Brief Description:

Students will build towers out of a limited amount of materials that can hold up a set amount of weight.

Grades: K-5

Time: 1 hour

Concepts: civil engineering, towers, constraints, Engineering Design Process, sturdy structures, strong shapes

Lesson Objectives

  • Students will be introduced to civil engineering and build a tower that is sturdy enough to support a weight
  • Students will use the engineering design process to plan, build, test, and redesign their towers


  • 18 inches of tape
  • 5 paper clips
  • 5 index cards
  • 8 sheets of 8-1/2 x 11 paper
  • Some sort of weight to put on the tower (like a stack of books)


  1. Introduce civil engineering. A civil engineer designs and maintains roads, bridges, dams, public works, and similar structures.
  2. Challenge the students to use the engineering design process to construct a tower out of paper. The students only have a certain amount of materials per group and therefore they have to learn to work with constraints.
    1. Identify Problem: You need to build a tower that will support a weight (stack of books).
    2. Research: discuss as a class some ways that you might make your tower sturdy, like how to distribute the weight, what shapes might help you, etc.
    3. Plan: The class will draw out some possible designs on a sheet of papers.
    4. Select the Best Possible solution(s): Student groups should discuss their ideas and select one design to actually build.
    5. Construct: Students will build their towers
    6. Test and evaluate: Students will test their designs by placing the weight on their towers. Students can either tests their designs as they finish, or each group can test in front of the class when everyone has finished building. How much weight can the tower hold?
  3. Discuss as a class:
    1. What designs seemed to work the best?
    2. What were some ways that towers failed? Did they tip over or crush?
    3. What were some shapes that worked best to hold the towers?
    4. What materials seemed to be most useful?

Extensions and Modifications:

  • See “Teamwork and Communication Towers” Activity


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