Curriculum Laboratory

Teaching Ideas Showcase: Building Things  (Activity Centres for Grades 1 and 3 Science)

For further assistance in using any of the resources in the lab, please ask at the Curriculum Lab Information Services Desk

Objectives of Handout/Workshop


  • To introduce the user to a variety of "building things" kits, and related recommended literature titles on 10 "building things" themes.
  • To provide the user with detailed learning centres instructions, suitable for the grade one and three Alberta science curriculum, based on the kits and books in this handout.
  • To engage grade 1 or 3 students in "the great building things challenge," where the students achieve four levels of engineering excellence:
    • Beginner:  build a better bridge
    • Rookie:  browse a better "building things" book
    • Novice: follow a plan to construct a building things model
    • Expert:  students create or draw their own "building thing." (Note:  Upon completion, students will be awarded an "Expert Engineer's Certificate."

Potential Curriculum Connections


Grade One Science, Topic 1C:  Building Things

It includes constructing objects using a variety of materials, and identifying the purpose of the different components in an object.  It can include building models, objects toys, pop-up books, and wind and water related objects.

Grade Three Science, Topic 3B:  Building With A Variety of Materials and Topic 3C   Testing Materials and Designs

It includes building things, all for specific purposes, (e.g. to support objects, span gaps, serve as containers, or serve as models) from available materials.  Students will compare and contrast the suitability and strengths of various building materials.

See the Alberta Science curriculum more information:

  • The Elementary Program of Studies, available at 375 General Alta. Gr 1-6,  covers what must be taught in Alberta schools.
  • The Teacher Resource Manuals provide suggestions on how teachers may implement the Program of Studies outcomes:
  • Let's Do Science:  Grades 1-6  -- These titles are published by the Science Alberta Foundation, not Alberta Learning, but they are available at 375 Science Alta. Gr.1-6.  The guides are designed to help elementary teachers plan, implement, and evaluate the outcomes in the elementary Program of Studies.


Teacher Resources

Bardon, Keith.  Exploring forces and structures.  530 Bar

Build it up and build it up teacher's guide.  624.1 Bui Gr. 3 v.1 and 2

Evans, David.  Building things.  530 Eva. Gr. 1

Design team and Design team teacher's guide.  624.1 Des Gr. 1 v. 1 and 2

Dixon, Malcolm.  Structures.  624 Dix Gr. 3

Edmonton Public Schools.  Building things.  624 Bui

Edmonton Public Schools.  Building with a variety of materials.  624 Bui

Edmonton Public Schools.  Testing materials and designs.  507.8 Tes

Haslam Andrew.  Building.  624 Has Gr. 3

Moulte, Carole.  Stability:  structures and mechanisms.  621.8 Sta. Gr. 3

Rose, Dawn.  Building and testing with a variety of materials:  lessons for grade 3.  624 Ros Gr. 3

VanCleave, Janice.  Janice VanCleave's machines.  621.8 Van

Williams, Peter.  take a technowalk:  to learn about mechanisms and energy, grades K-8.  621.81 Wil

Preparation, and List of Materials


  • Signs for the "building things challenge:"  the 4 levels of engineering excellence
  • Expert Engineer's Certificate
  • Literature and kit activity centre instructions
  • Assemble a few props, with associated pieces of paper to build a better bridge, as outlined below.
  • Select books from your school library, or the Curriculum Laboratory on the subjects listed below.
  • Get the kits that interest you from the Curriculum Laboratory, or use your own building things kits and themes.
  • Pop-up card template.
  • Glue stick for making the pop-up card.
  • Envelopes for the pyramid, as well as scissors, ruler, and and pen or pencil.
  • Each student should have paper and crayons for the extra activities.


Introductory Demonstration


1) Beginner:  Build a Better Bridge

The following introductory activities are modeled after activities suggested in:

     Fitzpatrick, Julie.  (1986).  Towers and bridges. London:  Evans Brothers.
 p. 17-23.  (624.2 Fit Gr.3)

     Arley, Neil.  (1984).  Force and strength.  New York:  Franklin Watts. p. 10-12.  (531 Ard)

  • Ask the students, "How can I build a bridge, using two sheets of paper, that can support an object?"  
  • Demonstrate some possible configurations, as illustrated below:

  • At the end, explain when building things, some ways of building make an structure "strong" or "useable", and some ways of building make a structure "weak" or "unusable."  They should look for these ways of building "strong" or "useable" structures in their activities, just like an engineer would.
  • It is interesting to show them a "weak" or "unusable" bridge, such as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, nicknamed "Galloping Gertie," which collapsed in 1940.


Building Things Activity Centres

2) Rookie: browse a better "building things" book

3) Novice:  follow a plan to construct a "building things" model

4) Expert:  students create or draw their own "building thing."

