Travel by Train

Children will explore trains as a form of transportation.

Birds Nest

Lesson Objective

Children will use trains on a ramp to discover how different weights affect the distance traveled.


What You'll Need

  • Wooden train set with tracks
  • Variety of trains of different weights – at least 2
  • Balance scale
  • Pennies – about 20
  • Piece of strong cardboard – 4” x 3’ to 5’
  • Blocks – 2 or 3
  • Masking tape
  • Pictures or photographs of different kinds of transportation (bicycle, skateboard, wagon, car, boat, bus, train, airplane, helicopter, rocket)

What To Do

  1. Relate this activity to any discussions you’ve had about vehicles and wheels.
  2. Remind children that trains have wheels that help them move.
  3. Set up a simple ramp using the cardboard with one end taped to some blocks.
  4. Place a length of train track on the ramp and extend it several feet from the end of the ramp.
  5. Select two trains, making sure one is heavier than the other. Give each train a number.
  6. Using the balance scales, weigh the trains to determine which one is heavier.
  7. Have the children make predictions about which train will go further.
  8. Perform the experiment by sending each train down the ramp. Mark each train’s traveling distance with a piece of masking tape. Label the tape with the train’s number.
  9. Add weight to the trains by taping pennies to the tops of their cars. Now weigh the two trains on the balance scale and determine which one is heavier.
  10. Before sending the trains with the pennies down the ramp, have the children make predictions about whether trains with the pennies will go further than the trains without the pennies. Again, mark each train’s distance with a piece of masking tape, labeled with the train’s number and “P” for pennies.
  11. Discuss which train went the furthest and why.
  12. Try this experiment with other trains or vehicles of varying weight.

Guiding Student Inquiry

  • What was the same about how the two trains went down the ramp? What was different?
  • What else could you do to make the first train go further?
  • Do you think you could make the heavier train go even further? What could you do?
  • Why do you think the heavier train went faster?
  • What do you think would happen if the ramp was higher? Lower?
  • Tell me some of the ways that you travel. How do you get to school? How do you get to the park or the grocery store? What kind of transportation do you use when you are visiting family or friends who live far away?
  • Tell me how cars, airplanes, and trains are alike. Tell me how they are different.

Explore, Extend & Integrate

  • Add more blocks under the ramp to raise the angle of the ramp.
  • Keep the ramp set up so the children can experiment with the trains.
  • Show the children how to use the balance scales to determine which trains are heavier.
  • Expand the materials in the train area so that the children can create different ways to use the trains. Commuter trains transport people within their communities, to different states, or to other countries. Freight trains transport things that people use, and some trains transport animals. Provide small toy people, plastic animals, and small boxes for the children to place in the train cars.
  • Put boxes, such as shoe boxes and cereal boxes, string (to attach the boxes), glue, tape, and caps from plastic water bottles (for wheels) in the art area for children to make trains. Add plastic animals, small toy people, and little boxes. Include paper and crayons so that the children can make signs, tickets, and money.
  • Collect extra-large boxes and make a big train together as a class.

Check for Children’s Understanding

  • Could children explain that trains are a form of transportation and are used to move people, animals, and goods?
  • Could children describe how the trains moved?
  • Could children explain the reason the heavier trains went further?


Did You Know?

The heavier an object is, the further it will travel after going down a ramp. The weight of the train causes it to speed up when going downhill, making the train travel further before it stops. A lighter train builds up less speed on a ramp, so it does not travel as far. The heavier something is, the more speed it builds up and the further it goes.

Trains are important because they connect people and products with other parts of the country. Trains developed as a method of transportation for heavy things. The size and use of trains has changed over time. Today some trains help people travel throughout the country while other trains help people travel within their communities and cities. Trains are also used to transport goods and freight. Because trains are sturdy and can travel at high speeds, they are a great way to transport large amounts of goods and products.

Vocabulary: Child-Friendly Definitions

  • transport — to carry something from one place to another.
  • train — a series of connected railroad cars.
  • distance — the measure of space between things or places.
  • transportation — a system or way of carrying things from one place to another.
  • ramp — a flat, sloping surface that connects two different levels.
  • balance scale — a piece of equipment used for comparing the weight of two objects; the heavier object goes down while the lighter one goes up.

Lesson Tips

  • Be sure to check the scale for even balance prior to starting the lesson.
  • Before you begin the lesson, choose two trains with different weights. Make sure one train is significantly heavier than the other to ensure success of the experiment.


  • The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
  • Terrific Trains by Tony Mitton
  • Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo by Kevin Lewis
  • The Little Train by Lois Lenski
  • The Whistle on the Train by Margaret McNamara
  • Bigmama’s by Donald Crews

Home School Resources

Home educators: use these printable lesson PDFs to teach this lesson to your home schoolers. They're available in English and Spanish.

Home/School Connections

Las Conexiones a la Casa

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Content Provided By

Common Core State Standards Initiative – These lessons are aligned with the Common Core State Standards ("CCSS"). The CCSS provide a consistent, clear understanding of the concepts and skills children are expected to learn and guide teachers to provide their students with opportunities to gain these important skills and foundational knowledge [1]. Visit the CCSS