The Wonderful Towers of Watts--Building Background Knowledge

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The SWBAT state that the shape of a structure and its design effects its stability.

Big Idea

The students will learn about a famous beautiful tower, which helps to build their background knowledge of towers and structures. They will also learn that a newspaper article contains important information.

Teacher Notes

Activity Description

Here is a video of the activity description. 

The children either listen to the teacher read the story The Wonderful Towers of Watts or will watch a Reading Rainbow video ($1.99 per episode) about this true story in which a man constructed towers in his backyard.  A newspaper article will be read and then the children will identify the main parts of an article.  Then they will fill out an organizer about the main details of the story, including who, what, where, when, why and how.  

In the next lesson, the students will use this information to write a newspaper article of their own telling about Rodia and his towers. Then children will identify the parts of a tower that give it its strength and stability.  This will be background knowledge and motivation for the children when they build their own towers in a future lesson, thus it is not in the usual format of my regular science lessons.

NGSS/Common Core Connections

The children will learn about a man who constructed towers from lots of tiny pieces.  They will also be learning about the shape and structure of a tower and how that influences it stability.  In addition, they will be writing an informative piece which contains facts learned.


  • Before you begin, you might want to familiarize yourself with Simon Rodia and his interesting towers.   Click here for teacher background information.
  • the book called The Wonderful Towers of Watts book OR this video about the Tower of Watts.  
    • Important Note:  The video is about a man that built towers in his backyard in Watts.  Since Watts is now an area with gangs, LaVar Burton choose to have the episode focus on gang violence and telling the children how they can make good choices, no matter where they live.  The message is profound, but the children discuss gang violence, which may not be appropriate for your children.  Therefore, you might want to consider only using the video clip up to the part where Angela Bassett finishes reading the book (marker 10:26) and skip the part on gang violence.
  • newspaper article--you can use any article that you choose; I choose one that I thought the children would like and it ties into the building theme nicely.   It is about a man called the "Lego Master" 
  •  Newspaper Article Planning Organizer--1 per student
  • Evidence of my learning--1 per student


20 minutes

Simon Rodia built unusual and wonderful towers right in his backyard!  By studying his works, the children get a glimpse of this man's creativity and resourcefulness.  He is so inspirational in getting the children to build something of their very own.  So, to begin with, I try to get the students' curiosity piqued before we begin our study of a fascinating man.  I do not show the students the cover of The Wonderful Towers of Watts yet, since I want them to make a prediction.

The story I am going to read to you is about an Italian man who lived in a very poor part of California, called Watts.  This man and his story are real. Someone has written his life story into a book.  This man, named Simon Rodia, was very creative and made something that was spectacular.  He used all sorts of pieces and items that he found around him, that other people called "junk." He somehow made his community better and more beautiful.  Can you make a prediction of what he made? What do you think could possibly be made from little pieces of so called "junk?"

I listen to the children's delightful ideas of what could possibly be built from such items.  Their creative juices are starting to flow and they are very curious to find out what Rodia actually did build.  I show them the book cover, which does not entirely show them what he made.

Do you want to revise your predictions after seeing the cover?

Making predictions based on gathered information is a great skill for the children to develop.  Some of them guessed it is a tower of some sort, and still others are not quite sure of the final product.

Since we will be reading a book, which is an actual account of his life but in a story format, we talk about how stories might begin.

What are some ways that stories can begin?  

Stories might begin with describing the setting, a character, a problem or by stating a quote. Listen to the beginning of this story and tell me what the author did.

Asking these questions gets the children to focus on the author's craft.  The story begins with a great description of this peculiar man.  He was different from most children that the children are familiar with.  This would also be a great place to do some work with characterization.

Then I continue reading the rest of the book.  If you prefer, you can watch this link of the book being read on Reading Rainbow ($1.99 per episode).  (Make sure you read the note about the video in the teacher's notes).


Guided Practice

30 minutes

I gather the children in front by the Smartboard.

