Literacy Activities for the Railway Children by Edith Nesbit

The Railway Children is a children’s book written in 1906 by Edith Nesbit, a British author. This book, as well as several others written by the author, endure to this day as classics. Children enjoy reading the books for the story and characters. The Railway Children is a book that warrants some extra time in the classroom. Below are some literacy activities to enhance what is taken from the book.

Vocabulary

There are many vocabulary terms in this book that indicate it was written about children in Britain. Provide students with a short list of these terms and ask them to define the term.

There are also many terms specific to railroads and railway stations that students can learn. A good activity for these terms is a crossword puzzle. Another possible activity is to have students compose an acrostic poem using the term RAILROAD.

Characters

The primary characters in the book are the children. Each child portrays different character traits in the book which are evident through dialogue and actions. Have students pick a character and a character trait to outline in a character map. For instance, a student might pick Bobbi’s resourcefulness, Peter’s adventurousness or Phil’s insecurity. How are these shown through statements made by the character and actions they take in the story?

Setting

The story has three primary settings: the house in London, the cottage in the country and the railway station. There are several ways to compare and contrast these settings using a Venn diagram. The students can compare the London house with the cottage. They can compare the children’s activities at the country cottage with the activities associated with the railway station.

Character and setting can be combined in a similar activity by having students choose one of the children and compare what they think life was like for the character in London and after arriving in the country. Did the character change, and if so how did they change?

Predictions

If the book is being read as a class, have the students stop at the end of each chapter and write a prediction for the next chapter based on the chapter title and what they have already read. Be sure to also confirm or disprove any predictions about the chapter just completed. A book journal is an excellent way to maintain a list of predictions and outcomes.

Sequencing

There are several incidents in the plot that can be used to assess the students’ recall through sequencing. One is the prevention of the train wreck and the landslide. Another is locating the boy in the tunnel.

Ask students to outline the beginning of the incident, the middle and the climax.

Themes

Edith Nesbit incorporated several themes in this book. Provide the students with a list of theme topics and ask them to provide textual background for that theme noting chapters and even characters that strengthen the use of that theme in the book. Some possible themes are family, hope, childhood, justice and bravery.

Writing Activities

The Railway Children provides material for several types of writing activities. Students can write a diary entry as though they are one of the children. For example, they could write a diary entry from Bobbi describing her birthday.

Students can also write a news style article about any of several incidents in the book: the landslide, the boy in the tunnel or the return of the father. Using the text as a reference, they can include “interviews” which characters associated with the incident and write in the style of that character’s dialogue in the text.

Each student will probably particularly like at least one specific character in the book. Students can develop an introduction for their character that highlights that character’s main character traits and the important activities they participated in. Students can then “introduce” their character to the class. If several students choose the same character, have the class discuss the differences and similarities in the introductions.

Reading chapter books such as The Railway Children as a class can be a fun and enlightening experience for students. With the chapter titles and flowing action of The Railway Children, teachers can use the students’ enjoyment of the book to teach many literacy skills with activities such as the ones given.