Each of these activities make use of the Activity Centres Instructions, which should be printed and displayed with each appropriate activity.  Pick the activity centres which are best suited for your students, and modify them, based on your resources.  Each centre includes a building kit and related boos, from the Curriculum Laboratory.  There are subject headings listed below for each centre,  which can be used to find similar titles in your local library.

 Simple Machines, Super Machines, and Super Structures

This Centre uses the Magnetic Discovery Kit (Magnetic 538.4 Mag), available through Lee Valley Tools.

Search the library catalogue for these subjects:  structures, machinery, engineering, simple machines, physics experiments, and building.

Ardley, Neil.  Force and strength.  531 Ard

Crowther, Robert.  Robert Crowther's pop-up book of amazing facts and feats:  deep down underground.  624.19 Cro

Freeman, John.  Super machines.  621.8 Fre

Jennings, Terry.  Cranes, dump truck, bulldozers and other building machines. 629.225 Jen

Kalman, Bobbie.  Everyday structures from a to z.  624 Kal

Kilby, Don.  At a construction site (Book accompanied by magnets).  629.225 Kil

Lewis, Allen.  Super structures.  624 Lew

Macaulay, David.  Underground.  624.19 Mac

Sobel. June.  B is for bulldozer. F Sob

Steen, Sandra.  Car wash.  F Ste

Tryon, Leslie.  Albert's alphabet.  421.1 Try

Big Machines

This centre uses the Duplo Early Simple Machines Kit (Oversize 621.811 Dup Gr.EC-3), available through the Alberta Government Learning Resources Centre.

Search the library catalogue for these subjects:  trucks, road machinery, automobiles, agricultural machinery.

Adams, Georgie.  Highway builders.  629.225 Ada

Bingham, Caroline.  Tractor. 629.2252 Bin

Bushey, Jerry.  Farming the land:  modern farmers and their machines.  631 Bus

Cole, Joanna.  Cars and how they go.  629.2222 Col

Crews, Donald.  Truck.  F Cre

Deschamps, Nicola.  Digger.  629.225 Des

Kilby, Don.  At a construction site. 629.225 Kil

Pearson, Debora.  Load 'em up trucks.  629.224 Pea

Rex, Michael.  Truck Duck.  F Rex

Stickland, Paul.  Truck Jam.  F Sti

Weatherby, Brenda and Mark.  The trucker. F Wea


This centre uses the Early Structures Set Construction Set (Oversize 624 Ear), available through Spectrum Educational Supplies Limited.

Search the library catalogue for these subjects:  bridges.

Bell, Babs.  The bridge is up! F Bel

Fitzpatrick, Julie.  Towers and bridges.  624.2 Fit. Gr. 3

Johmann, Carol.  Bridges!  Amazing structures to design, build, and test.  624.2 Joh

Kaner, Etta.  Bridges.  624.25 Kan

Petty, Kate.  Bridges.  624.2 Pet Gr. 3

Tall Towers

This centre uses the Magnetic Master Kit (Magnetic 538 Mag), available through Lee Valley Tools.

Search the library catalogue for these subjects:  buildings, CN Tower, architecture, skyscrapers, and building.

Brown, David.  The Random House book of how things were built.  720.9 Bro

CN Tower.  725.971 Cn

Greene, Meg.  The CN Tower. 725.97 Gre

Gerstein, Mordicai.  The man who walked between the towers. 

Gibbons, Gail.  Up goes the skyscraper.  690 Gib Gr. 3

Gibson, Diane.  Wind power.  621.45 Gib


This centre uses a plain business envelope, one for each student at the centre.

Search the library catalogue for these subjects:pyramids,  Egypt -- Antiquities.

Coulter, Laurie.   All about Maya hieroglyphs.  497.42 Cou

Dennis, Peter.  Pyramid. 690.68 Har

Longley, Elizabeth.  Egyptian pyramid.  690.68 Lon

Macaulay, David.  Pyramid.  690.68 Mac

Pemberton, Delia.  Egyptian mummies.  932 Pem

Tanaka, Shelley.  Secrets of the mummies:  uncovering the bodies of ancient Egyptians.  932.01 Tan

Pop-up Card

(See the Toy and Movable Books handout for more ideas)

This Centre uses the Pop-up card template, one for each student.

