Can You Build It?

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SWBAT construct a tower by following a clear procedure written by fellow classmates.

Big Idea

In the first lesson students became familiar with the importance of being specific when writing directions and procedures. This lesson is a follow-up that tests their ability to write and follow a procedure.


5 minutes

As kids enter the room, the materials they will need for the activity are already sorted and placed onto each group's table: 6 plastic drink cups, one index card.

On the whiteboard directions are posted for kids to build a structure, any way they choose, using all 6 plastic cups.  They have 3 minutes to build and agree upon the structure as a group.  At the end of the 3 minutes, whatever arrangement their cups are in is their final structure. Once the 3 minutes is over, have each group take a photo of their structure (use a kid's phone, an ipad, whatever is available, or one kid from each group could draw the structure in their notebooks).

Note: Click here to hear why this works! During this time, one kid usually builds something right away and shouts "done!" Encourage the kids to collaboratively build something together.  All hands on deck!

This activity is done in the beginning of the year to accomplish a few things.

1- It provides an opportunity for the students to practice their procedure writing and following skills, necessary in science class.

2- It provides group collaboration time which helps to build the relationships that will become stronger throughout the year. 


10 minutes

Looking at their cup tower, the kids in each group will now write a procedure for building their exact structure.  They need to be specific, using their learned techniques from the Be Specific Lesson taught the day prior. 

Using the time efficiently, I encourage kids to talk it out as a group about what they did to build for the first 2-3 minutes. (This is a chance for me to see which students dominate the groups through conversation and which students may need encouragement to participate in the future.)

Then, after they have a decent idea of how they built it, each group can assign one person to scribe their procedure on the index card. Remind them to be specific and transparent and to write neatly.

student work sampleStep 1: Place 4 cups, lid down on the table, side-by-side in a line. Step 2:...

Encourage the kids who finish before the 10 minutes is up, to try following their own procedure to see if they achieve the same results as their original tower. They can compare the tower to their original photo. 

Note: I usually tend to the kids who I think will struggle with the writing and I act out their procedure with the cups to show them what they wrote versus what they actually meant to write.


5 minutes

After the building and the writing of a procedure, I like to give the kids a chance to remind everyone about the importance of being specific and following procedures exactly. Reminding them of the PBJ lesson, I ask them to discuss any errors that may occur if procedures are not written or not followed exactly.

What might happen if a procedure is not written correctly?

What might happen to the final structure is the procedure is not followed correctly?

Note: Depending on the vibe in the class that day (how chatty, restless the kids are, etc) I will decide how to have this quick conversation.  I tend to do whole class, sometimes partner-to-partner or small group discussion is better. If you are pushing individual accountability, you can have each student write their own responses in their own personal notebooks. 


10 minutes

Now comes the fun part! I collect each group's procedures written on the index cards.  I ask the kids to stack all 6 of their cups into one another so they are in a 6 cup vertical stack.  I pass out each of index cards to the groups making sure each group has a procedure from a different group.

One person from each group will read the procedure to the remainder of the group members.  They will have 5 minutes to build and rebuild their structure according to the given procedure.  

Note: During this time, I make sure they kids are following the procedure exactly as it's written. Sometimes, they get stuck wondering what a step might mean exactly.  I encourage them to discuss options or potential meanings of that step. ("Place cups down on the table." Does that mean all the cups? Do they mean lid down or base down?") Encourage them to explore all the possibilities. 

Evaluation 1

10 minutes

Each group sends their pictures to the teacher (email, gives them device, tapes picture to board). The students check their work against the original.  Some have been successful in building- yeah! Some will not and that's okay - this is where the learning and revision happens.

Ask kids to write and then share their responses in small groups the answers to the following questions written on the whiteboard:

Was your group successful in building the original structure?

If yes, what do you think made your group successful? What about the procedure allowed you to be successful? Provide evidence for your thinking.

If not, were there any times your group guessed as to what to do next? Was there anything in the procedure that was unclear or not specific enough? Provide evidence for your thinking.

When kids have finished reflecting in their personal notebooks, encourage them to share with members of their group. 

Evaluation 2

15 minutes

Now, the groups can see and reflect on the building of the group that followed their procedure. (Group 1 can observe the tower that group 2 attempted to build based upon group 1's procedure.)

Have the groups respond to the following questions written on the whiteboard in their notebooks first, then share to their small groups:

Was the group able to build your exact structure? Why or why not do you suppose? Provide evidence.

If not, what could you have done differently to make your procedure more clear? Provide examples. 

If yes, what do you think were the specific elements of your procedure that made it successful? Provide examples.