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Lesson Plan

Reaching New Heights by Discovery Education

Course, Subject

Technology, Math, Science & Technology

Grade Levels

Intermediate, 6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade


One to two class periods


Students will understand the following:

  1. The materials and technological advances that have made it possible to build taller and taller skyscrapers over time
  2. Which skyscrapers have been considered the tallest in the world over the past 100 years, where these buildings are located, and when they were built
  3. The complexity of designing and creating large structures such as skyscrapers


For the introduction:

  • Photos of the following skyscrapers (from book or encyclopedia or from the Web at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/ buildingbig/skyscraper/index.html or http://www.skyscraper.org/TALLEST_TOWERS/tallest.htm):World map or globe

    • Empire State Building
    • Petronas Towers (in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
    • World Building
  • Mural paper (8 to 10 feet long)
  • Ruler or yardstick
  • Markers
  • For each pair:
  • Ruler or yardstick
  • Pencils
  • Markers
  • Index card
  • Print or online resources about famous skyscrapers
  • For each student:
  • Take Home Activity Sheet: Skyscrapers of Tomorrow (see printable version)


  1. Explain to the class that a skyscraper is a tall building in which the weight of the structure is supported by a weatherproof, strong inner framework. The word skyscraper was used in the 1880s, when the first tall buildings were built in the United States. But there are skyscrapers all over the world. These tall buildings can be found in magnificent skylines from Chicago to Hong Kong.
  2. Show students a picture of the Empire State Building in New York City. Ask them to identify this skyscraper and where it's located. Explain that the Empire State Building is 1,250 feet high and has 102 stories. It was completed in 1931. At that time, it was the tallest building in the world. But since then, even taller buildings have been built.
  3. Ask students to name other famous skyscrapers and the location of each, creating a list on the board. (The list might include the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and the Empire State Building in New York.)
  4. Ask if any students know what the tallest building in the world is today. Show a picture of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Explain that these towers were completed in 1998, are 1,483 feet high, and have 88 stories. Use the globe or world map to show students where Malaysia is located.
  5. Now show students a picture of the World Building, the first skyscraper ever built. Explain that the World Building was completed in 1890 and was 309 feet tall. (The World Building no longer exists; it was demolished in 1955 to make room for the expanded automobile entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge.)
  6. Ask students to identify the biggest change in skyscrapers from the World Building to the Empire State Building to the Petronas Towers. (They have gotten taller.) Tell the class that they'll be creating a graph/time line to show how skyscrapers have become taller over time. You could have students create the actual graph/time line or create it before class: Hang a sheet of mural paper on a classroom wall. Using a marker and a ruler or yardstick, draw a large graph. This graph will be used to show various skyscrapers by year (x-axis) and by height (y-axis). Along the x-axis, make 12 equally spaced marks. From left to right, label the marks with years in 10-year increments from 1890 to 2000. Along the y-axis, measure and mark off equally spaced increments of 100 feet (from 0 to 1,500 feet). Write a heading across the top of the mural, such as Tallest Skyscrapers across the Years . The mural will look something like this:

Tallest Skyscrapers across the Years


1,500 ft.


1,400 ft.


1,300 ft.


1,200 ft.


1,100 ft.


1,000 ft.


900 ft.


800 ft.


700 ft.


600 ft.


500 ft.


400 ft.


300 ft.


200 ft.


100 ft.


0 ft.













