Popsicle Stick Bridge Lesson Plan

Instructor: Carrin Hahn

Carrin taught 3rd grade for ten years, worked as a learning specialist with K-5 students, and has a Master's degree in Elementary Education.

In this lesson, the students will learn about structures, and in particular, bridges. They will discover what it takes to hold them up and to support loads. The students will also have the opportunity to apply the new knowledge by building a bridge.

Learning Objectives

Upon completing this lesson, the students will be able to

  • Describe and compare different structural support systems for bridges
  • Design a bridge using the support systems


60-90 minutes

Curriculum Standards


Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.

  • 3-5-ETS1-1

Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

  • 3-5-ETS1-2

Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Vocabulary and Phrases

  • Structure
  • Give
  • Load
  • Forces
  • Arch
  • Beam
  • Column
  • Truss


Lesson Instructions

  • Find out if any students ride over a bridge on the way to school.
    • If so, ask how the bridge stands up. What supports it? What is the name of the people who think about bridges and how to make them stay up?
  • Pass out the paper copies of the lesson Structural Engineering Lesson for Kids.
  • After 'Roads, Airports and Bridges', ask the following questions:
    • What is a 'structure'?
    • What is the person who designs the structure called?
  • After 'What is a Structure?', ask the following questions:
    • What is a structural engineer's job?
    • What does 'load' mean? What does 'give' mean when talking about a structure?
    • What happens if something is too heavy for a structure?
    • What are some forces that act on a structure? Can any of them be changed or fixed?
    • Name 5 things structural engineers design.
  • After the 'Beams, Columns, and Trusses' section, ask the following questions:
    • What is an 'arch'? Draw a picture on the back of your paper.
    • What is a 'beam'? Does anyone have a beam running across a room in their house?
    • What is a 'column'? How does a column work with a beam? Draw a picture on the back of your paper of the two working together.
    • What are 'trusses'? Where have you seen them?
  • Pass out the plain paper and about 10 popsicle sticks per student.
  • Tell the students that they are going to use the popsicle sticks to show you what the different building designs are.
  • Have the students use the popsicle sticks to show you a 'column'; check that they are holding the sticks vertically.
  • Have the students use the popsicle sticks to show you a 'beam'; check to see that they are holding the sticks horizontally.
    • Ask the students to compare the beam to the column. What is the difference?
  • Have the students use the popsicle sticks to make an example of a truss (use all 10 sticks).
  • Remind the students that these three special building methods are for strength.
  • Read the remainder of the lesson and answer any questions.
  • Pass out the paper copies of the quiz as review.


  • Divide the students to work in pairs or in groups of three.
  • Have more popsicle sticks available in case the students need them.
  • Explain that the challenge is to build a bridge that meets the following guidelines:
    • The bridge must hold at least two toy cars.
    • The bridge can be built using any type of building design about which the students just learned.
    • The bridge will need to stand up by itself and be able to withstand the force of gravity.
    • The bridge should be at least 6 inches long.
    • The bridge should be held together with glue only.
  • Allow the students 15-30 minutes to plan and build their bridges.
  • When everyone is done, let the students share their bridges with the other students.

Lesson Extension

  • The students can try to design structures that will hold heavier cars or other objects. What is involved in a stronger design?

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