Bridges are important parts of human communities around the world. They make a good study for all grade levels.
Grade Level: Elementary (3rd to 5th grade)
- Students will understand the basic principles of bridges and their importance in transportation and engineering.
- Students will explore different types of bridges and their unique features.
- Students will apply their knowledge to design and build a simple bridge model using provided materials.
- Students will engage in collaborative problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
- Pictures and diagrams of various types of bridges (suspension, beam, arch, etc.)
- Construction paper
- Craft sticks
- Paper clips
- Books or online resources about bridges
- Measuring tape or ruler
- Introduction (10 minutes):
- Begin the lesson by showing pictures and diagrams of different bridges to capture students’ interest. Use the picture books described in this post or models.
- Ask the students if they have ever crossed a bridge and what they noticed about it. Share our photos of bridges or your own local snapshots.
- Discuss the purpose of bridges, explaining that they help people cross over obstacles such as rivers, valleys, or roads.
- Bridge Types (15 minutes):
- Introduce different types of bridges, such as suspension, beam, arch, and truss bridges. A Book of Bridges: Here To There and Me To You Here to There and Me to You is a good starting point.
- Show pictures and discuss the unique features and advantages of each type.
- Explain how the design of a bridge depends on the materials available and the obstacles it needs to overcome.
- Bridge Engineering (15 minutes):
- Discuss the role of engineers in designing and building bridges.
- Explain that engineers consider factors like the materials used, weight-bearing capacity, and safety when constructing bridges.
- Highlight famous bridges worldwide and the engineering challenges they addressed. See more ideas on this below.
- Awesome Architecture Activities for Kids: 25 Exciting STEAM Projects to Design and Build has a simple bridge-building activity if you’d like a brief group project to begin with.
- Bridge Building Challenge (30 minutes):
- Divide students into small groups.
- Provide each group with construction paper, straws, craft sticks, tape, string, and paper clips.
- Explain that their task is to design and build a bridge using the provided materials.
- Encourage students to apply their knowledge of bridge types and engineering principles.
- Set a time limit for the construction phase, allowing time for testing and adjustments.
- Testing and Evaluation (15 minutes):
- Once the bridges are constructed, have each group test their bridge’s strength and stability.
- Place objects of increasing weight (e.g., small books) on the bridge and observe if it can withstand the load.
- Measure and record the weight each bridge can support before collapsing.
- Facilitate a class discussion about the different bridge designs and their performance.
- Encourage students to share their observations and lessons learned during the building process.
- Reflection and Conclusion (10 minutes):
- Ask students to reflect on the challenges they faced while building their bridges.
- Discuss the importance of teamwork, problem-solving, and creativity in engineering.
- Summarize the key points about bridges and their significance in our daily lives.
- Conclude by emphasizing that bridges are remarkable engineering achievements that connect people and places.
- Research and present a short report on a famous bridge. See activities on the Brooklyn Bridge below.
- Explore the role of bridges in transportation and trade.
- Investigate the concept of bridge design using computer simulations or bridge-building software.
- Invite a local engineer or architect to speak to the class about bridge construction.
- Observe students’ participation, engagement, and teamwork during the bridge-building activity.
- Evaluate their understanding through class discussions and their ability to explain different bridge types and engineering concepts.
- Assess the strength and stability of their constructed bridges and their ability to apply engineering principles.
The Brooklyn Bridge
Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing is a beautiful picture book about the Brooklyn Bridge. Read it aloud — even to older students — to get a sense of the excitement that attended the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. This book tells the story of how P. T. Barnum brought 21 elephants across the bridge to prove that it was safe to cross.
You can read all about the event from the New York Historical Society.
The story of the Brooklyn Bridge also includes the story of Emily Roebling. There are two fine picture books about her. Read both to your students — even the older students — and compare them.
For older students, divide the class in two groups and give each group one of the books. Once they have thoroughly read and discussed their books, have the entire class prepare a presentation on Emily Roebling or an aspect of the story. Note how teamwork allows the two groups to work together to pool their information.
The Science of Bridges
The last of our picture books on bridges, Building Bridges by Tammy Enz, is a collection of simple scientific experiments on principles involved in the engineering of bridges. Learn about trusses, abutments, rivets, and more using household objects.
These hands-on experiences do not require a lot of preparation, and we bet your students will remember many of the concepts from the other books much better once they’ve actually tried them out.
Check out the “Three Billy Goats Gruff” lesson plans for lots more bridge lesson ideas.