  1. Discuss how students will use the y-axis to chart the height of each building and that the x-axis will serve as the time line. Explain that they will be working in pairs to learn about a famous skyscraper. Then they will draw and cut out an outline of that skyscraper and place it along the time line. Discuss the concept of scale—that it's a way to show proportional relationships. In this case, the height of tall buildings (hundreds or thousands of feet) will be represented in inches. Write the scale underneath your graph/time line. (For example, depending on the size of your mural, it may be 2 inches = 100 feet.)
  2. Have students choose partners and assign each pair one of the following skyscrapers:
Name Location Height (in feet) Year Completed
Chrysler New York City, N.Y. 1,046 1930
Empire State Building New York City, N.Y. 1,250 1931
Manhattan Life New York City, N.Y. 348 1894
Masonic Temple Chicago, Ill. 302 1892
Metropolitan Life New York City, N.Y. 700 1909
Park Row New York City, N.Y. 386 1899
Petronas Towers Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 1,483 1998
Sears Tower Chicago, Ill. 1,454 1974
Singer New York City, N.Y. 612 1908
St. Paul New York City, N.Y. 315 1898
Woolworth New York City, N.Y. 792 1913
New York World Building New York City, N.Y. 309 1890
  1. Ask each pair to use books, encyclopedias, or the Web to research their assigned skyscraper. Each pair should write the following facts on an index card: (a) name; (b) location (city, state, or country); (c) the year construction was completed; (d) the height of the building in feet; and (e) one "cool fact" about the skyscraper. Then ask them to use a ruler, poster board, markers, and scissors to draw and cut out an outline of their building. Be sure they use the same scale as the class graph/timeline.
  2. Have each pair place their skyscraper outline on the appropriate year along the time line, with the index card above the skyscraper. When the time line is complete, have the class discuss the results. What interesting things do students notice about the information they charted?
  3. As a homework assignment, hand out copies of the Classroom Take Home Activity Sheet: Skyscrapers of Tomorrow for each student to complete.



For younger students, instead of constructing a time line, have each student make a poster of a famous skyscraper. Each poster should include a drawing or photograph of what the building looks like. It should also include the year the skyscraper was built, where it's located, and at least one additional interesting fact about the building.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some of the different materials used to build skyscrapers? (Encourage students to consider various materials, such as glass, iron, steel, and concrete.)
  2. Skyscrapers and other tall buildings are possible because of advancements in building technology and materials. Hypothesize discoveries that have made skyscrapers possible. Here are some examples: skyscrapers couldn't exist until the elevator was invented by Elisha Graves Otis in 1852; tall cranes are needed to lift building materials to high places; scaffolding is required to support construction workers.
  3. In addition to being an awesome sight, skyscrapers serve a purpose for society. Think about the skyscrapers you've visited or just know about. Where are skyscrapers generally built? Why do people build skyscrapers?
  4. Over time, skyscrapers keep getting taller and taller all over the world. Why do people in different countries keep building tall buildings? Where do you think the next tallest skyscraper in the world will be built, and why?
  5. Consider environmental factors that would affect tall structures such as skyscrapers. For example, could a skyscraper be built in the mountains? What about a place that has earthquakes?
  6. Would you want to live or work in a skyscraper? Why or why not?
  7. Why do you think many of the world's tallest skyscrapers have been built in New York City?


You can evaluate groups on their projects using the following three-point rubric:

  • Three points: worked cooperatively; successfully researched information about skyscrapers; understood the principles behind the time line (charting on the x- and y-axes, use of scale) and correctly charted information on the time line
  • Two points: worked cooperatively; successfully researched information about skyscrapers; had some difficulty charting skyscraper information on the time line; had some difficulty understanding the principles behind the time line (charting on the x- and y-axes, use of scale) and charting skyscraper information correctly on the time line
  • One point: had difficulties working cooperatively; had difficulty locating skyscraper information; did not understand the principles behind the time line (charting on the x- and y-axes, use of scale); and incorrectly charted skyscraper information on the time line


Plan a Building
Skyscrapers take a lot of time and money to build. Consider how long it might take to build a skyscraper from start to finish. What kinds of building materials, technology, and people power will the project take (examples: iron, steel, glass, concrete, architects, contractors, engineers, building workers, welding, elevators, cranes, beams, etc.)? Then, discuss the steps or phases involved in the project—for example, architectural design, planning materials, selecting a site, laying the foundation, transporting materials to the site, putting up the frame, and completing the interior.

