About the Book
First published in 1930, The Little Engine That Could has charmed countless children over the years with its story of kindness, determination, and ultimately, success.
Readers respond to the mantra of the little engine as she chants, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” The message is inspirational: Try as hard as you can; don't give up.
Here are a few strategies for introducing the book to the class.
- Cover Story: Display the front and back cover of the book and invite children to tell what they see. Promote interest by asking: Which one is the engine? Is the engine going uphill or downhill? How do you know? Who is sitting on the engine? What is the engine pulling? What is in the other cars? Where do you think the train is going? What do you think this story is about?
- Talk About the Title: Read the title aloud. Invite children to guess what it is the little engine could do. Write their ideas on the board. (Be sure to revisit them after reading the story.)
Ask children to name some things that are hard for them to do. Make a list on a poster pad. Talk about why these things are hard. For example, children might not be strong enough or tall enough or have enough experience and knowledge. Point out that some of these things are not hard for you to do. Tell children that in the story you will read the Little Blue Engine does something that is very hard for her, but not hard for other engines.
- Tracking Trains: Find out what children already know about trains. How many have ever ridden on a train or a subway? Where did they go? Ask: What do trains carry besides people? Have you ever seen a freight train? How many cars do you think it had? If possible, show children photographs of different kinds of trains. Ask if children have toy train sets that they might bring to school.
Read the book to the class at least once for pleasure and enjoyment. Then try using these ideas.
- New Words: As you read, you may need to explain a few words to the class. For example, children may not know what a berth or a roundhouse is.
- Talk About the Story: Pose questions such as these after children have heard the story:
- Is the Little Blue Engine a girl or boy? How do you know? (Children should recognize that the pronoun “she” means that the little engine is a girl.)
- This book was written a long time ago. Look closely at the toys on the train. What toys would you add to the train? What food would you add to the train?
- How do you think the Little Blue Engine feels at the end of the story? Why? How do you think the toys feel? the children?
- Act It Out: Once children are familiar with the story, they can pretend to be engines while you read the story out loud. Have groups of three or four children play the role of each engine — the little train, the Shiny New Engine, the Passenger Engine, the Freight Engine, the Rusty Old Engine, and the Little Blue Engine. Have the groups stand in a line. Instruct children to put their right hand on the elbow of the child in front. By moving their right arms in a circular motion, children can replicate the movement of train wheels in motion. Each time a new engine appears in the story, have the children roleplaying that engine move their arms. If children are ready, they can speak for the engines as well. As a grand finale, have the whole class march around the room chanting, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”
- Good Times, Bad Times: Have children make a smiley face and a sad face on circles of paper about 4" in diameter. As you read the story out loud, pause after each event. Have children hold up one of the faces to show if it is a happy or sad time in the story.