A Fascinating Book Inspires Tower Building

Need a sure-fire way to grab the attention of your students? The lines of a recent book we read just snagged us!
"First come rumbling flatbed trucks, bundles of steel on their backs, like a gleaming endless river surging through the concrete canyons of Manhattan."
Wasn't that just delicious! The figurative language all by itself just makes a teacher's heart sing- but it's about building a skyscraper! And let me tell you, my little engineers sat up straighter when they started seeing the pictures of this book!

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Sky Boys by Deborah Hopkinson


This is the book that was so mesmerizing! It's the story of the Empire State Building being built in 1931. It's told from the point of view of a young boy who watches each step of the building going up. Our favorite page included the steel columns of the foundation.
"Before your eyes a steel forest appears. Two hundred and ten massive columns, lifted by derricks and set onto concrete piers sunk fifty-five feet down to hard-rock bottom."
Those words are better than any lesson I could dream up for getting kids to understand the need for a great foundation. The term sky boys came from the derrick workers that worked high up in the sky hoisting, swinging, and placing the beams in the right spots. Fabulous book for introducing a STEM Challenge! We built all kinds of towers!

Let's try index cards!

STEM Challenge for first graders! First, we read a fabulous picture book about skyscrapers and then we tried building a tower! Easy activity!
With first graders, I tried an index card tower first. This is one my big kids have built in the past, but look at what the little engineers did. They were really not concerned with making the tower tall. They loved just bending those cards. Their towers tended to spread out and have a wider base.

Okay, what about modeling dough!

STEM Challenge for first graders! First, we read a fabulous picture book about skyscrapers and then we tried building a tower! Two materials and so much fun!
Kids just love modeling dough. These second graders made some toothpick structures, but they were never able to get them very tall. They really were more into the geometry of the structures- which was a bonus when they started using the vocabulary. The structure in the photos has triangles and squares!

Cups it is!

STEM Challenge for first graders! First, we read a fabulous picture book about skyscrapers and then we tried building a tower! All you need is a package of cups!
Here's a great tower for first graders using only one material. That material just happens to be very inexpensive and easy to use. Just paper cups. Despite the fact that these structures were very precarious the first graders did not mind at all that towers fell over! They just laughed and built them back.

I have included links for a free cup tower challenge at the end of this post!

Back to index cards!

STEM Challenge for first graders! First, we read a fabulous picture book about skyscrapers and then we tried building a tower! One material and so many ways to build that tower!
The second-grade index card towers were very different from first graders. They had a blast getting those towers taller and taller. The biggest problem was that the height became too much for their sizes! They could not reach the tops of the towers built on the table. When this happened we just started building on the floor! Loved it!

The book was amazing and can be used for your language and writing classes and STEM. If you need more information about the challenges click on the links below:


2 comments

  1. Thank you for this! Teachers might also wish to look at the great economics lesson plan using Sky Boys at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Louisville branch. They have tons of STEM/economics resources for educators there.

    https://www.stlouisfed.org/education/sky-boys-how-they-built-the-empire-state-building

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    Replies
    1. Oh my goodness! Your book is just fabulous! I am so glad you found this post and can see how the book was used with a group of first and second graders! Thank you so much!

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