Buildings That Sway, but Stay!
Some skyscrapers are built in places that are subject to earthquakes and fires. For example, the First Interstate World Center in Los Angeles, California, was built to withstand an earthquake of the magnitude of 8.3 or bigger on the Richter scale. Research why skyscrapers like this one can survive earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Tall Buildings around the World
Create a class book of skyscrapers and other tall structures around the world. See how many different countries have interesting and impressive buildings.

Suggested Readings

Build It!: Activities for Setting Up Super Structures.
Keith Good. Lerner Publications, 1999.
The simple, illustrated projects in this book will provide an understanding of how different structural elements, designs, and materials affect the stability, strength, and balance of a variety of structures when they are subjected to varying forces and loads.

Building Big
David Macaulay. Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
The celebrated author/illustrator of this book examines the construction of some of the most famous examples of the structures we see or use every day - bridges, tunnels, skyscrapers, dams, and domes. He looks at the problems the builders of each structures faced and how those problems were overcome by ingenious design, use of materials, and construction methods.

Bridges!: Amazing Structures to Design, Build, and Test
Carol A. Johmann and Elizabeth J. Rieth. Williamson Publishing, 1999.
This book provides descriptions and the history of all types of bridges. It contains many simple projects that demonstrate how structural engineers design and build bridges that are safe and effective. Numerous accompanying sidebars, drawings, and photographs expand on the text and illustrate how bridges work.


Access this resource at:

Reaching New Heights


Building Big
A comprehensive and detailed site, it provides extensive information for students and teachers on all types of structures, especially skyscrapers, tunnels, and bridges.

The Skyscaper Museum
This is the home of the Skyscraper Museum, which features a virtual archive that is currently focused on the Bankers Trust Construction in the early 20th century.

The Social Construction of the Skyscraper
The Chrysler Building construction is featured on this site dedicated to the "social construction of the skyscraper."

Build A Bridge
Want to build a bridge? See how others have done it around the world, then try it yourself with the information and games on this site.

Content Provider

Discovery Education

Discovery Education offers a breadth and depth of digital media content that is immersive, engaging and brings the world into the classroom to give every student a chance to experience fascinating people, places, and events. All content is aligned to state standards, can be aligned to custom curriculum, and supports classroom instruction regardless of the technology platform.

Whether looking for a digital media library service, an implementation to help you transition your classroom to a 21st century environment or to move completely to replace textbooks with digital resources, Discovery Education offers a continuum of solutions to meet your district's specific needs. In addition, we offer real-time assessment services and a variety of professional development to ensure effective implementation in the classroom. You know your needs. We know our services. Together we can create an effective solution.

And, add the vast number of additional classroom instruction opportunities available such as virtual experiences, compelling Discovery talent, free lesson plans and materials, and a variety of contests and challenges and with Discovery Education teachers are truly able to give students opportunities to soar beyond the traditional textbook for endless possibilities.

Credit: Nancy Waks, senior editor at Sesame Workshop, designer and writer of online educational materials for grades K-12.


Definition: The art and practice of designing and building structures.
Context: The Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower are examples of famous works of architecture.

Definition: A mixture of water, sand, small stones, and a gray powder called cement.
Context: The foundations of large buildings are made from poured concrete.

Definition: A profession that applies math and natural science to develop ways to use the materials and forces of nature to design and build structures such as roads, bridges, dams, or machines.
Context: People who build skyscrapers use engineering to choose the right materials and designs for the buildings.

Richter scale
Definition: Used to measure the magnitude of an earthquake; introduced in 1935 by the seismologists Beno Gutenberg and Charles Francis Richter.
Context: In 1989, an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale shook the San Francisco Bay Area in Northern California, damaging bridges, buildings, and highways.

Definition: A tall building in which the weight of the structure is supported by a weatherproof, strong inner framework.
Context: The Empire State Building and Sears Tower are examples of famous skyscrapers in the United States.

Definition: A floor of a skyscraper.
Context: The Empire State Building has 102 stories.

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