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Build the Tallest Building
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procedures for teachers
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Procedures For Teachers

Prep -- Preparing for the lesson
Steps -- Conducting the lesson
Extensions -- Additional activities


Computer Resources
  • Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster.
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above. Macintosh computer: System 8.1 or above and at least 32 MB of RAM.
  • Personal computer (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running Windows® 95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM
  • Large screen display monitor (optional)
Specific Software Needed: Bookmarked sites:

TIP: Prior to teaching, bookmark all of the Web sites used in the lesson and create a word processing document listing all of the links. Preview all sites and videos before presenting them to the class.

Students will need the following supplies:
  • Computers with Internet access
  • Pens, pencils, and other writing tools
  • Graphic organizers for collecting and organizing research
  • Art supplies, such as watercolor, gouache or acrylic paints
  • Modeling supplies, such as cardboard, tubes, papier-mâché, Popsicle sticks, wood scraps, wire, foam core, modeling clay, and uncooked spaghetti
Teachers will need the following:
  • Television and VCR
  • The video of the episode "Building to Extremes" from Thirteen's INNOVATION series
  • Photos of the following skyscrapers: The World Building (New York), The Singer Buildling (New York), Woolworth Building (New York), Chrysler Building (New York), Empire State Building (New York), The World Trade Center (New York), Sears Tower (Chicago), Petronas Towers (Kuala Lumpur), Taipei 101 (Taipei)
  • Photocopies of Web resources if there are not enough computers available


Introductory Activity:
(One class period)
1. Divide students into groups of four. Give each group a picture of one of the following skyscrapers - The World Building (New York), The Singer Buildling (New York), Woolworth Building (New York), Chrysler Building (New York), Empire State Building (New York), The World Trade Center (New York), Sears Tower (Chicago), Petronas Towers (Kuala Lumpur), Taipei 101 (Taipei).

2. Distribute the Famous Building Organizer. Ask the groups to each take a sheet of paper. Have them discuss and write down answers to the following questions:
  • When do you think the building was built?
  • Where is this building located?
  • What materials do you think it's made of?
  • Do you think this building was ever the tallest in the world? If so, when?
  • Why does the building look the way it does? What do you think the design of the building represents?
  • Do you think it is a safe building?
Explain to the students that it doesn't matter if they answer the questions correctly. The object is to think critically about skyscrapers and find out how much they know.

3. Have a classroom discussion about the answers that the groups elicited, writing them on the board. Then ask students to read the INNOVATION essay about skyscrapers and modify the answers in their organizers. Then discuss what new or different information the students have found. What have they learned? What questions do they have?

4. Tell the students that many considerations go into designing a skyscraper. For example, the Chrysler Building design is based on car ornaments of the time it was built, and the Woolworth building was made to look like a Gothic Cathedral. Ask the students to list on the blackboard what they believe are the elements that determine the design of a skyscraper. Among the elements elicited should be:
  • beauty of design
  • protection against weather, earthquake and terrorist attack
  • location
  • intended use/purpose
  • cultural significance
  • political/national significance
  • impressive height
Learning Activities:

Activity 1:
(Two class periods)
1. Tell students that in this unit, they will design and construct a model of the tallest, most fun building in the world, incorporating new technology to make a building with an amusement ride inside it. Explain to them that in order to complete this project, they will need to:
  • perform research by watching video documentaries and gathering information from the Web
  • create a schedule and a plan for completing their project
  • determine what tasks each student will perform
  • monitor their own progress and reassess their goals by having regular group project meetings
  • test and select modeling materials
  • and finally, present their model to the class.
2. Explain to students that in order to develop their model in a way that is plausible and useful, they will need to begin by learning all they can about what architects are currently doing to build taller, safer skyscrapers. Tell them that they will begin by doing video research, gathering information from the documentary "Building to Extremes" from Thirteen's INNOVATION series. Explain that the program looks at what is involved in the process of building the world's tallest skyscrapers. Mention to them that in spite of the September 11th attacks, skyscraper building is as popular as ever, and happening all over the world. Tell the students to keep in mind what they learned in the previous activity and relate this to what they will see in this program. Distribute the Building to Extremes Organizer and inform the students that they should keep in mind the different influences on the design and construction of the skyscrapers mentioned.

3. After viewing the program, ask students to express their feelings about what they saw. Who had input into the design of the skyscrapers? Just the architects and engineers? What was most surprising about the process of designing a skyscraper?

4. Distribute the Skyscraper Research Organizer and ask the students to research the bookmarked links to gather information on the skyscrapers they saw as well as others they know about.

Activity 2:
(Two class periods)
1. Divide the students into groups of two. Explain that each group is to design the world's tallest building and build a model of it. They should first work out their designs on paper, and then, when they are satisfied with the design, build the model. Tell the students that they may draw artistic and conceptual inspiration from many print and Web sources, and not only from building designs. They should also study the amusement ride Web sites for ideas. The Designing a Skyscraper Organizer can help give them guidance. Inform the students that they may make changes to the design at any point in the process. The design should incorporate three main ideas:
  • It should express something that the group is interested in. This could be cultural, historical, political, from pop culture, honoring an event or person, or anything interesting. Distribute the Designing a Skyscraper Organizer to help guide the students in their project.
  • An amusement ride should be part of the building. It should not be simply attached to the skyscraper, but incorporated into the design itself.
  • Elements should be added to the design that will make it safe from earthquakes, weather, and attacks.
2. Distribute the Proposal Writing Organizer. Ask students to work together to answer the questions and submit an initial proposal for their project. Note that the proposal should include:
  • A description of the building they will be designing, the functions and features they have chosen, and why they chose them
  • A list of the tasks they predict they will need to accomplish
  • A list of which students will handle which tasks and responsibilities
  • A timeline that includes estimated time for completion of each task, with each student's schedule mapped out individually
  • A list of the materials they predict they will need, including extra materials for "test" models
  • An explanation of how decisions will be made within the group
  • An explanation of how the group will get back on task if they encounter problems
  • Their initial predictions about what they will learn and whether their project will be successful.
Explain to students that they must have an approved proposal before they begin work on their project. Teachers may assess the proposals themselves, or they may ask students to peer- or self-assess their proposals using the Project Checklist wizard available online.

3. Students will use their finalized proposal to guide their work as they create a model of the tallest, most fun building. They can use any readily available materials that will best represent their building and ride design. During the building process, teachers should circulate to offer guidance, but should allow students to grapple with problems before offering assistance.

TIP: Students can use any available material to create the model. Cardboard, tubes, papier-mâché, Popsicle sticks, wood scraps, wire, foam core, and even uncooked spaghetti and pasta are all useful materials. They can be painted using watercolor, gouache or acrylic paints. Groups can also compete to build the tallest model, but there should be a consistency of scale. A scale of 1 inch representing 40 feet would be adequate. The model should have a wood or plywood base.

Encourage artistic talent and creativity. Finally, remind students that encountering problems is an expected part of project-building -- it's how they handle those problems that counts. Refer to our overview and tips for more ways to help students create their own original projects.

Culminating Activities/Assessment:
(Two class periods)

1. Have the groups take turns presenting their models to the class. They should describe what their design represents, what their initial goals were, what problems they encountered, and what they learned by solving those problems -- both in terms of project planning/management and in terms of design and mechanics. Students can vote on the best design.

2. The students can create a "skyline" by arranging the models together so that they make a nice arrangement. A large painting can be created of a hypothetical city with this skyline.


  • Explore the history of the Petronas Towers and why they are so significant to the people of Malaysia.
  • Visit an important skyscraper.
  • Create a large display drawing of the tallest buildings drawn to scale for comparison.

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