, Chris. POLAR EXPRESS. Houghton Mifflin. 1985.
-Sample project (teacher-made)
-Construction paper
-White cardstock
-Colored pencils, markers, crayons, etc.
-Three hole punch for binding purposes
-Metal brads or string for binding
-Access to word processing program
-Access to computer graphics program
-Copies of assessment rubric (download file)


1. Obtain copy of the POLAR EXPRESS by Chris Van Allsburg.
2. Download copy of assessment rubric. Obtain one copy per student.
3. Create a teacher-made project following criteria outlined in assessment rubric.
4. Gather construction paper, cardstock, glue, colored pencils, crayons, and binding materials.
5. Locate word processing equipment and computer graphics programs for student use.


1. Begin class by reading THE POLAR EXPRESS by Chris Van Allsburg aloud. Discuss the illustrations, word choice, and process of creating a literary work such as this.

2. Discuss the moral/central theme of the story. Include setting, story problem, major characters, beginning, and solution in class discussion.

3. Present sample project to class. Discuss the project and grading procedures. Discuss criteria for grading: (a) length of story - minimum of five pages (b) characters - may be real or fictional, people or animals (c) illustrations - should be on each page and must relate to the portion of the story it accompanies; illustrations may be drawn by hand or may be selected from a computer graphics program (d) neatness - should be neat and readable; final copy should be word processed.

4. Separate students into cooperative groups.

5. Students select a winter holiday theme for their book such as Christmas, Chanukah, or New Year's. (Several groups may use the same theme.)

6. Students may begin working on holiday stories in class. (Note: students may need help binding their projects. An additional day may be needed for this activity.)

7. For the three remaining days, students (working in cooperative groups) create a rough draft of the holiday story, edit and word process the final draft, and add graphics to the finished product.

8. Collect and assess student projects using assessment rubric.


Assess group projects using the assessment rubric (file attached). The project is assessed for organization, illustrations, proper grammar, mechanics, spelling, editing, and overall presentation. Since illustrations are not included in the benchmarks assessed, the majority of the points or feedback should be directed in the areas of organization, completeness, and conventions.

Attached Files

The file, "Writing Assessment Rubric".     File Extension: pdf

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