Lynn Ann Wiscount, Vince Mariner, Erin Halovanic
Applied Science, Architecture and Design, Engineering, Graphic Arts, Communication, Career and Technical Education, English Language Arts, Mathematics
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
Middle School, High School
Engineering, POWER Library, Powerlibrary, Science, Stem
Creative Commons Attribution
Media Formats:

Education Standards (17)

Building Bridges

Building Bridges


Students will learn about the different types of bridges and how they work.  The lesson also includes a maker component where the students build a bridge.


Lesson Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • Describe and identify the most common types of bridges.
  • Describe the strenghths and weaknesses of each type of bridge.
  • Explain constraints and tension and show how it works on each bridge type.
  • Construct a bridge using one of the common bridge types that can support a predetermined amount of weight.

Warm Up / Introduction

Instructor Notes:

This activity will be a visual walkabout.

  • Using the POWER Library and other image databases, locate and print out 10 to 12 images about the 6 types of bridges (Arch, Beam, Cable-stayed, Cantilever, Truss, Suspension)
  • Label the images with numbers so students know where to start.
  • Place the images around the room so students can walk to examine each one.
  • Under each image post a T chart. The left side of the chart should be labeled CONNECTIONS and the right side should be labeled QUESTIONS.
  • Have each student visit each image, ask them to consider how the images relate to the lesson.  They should add at least one connection and one question on the T chart for each image.
  • Keep images on display throughout the lesson and have students continue to add connections and questions.

Responses from the T charts can be referred to in other sections of the lesson.

This can also be used as a way of assessing prior knowledge on the topic.

Once everyone has had time to view the images, have a group discussion around the following questions:

  • When was the last time you remembered crossing a bridge?
  • How were you traveling (foot, car, bike, etc.)
  • Do you remember anything about the bridge?
  • Were there any unique characteristics?
  • What was the bridge erected over? (water, train tracks, road, etc.)
  • Draw a sketch of the bridge.

This activity can also be done using digital images in a folder and having the T charts in Microsoft Word or Google Docs or any other word processing program that can be used for collaboraton.

Activity Directions:

  • There have been images posted around the room that will help introduce the next lesson on bridges.  Beginning at Station / Image 1, examine the image for a few minutes.
  • Using the T chart below / next to the image, record at least one connection and one question.
  • Repeat the process until you have had time to examine all images.


Research / Explore Activity

Instructor Notes:

Resources in the POWER Library that can be used for this lesson includes:

Activity Directions:

You have been hired as an engineer that will be designing and building a bridge.  In order to prepare for your job, you need to learn about the different types of bridges, how they work, and what materials can be used to build them.  You also need to understand the bridge terminology.

Part 1 - Research the following questions:

  • How do bridges work?
  • How do they transfer weight?
  • What is compresson and tension and how does it relate to bridges?
  • What is considered the dead load of a bridge? 
  • What is considered the live load of a bridge?
  • What environmental factors affect bridges?
  • How many types of bridges are there?

Part 2 - Types of Bridges Graphic Organizer

  • Complete the Types of Bridges Graphic Organizer

Part 3 - Bridges Around the World Graphic Organizer

  • Complete the Bridges Around the World Graphic Organizer


Reinforcement / Creation Activity

Instructor Notes:

Groups of students will design and build a bridge that will be at least 14 inches in length and hold a predetermined amount of weight.  

  • As the instructor, you will be required to determine what the bridge should hold (100 pennies, 5 pounds, 20 pounds, two matchbox cars, etc.)

This activity is broken down into two (2) sections: 

  • Planning phrase - groups of students draw a blueprint of what they will build and determine a building list of materials they will be using.  Once they have completed their blueprint, they will present it to their clients (the class) for feedback.  Based on the feedback, they will adjust their project or continue onto the building phrase.  
  • Building Phrase - groups will construct their bridges from their blueprint.  Once the bridge is completed, they will test it to see if it holds the required weight.

Instructors should have multiple types of building materials available for the students to use.  Each team of students is responsible for determining the best type of materials to use to create their project.

Activity Directions:

  • As part of a team you have been given the challenge to design and build a bridge that spans 14 inches or more. Your instructor will determine the required weight the bridge should hold.
  • In the planning stage, your group will discuss and decide on the type of bridge you will build. Your team should also decide and document what materials will be used to construct the bridge.  You will then draw the bridge on a sheet of paper and present it to your clients (the class) along with the materials list you created.  The clients will provide feedback based on the design.
  • In the construction stage, your group will build the bridge from your design and materials list.  If you need to make adjustments, also make sure you update your materials list and planning drawing / design.  When you are constructing the bridge, remember your bridge should be aesthetical appealing and should be built as cheaply as possible (smallest amount of materials).



Instructor Reflection:

  • Reflect on the lesson plan and document what worked for you, what did not work for you, and what you would change for the next time you utilize this lesson.


Take a few moments to reflect on the following:

  • If you had to redo the lesson, would you change any of your design plans? Why?
  • Do you think working in a group made the project easier? Explain....
  • Did your team decide to revise your original design? Why?
  • Did your bridge hold the required weight? If not, why did it fail? If it held the weight, what part of the design do you think helped?