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Lesson Plan

Higher And Higher: Amazing Skyscrapers by Discovery Education

Course, Subject

Technology, Math, Science & Technology

Grade Levels

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


Students will:

  1. understand some of the building basics used by engineers and architects to design some of the world's largest skyscrapers,
  2. identify unique features of at least one skyscraper, and
  3. explain the different responsibilities of architects and various engineers who design and build skyscrapers.


The class will need the following:

  • Computers with Internet access (optional but very helpful)
    Each group of three or four students will need the following:
  • One large piece of poster board or butcher paper
  • Sticky notes of various sizes
  • Index cards with tape (or more sticky notes)
  • One ruler, yardstick, or measuring tape
  • Colored markers
  • Crayons

Each student will need the following:

  • Paper
  • Pencils and pens
  • Take-Home Activity Sheet: Careers in Engineering and Architecture (see printable version)


  1. Help students brainstorm the names of some famous skyscrapers. Many are probably familiar with the Empire State Building in New York City or the Sears Tower in Chicago. Have a brief discussion about why people build such giant buildings. For example, they are efficient in crowded cities because they provide maximum office or living space while taking up a small amount of ground. They have also become cultural or industrial icons and a source of pride for the city in which they are found.
  2. Now create your own skyline in your classroom or in a nearby hall. Begin by dividing the class into five groups. Assign each group to the following skyscrapers: Petronas Towers, Sears Tower, Chrysler Building, or Empire State Building. Have the groups answer the following questions about their skyscraper:
  • Where is the skyscraper located?
  • When was it completed? How long did the construction take?
  • How tall is it?
  • What materials were used in its construction?
  • Who was the architect who designed the building? What were some of the goals the architect was trying to accomplish? Do you think he or she succeeded in meeting those objectives?
  • During what year(s) was it the tallest building in the world? When, if ever, did it lose its title? Where does this building rank today among the tallest in the world?
  • What materials or technology enabled it to surpass the heights of previously constructed skyscrapers?
  • How many people visit this skyscraper each day/week/month/year?
  • What were some of the challenges involved in building it?
  • Were any people injured or killed during the building process?
  • What are some important events that took place in this skyscraper?

The following Web sites are good sources of information about these buildings:
Famous Skyscraper Web Sites Petronas Towers
Link 1
Link 2

Sears Tower
Link 1
Link 2

Chrysler Building
Link 1
Link 3

Empire State Building
Link 1
Link 2
Link 3

General Skyscraper Web Sites
Reaching New Heights: The History of Skyscrapers
World's Tallest Towers (chart/bar graph)

  1. Create a skyline in the class or nearby hallway. After the groups complete their research, have each create an illustration, drawn to scale, of its skyscraper on piece of poster board or on butcher paper. Each group should use the same scale, such as 1 foot of illustration = 100 feet of actual skyscraper. The actual scale you select with depend on the wall space available. At the bottom of the illustration, ask them to include a stick figure of a 5-foot person for size comparison.
  2. Then have students create an index card with basic facts about the building (name, year built, location). Then have them write 5-10 fun facts about the building on sticky notes and post them around their illustration.
  3. Assign the Take-Home Sheet: Careers in Engineering and Architecture as homework. Have students bring in their sheets and discuss their ideas. Take a poll of which careers the students found the most appealing. Did one career stand out as that in which most students are interested?


Older students might enjoy the challenge of creating three-dimensional models of their skyscrapers. Students could make their models by carving Styrofoam, stacking Legos or K'nex, cutting and bending cardboard, or cutting and gluing balsa wood. High school students may also be interested in creating a research presentation about the organization that monitors the world's tallest buildings,Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do engineers make skyscrapers strong enough to withstand earthquakes, high winds, and severe changes in temperature?
  2. If you could visit any skyscraper in the world, which one would you pick? Why?
  3. How do you think a skyscraper enhances a city? Why does it instill pride in a city's residents? Try to find some evidence to support your ideas.
  4. If you could design a new skyscraper for your town or city, what would it look like? What material(s) would you use to create it? What design elements might you use that reflect your town's history, culture, or icons?
  5. What are some dangers involved in the construction of skyscrapers? What precautions are taken to minimize the risks?
  6. Do you think skyscrapers are a good way to deal with space constraints in urban areas? Do you think the advantages of skyscrapers outweigh the disadvantages? Provide evidence to support your answer.


Students should be able to work together in their groups; create an accurate, attractive illustration of a skyscraper; and find some interesting facts about their skyscraper. Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson:

  • Three points: Students worked together well in their groups, created a skyscraper that was visually and factually accurate, displayed creativity and careful planning, and adhered to the required scale. Students also found many interesting facts about their skyscraper.
  • Two points: Students worked together adequately in their groups and created a skyscraper illustration that was mostly accurate, showed some creative ideas and forethought, and adhered to the required scale. Students also found some interesting facts about their skyscraper.
  • One point: Students had trouble working together in their group and created a skyscraper illustration that showed little planning, included minimal information or much inaccurate information, and ignored the scale determined by the class. Students were not able to find many interesting facts about their skyscraper.


Repair a Skyscraper in Distress
Ask students to imagine that they are on a committee of civil engineers and architects asked to figure out how to repair a troubled building. What information would they need to solve the problem? What questions would they ask? ThePBS Web sitepresents scenarios about troubled buildings that students can use for this activity.

Get a Load of This!
This interactive labpresents real-life conditions that affect structures, such as temperature, wind, and vibration. This site's animation enables students to see how reinforcements can stabilize structures.

Suggested Readings

Skyscrapers: How America Grew Up
John B. Severance. Holiday House, 2000.
The creation of the modern skyscraper depended not only on engineering and architectural advances, but on other innovations as well - from elevators to electricity to air conditioning. This book looks at the history of some of the most famous skyscrapers, describes several different types of skyscraper architecture, and details many of the innovations that made these giant buildings possible.

Skyscrapers: Form and Function
David Bennett. Simon & Schuster, 1995.
Skyscrapers are indeed a necessary blend of form and function - and this book explains how both are integrated to make beautiful buildings that work. Hundreds of wonderful photographs and intricate illustrations, including several that fold out to reveal more detail.


Access this resource at:

Higher And Higher: Amazing Skyscrapers


Discovering Petronas: World's Tallest Building
Discovering Petronas is an interview with the people from Arcwelder Films, producers of the Discovery Channel documentary Skyscrapers: Looking Up.

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: Jordan D. Brown, a freelance author in New York City, enjoys writing books, magazines and Web sites for kids and teachers.


Definition: A pressing force that squeezes a material so that it becomes more compact.
Context: The lower columns of a skyscraper are squeezed by compression.

Definition: A mixture of water, sand, small stones, and cement.
Context: The sidewalk near my school is made of concrete.

Definition: The part of a building that's below the ground.
Context: Before construction on the skyscraper began, the engineers figured out what kind of material to use for the foundation.

Definition: An alloy of iron and carbon that is hard, strong, and malleable.
Context: The Sears Tower contains enough steel to build 50,000 automobiles.

Definition: The part of a skyscraper that is above the ground.
Context: The superstructure of that skyscraper is 1,200 feet tall.

wind load
Definition: The force of wind blowing against the sides of a building.
Context: In skyscrapers more than 40 stories tall, the wind load has a tremendous impact on the building.

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