Teach Upper Elementary Reading Skills with Silver Packages

Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant is a must-read for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classrooms in December. The story is set in a poor region of the Appalachia, where children eagerly await the arrival of the Christmas Train. This story perfectly demonstrates themes of gratitude and wants vs. needs, both wonderful reminders during the holiday season.

More than anything, young Frankie wants a doctor kit for Christmas. He waits anxiously for the Christmas Train year after year, hoping that inside the silver package he would find a doctor kit. Young Frankie is disappointed to find warm socks, mittens, and other essentials, rather than the doctor kit he hoped for.

As Frankie grows older and moves away, he undergoes many changes, but one thing that always stays with him are his childhood memories. He begins to reflect and remember that just when he thought he would freeze, he was given items he needed most to keep warm. He grows to realize his gratitude and decides to return to his hometown in the mountains, feeling he owes a debt.

Without giving any more of this heartwarming story away, I highly recommend reading Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant. Click here to purchase Silver Packages on Amazon. This book is one you will surely want to read year after year!

Silver Packages Lessons and Book Activities

If you are using Silver Packages in your classroom, there are a variety of teaching points. For upper elementary students, my favorite lessons to use this book for are inferencing, characterization, theme, and importance of setting. Other lesson ideas include cause and effect, wants vs. needs, and gratitude.

Making Inferences

Cynthia Rylant’s Silver Packages is a wonderful mentor text for teaching inferences! In fact, it is one of my favorites for teaching students to infer details and draw conclusions about the story. There are just a few considerations to ensure the lesson is taught effectively.

A Note On Inferencing in the Upper Elementary Classroom

When teaching students to infer, it is important they have a visual to keep and refer back to, such as an anchor chart. For 3rd and 4th grade students, it is best to use an anchor chart that goes beyond the basics of inferencing. Most teachers introduce inferencing as using clues from the text plus what students already know to make inferences. This is a great start! Now, take it a step further, and give students specific details to think about. Below is an anchor chart you can download for FREE to use in your classroom.

Students know they need to use schema and clues from the text to make inferences. What many students struggle with is knowing what clues to look for. Giving students specific parts of the story to make inferences about is key in developing a deeper understanding of the text.

Teaching Students to Infer Using Details from Silver Packages

When making inferences with Silver Packages, I re-read specific pages from the book that contain fine details that are important to the overall meaning of the story. As I read, I give students a specific quote from the page to make an inference about. For example, after re-reading page 5, I give students a quote from that page of the story:

“The rich man will toss a sparkling silver package into the hands of each child who waits beside the tracks, and for some, it will be the only present they receive. So the train is awfully important.”

Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant

Then, I ask student, “what can we infer from this detail?” Students record their thoughts on either a recording sheet or post-it notes to contribute to our discussion.

Together, we repeat this process through several pages of the book. These finer details will help students piece the story together and see the bigger picture.

Drawing Conclusions

After using details from the text to make inferences, it’s time to guide students toward seeing the bigger picture. How are these details important to the overall meaning of the story? Challenge students to think deeply about the text. What can they infer about Frankie’s family and the other people coming to the train?

Character Development of Frankie

We see Frankie undergo a lot of changes throughout Silver Packages. The first Christmas he is so disappointed about not getting a doctor kit that he nearly cries. As he grows older, he becomes less upset about the gifts until he grows up to realize he had been provided with everything he needed. He feels a depth of gratitude and returns to the mountains to repay his debt.

I like to ask student to infer character traits of Frankie at the beginning of the story and again at the end of the story, referring to specific thoughts and actions from the text.

After noticing how Frankie changes throughout the story, I challenge students to think about WHY he changes. What problem or internal struggle does Frankie face? How does he react to these challenges? What does Frankie grow to realize?


After challenging students to analyze characters, make inferences, and draw conclusions, they are ready to think deeply about the text and infer themes. Analyzing the character development of Frankie is essential to helping students infer themes in Silver Packages.

By asking students what Frankie learns in this story, students are able to see themes of gratitude and wants vs. needs.

Importance of Setting

Pairing an informational passage with Silver Packages is a wonderful way to give students a deeper understanding of life in the Appalachia and the importance of the Christmas Train. The passage below gives an age-appropriate explanation of the Christmas Train, how it began, and why it is important to to this region.

This passage is included in my Silver Packages book companion, which is available for purchase in my TpT store.

Extension Activities and Other Lesson Ideas for Silver Packages

I often highlight characterization, inferences, theme, and importance of setting as my primary teaching points for using Silver Packages with upper elementary students. However, this story also presents opportunities to teach cause & effect, wants vs. needs, and gratitude.

Silver Packages is the perfect Christmas story for having students reflect on wants vs. needs and gratitude. Have students think of someone, such as a family member, to whom they might owe a debt. Challenge students to write a letter of gratitude to that person during this holiday season.

The Silver Packages Book Companion

My Silver Packages Book Companion serves as a comprehensive teaching tool for using this book with upper elementary students. Although these book activities are best suited for 4th grade students, they could also be used with 3rd grade or 5th grade students.

The Silver Packages Book Companion includes vocabulary, anchor charts, graphic organizers, reading activities, assessments, and more.

Want More 4th Grade Lessons for Reading, Writing, Grammar, and Vocab?

Get a whole month of lesson plans and activities with my 4th Grade Reading resource for December. The lessons use mentor texts & interactive read alouds to teach reading skills in the upper elementary classroom. The books are also used for grammar and writing lessons, helping students analyze author’s craft and apply it to their own writing. Each lesson is research-based for best practice and aligned to TEKS and Common Core standards.

This product can be used as a stand alone or supplemental curriculum for fourth grade ELA. This 4th grade reading curriculum will be released monthly throughout the 2023 year. Be sure to follow my store for updates!

For more teaching ideas and classroom activities, follow me on Pinterest. Feel free to also follow me on TpT for resources and product updates!

I hope you enjoy!

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