Scientists and other people share their ideas in many ways.  One way they share their ideas is by writing articles for the newspaper or other forms of media.  You are going to be creating a newspaper article reporting on the Watts Towers.  In order to do that we are going to first look at an actual article and see if we can figure out what type of information we can find in such an article.

I want the children to not only be more aware of the contributions of Simon Rodia, but also to realize how people share their ideas.  Scientists share their ideas by using media such as newspapers or other media on the internet.  So I want them to become familiar with what a newspaper article looks like and the important information that it displays.

Then I read an article about a man who is the Lego Master for Legoland Discovery Center aloud to the children.  When I am finished, I ask the children what type of information was included in the article (see video).  Then we make a list of questions that are answered by reading an article.  Here is a list of the questions that we came up with:

  • Why is this event important?
  • What is the article about?
  • Who are the important people?
  • Who was affected by the event?
  • What happened?
  • Where is the event take place?
  • What are other interesting facts?

Let's take a look at other features of a newspaper article.  What are some other special features that you notice about this article? 

We have been studying about informational type of literature during our reading, so this is a great tie-in.  The children notice that there are photos with captions underneath.  Also that there is a title that has bold letters, called a headline.  They even notice the quotations.  If your children do not notice these things, make sure to point them out.

We make an anchor chart with all of the ideas, but simplify it for their reference.  We include that newspaper articles should have a headline.  Articles should answer important questions such as who, what, where, when and why (watch us practice in this video).  They usually have pictures or photos with captions and a headline.

I would like you to use your knowledge of newspaper articles to write an article for our newspaper, called the Daily Post.  Your article should be about Simon Rodia and his towers in Watts.  You should include all of the things on our chart in your writing.  To help you gather all of your information before you write, here is a Newspaper Article Planning Organizer.  The planning sheet has those same questions we were just talking about--who, what, where, when, why and how.  You need to fill in the information in each of the boxes to answer the questions.  

I created this planning sheet to help them children organize their thoughts before they write.  I have found that many children would struggle to include the necessary information without having such a sheet.  Even reluctant writers feel more confident since they can see that writing can be accomplished in small chunks, then later unified into a whole.  It also serves as a reminder of the pertinent and important information for all levels of writers.  

We work on filling out part of the sheet together since there are so many proper names, dates and words that they wouldn't know how to spell.  So we go through the who, what, where and when parts together.  Then I have the children work on their own for the why and the how.  If any children are having difficulty with this, I make sure to work with them individually.   I make sure that each of the boxes are filled out before the children start writing their article.



10 minutes

This story of Simon Rodia's life is spectacular all on its own, but I do want to take this opportunity to tie-in the science standards.  Working with rich literature as a background sets the stage for great learning to take place in science. So I display the Essential Question on the Smartboard.  To see more information about using essential questions, click here.

Even though Simon Rodia had no formal training, he was still considered an engineer.  He designed and developed these fascinating Watts Towers.  He must have known something about what makes structures stable.  Let's take a look at our essential question for the unit.  Let's see if you have any ideas of what makes a structure strong and stable.

We read the essential question together.  I pass out the sheet Evidence of My Learning.

Take a look at the worksheet called Evidence of My Learning. On this sheet we will be recording what you have learned about what makes a structure strong and stable as we go through this unit. Look on the chart to the first line of the chart.  In the first box it says "This is what I thought at the beginning...."  On the lines to the right-side I would like you to write what you think makes a structure strong and stable.   

I give the children few minutes to write down their ideas.  I want them to be using their own ideas at this point since this I will be using this sheet as a measure of what they have learned.  I have to remind a few students that at this point, I do not expect them to know the answer, so they should write down what they know at this time.  

When they are finished, I have the children glue the worksheet in their science notebooks.  We will be using this sheet as we progress throughout the unit.  I am excited to see how their learning develops!  Most children didn't have any idea (photo A), but a few children had some ideas (photo B).

Tomorrow we will be writing your newspaper article about Simon Rodia.  I cannot wait to see your writing.  It's going to be lots of fun!