Build a Paper Tower Challenge (Part 2) Brainstorming and Developing Our Plans

8 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT brainstorm at least 3 ideas to solve a problem. In addition, SWBAT work collaboratively to develop one of their plans.

Big Idea

In order to solve a problem, we can brainstorm, then choose our best plan and work with a team to develop that plan.

Teacher Notes

Activity Description

Check out the short activity description and preview of the resources below.


Note: This is part 2 of a 5 part series called "Build a Paper Tower Challenge."

NGSS/Common Core Connections

This curriculum engages students in explorations about the science behind the properties of materials, which culminates with students designing and building a model tower. Students have learned about material properties such as strength and flexibility. They will implement what they have learned about shapes and forms used in building from previous lessons to aide them in the planning of a model tower that meets the engineering requirements. The children will use the steps in the engineering design process to help them build a tower.   


Want a quick look at the supplies? Click here!

  • masking or Scotch tape--1 roll per team
  • bamboo skewers or a pencil--1 per student; (using the skewers will make tighter, stronger beams)  Note:  I cut the sharp tips off of the skewers with a scissors.
  • newspapers--at least 20 sheets per group--about 5 regular editions
  • Brainstorm Ideas recording sheet--1 per student
  • Our Best Idea recording sheet--1 per student pair
  • purposeful conversations desk sheet--cut apart; I taped one right on each desktop
  • My Clock Buddies--1 filled out clock per child

Resources to pull up on Smartboard


15 minutes

To engage and prepare the children for the next part of this challenge, I show the children how to make newspaper beams.  It is imperative to make the beams before you have them brainstorm so they know what the beams are like. It makes it easier to imagine and create a plan if you know what you were working with.

Yesterday I challenged you to make a tower completely out of newspaper and tape.  So today I am going to show you how to make a newspaper beam that you can use to make your tower from.

I show the children how to make newspaper beams using a skewer and a piece of newspaper.  It may seem complicated, but once my children start rolling them, they are addicted!   You can have your children watch the following video of one of my students explaining How to Make a Newspaper Beam video.  

Here are written directions, if you prefer.  Starting at one corner of the newspaper, tightly roll the paper around a skewer (for tighter thinner beams) or a pencil (for thicker beams), moving toward the diagonally opposite corner. Gently wiggle the skewer out and continue rolling paper. Secure with a small piece of masking or Scotch tape in the middle Add 2 additional pieces of tape at each end to secure the roll.  

I would like each of you to make 6 newspaper beams.  If you work with a partner that means you will have how many beams for you to use with your team? (12)  If we have 10 partner groups, how many beams would we make?  What is 10 twelve times? How did you get the answer?

This is a great tie-in to math since we are studying about place value and are solving problems very similar to this one.  A few kids shout out the answer.  I'm so proud!  It's great when a connection can be made to what we have learned to what we are now learning.

The children will probably not use this many beams, but this guarantees that they will have enough good solid beams to work with.  Some children quickly became experts at making tightly rolled beams and made extra for children who had some difficulty.  We make paper beams for about 15 minutes of class time.  Then I also have a few children who have mastered the rolling to stay in at recess to help roll a few more.  

Here is a photo of our newspaper beams.  You'll notice how they are all different diameters and sizes.  The variety adds to different possibilities of design. I'm sure the children will think of all different ways to use them.


30 minutes

I consider this lesson as an elaboration of all of the explorations that we have done thus far in our unit.  The children have to take all of the skills learned and use the learning efficiently to be able to complete this task.

For the next part of the lesson I draw the children's attention back to the tower task.

Yesterday I challenged you to make a tower from just newspaper and tape.  You started on that project by following the engineering design process. You defined the problem, applied our research and wrote down the specs. Today we are going to move forward with the engineering process.  What is the next step?

It's funny watching how the children come to that answer.  Some sing the engineering song to themselves, some look at the posters and some just shout out the answer--brainstorming!  I don't care how they got the answer, as long as they all found the road to it.

For the brainstorming part of the lesson, I have the children work individually. even though the children worked in partners yesterday.  In this way, everyone has the opportunity to generate many ideas. 

I pull up the Engineering Design Brainstorm on the smartboard and give the children the Build a Tower Challenge Brainstorm Ideas page to record possible ideas for a tower design.  

What does the word brainstorming mean?

Click here for a short video clip of how one student answers.

Put on your imagination caps...and create away!  Think about all of the things we have talked about that make a structure strong. Think about the shapes engineers use in their designs. This is the brainstorming phase, where any idea could possibly turn into a great idea!   Try to think of 4 different ideas since the more ideas you have to chose from, it opens up many possibilities.  

During their brainstorming session, I walk around the room and check on their progress.  Usually a few kids need some prodding to not be afraid to let their ideas flow!  Click for sample 1sample 2, sample 3 and sample 4.

After they have their brainstorming paper is completed I have the children evaluate their own tower building ideas.  

I would like you to take a look at your ideas.  Imagine how each of the your tower designs would be built.  Which do you think would be the most stable?  Which one would be the strongest?  Is there one idea that you think would work better than the others?  Circle the one you think is your best idea in crayon so it stands out.  

Having the children evaluate their own ideas is an important skill.  It requires evaluating their designs and looking at the attributes that we have been studying about, such as the use of a wide base, triangles or cylinders.  It brings the focus back to the main ideas.  Click here to see an example student paper.

For the remainder of this task you will be working in partners.  Remember our rules of respect for working with a partner.  Listen intently and keep an open mind.  You might have to compromise with each other.  Remember that two heads are better than one.

 I pair the children up with the same Clock Buddies as in yesterday's lesson.

You and your partner will need to take turns sharing your best idea that you circled.  You will need to explain the main parts of your idea to your partner as he/she listens.  Remember to use your partner talk when listening.  

On their desk, I have a partner talk sheet taped down.  It is for their reference when they are listening to a partner. (Click for a photo). The sheet helps them increase their positive discourse with peers.

After you both have shared, you need to work together to decide which tower idea will be used.  We call this step and the last one choosing your best idea.  

I pull Engineering Design Choose up on the Smartboard.

You may use one of your ideas, part of both of your ideas or combine your ideas to make a new idea.  The choice is yours as long as you both agree.  Record your new idea on this paper, called Our Best Idea

I give the partner team ONE Our Best Idea paper.  If they only have one paper I have found that it leads to better teamwork.  

Working as a team also means that the workload should be shared.  You are working on developing your main idea.

I pull up the Engineering Design Develop poster on the Smartboard.

Together you should decide who is going to draw the diagram.  You should also decide who is going to add the labels to your diagram.  It would be a nice idea to have one person draw and the other person label, but it is up to you.  At the bottom of the sheet you need to list the materials you will need for this project, which in this case is only masking tape and paper beams!

Click here for a short video clip that show two partners working together well.  As the students are working, I walk around and talk to the children.  I make sure they stay on task and work well together as a team.  Click here to see a team discovering the strengths of their plan.








5 minutes

To wrap up the lesson, we do a quick review of the engineering design process thus far.

What steps did we use in the engineering design process? (brainstorm ideas, choose the best one, developing ideas)

Do you think it is helpful to follow these steps? Which step do you find the most helpful?

Why do you think engineers follow the steps?

I feel the same way as the children, I cannot wait for tomorrow.  Watching them take their ideas from their papers and create something new just from newspaper and tape is going to be very interesting!