Search the library catalogue for these subjects:  toy and movable books.
Alice's adventures in Wonderland : a pop-up adaptation of Lewis Carroll's original tale / by Robert Sabuda.  F Sab

Carle, Eric.  Please get the moon for me.  F Car

Faulkner, Keith.  The wide-mouthed frog:  a pop-up book.  F Fau

Irvine, Joan.  How to make pop-ups.  745.54 Irv

Jones, Frances.  Nature's deadly creatures.  591.69 Jon

Pelham, David.  Sam's pizza.  F Pel

Valenta, Barbara.  Pop-o-mania : how to create your own pop-ups. 745.54 Val

 The wonderful wizard of Oz / by L. Frank Baum ; art by Robert Sabuda.  F Sab

Houses and Homes

This centre uses the Polydron Kit (Oversize 516.22 Pol), available through Spectrum . Asimilar set could be used as well, called G-O-Frames: Geometry-on-Frames (Oversize 516.15 Gof), available through LRC.

Note:  There are enough pieces in the kit, and enough books, that this station could be made into two stations, assuming the students are not moving from station-to-station.  Perhaps the students could build whatever they want at the second station.

Search the library catalogue for these subjects:  house construction, igloos, dwellings, home, castles, architecture, Indians of North America -- dwellings, animal habitations

Ashman, Linda.  Castles, caves and honeycombs.  F Cas

Barton, Byron.  Building a house.  690.837 Bar

Collier, John.  The backyard.  F Col

Crowther, Robert.  Robert Crowther's amazing pop-up house of inventions.  609 Cro

Crum, Shutta.  House in the meadow. F Cru

High, Linda.  Barn Savers.  690.8922 Hig

Karavasil, Josephine.  Houses and homes around the world.  728 Kar

Kitchen, Bert.  And so they build.  591.564 Kit

Liebman, Dan.  I want to be a builder. 624.023 Lie

Millet, Claude.  The castle.  728.81 Mil

Robbins, Ken.  Building a house.  690.837 Rob

Rounds, Glen.  Sod houses on the great plains.  693.2 rou

Shemie, Bonnie.  Building Canada.  720.971 She

Shemie, Bonnie.  Houses of bark:  tipi, wigwam and longhouse.  970.1 She

Steltzer, Ulli.  Building an igloo.  693.91 Ste

Suen, Anastasia.  Raise the roof! F Sue

Wilkes, Angela.  Animal homes. 591.564 Wil

Ms. Holmes and her students at Lomond School go wild with the Polydron and G-O-Frames kits:

A Tower

This centre uses the Small Planks Kit (691.1 Sma), available through Lee Valley Tools.

Search the library catalogue for these subjects:  buildings, totem poles, architecture, skyscrapers, and building.

Greene, Meg. The CN Tower. 725.97 Gre

Hoyt-Goldsmith, Diane.  Totem pole.  730.89 Hoy

Jessop, Joanne.  The X-ray picture book of big buildings of the ancient world.  720 Jes

Macaulay, David.  Building big.  720 Mac

Macaulay, David,  Unbuilding.  690.523 Mac

Osband, Gillian.  Castles.  728.81 Osb

Oxlade, Chris.  Skyscrapers.  720.483 Oxl

Simon, Seymour.  Let's try it out with towers and bridges.624.1 Sim

Weird Animals

This centre uses the Kid K'NEX Classroom Collection Kit (Oversize 624 Kid), available through Spectrum Educational Supplies.

Search the library catalogue for these subjects:  animals, dangerous animals, poisonous animals, animal defenses, adaptations (biology)

Aruego, Jose and Ariene Dewey.  Weird animals:  unlikely allies in the animal kingdom.  577.85 Aru

Carle, Eric.  Eric Carle's animals, animals.  808.81 Car

Chen, Tony.  Animals showing off.  591.56 Chen

Coster-Longman, Christina.  Creepy crawlies.  598.7 Cos

Day, Trevor.  Youch!  It bites!  591.65 Day

Hickman, Pamela.  Animals eating.  591.53 Hic

Jenkins, Steve.  What do you do when something wants to eat you?  591.47 Jen

Jenskins, Steve.  What do you do with a tail like this? 573.87 Jen

Kaner, Etta.  Animals defenses:  how animals protect themselves.  591.47 Kan

Kaner, Etta.  Animals at work:  how animals build, dig, fish and trap.  591.5 Kan

Marks, Julie.  Good thing you're not an octopus!  F Mar

McGrath, Susan.  The amazing things animals do.  591.51 McG

Parsons, Alexandra.  Amazing poisonous animals.  591.65 Par

Pearson, Deborah.  Animachines.  591 Pea

Prelustsky, Jack.  Scranimals.  811.54 Pre

Simon, Seymour.  Animals nobody loves.  591.65 Sim

Castle Marbleworks, and Stuck-On Marbleworks (Trains and Castles)

This Centre uses the Castle Marbleworks Play Tower (Oversize 371.337 Cas) and the Stuck on Marbleworks (Oversize 371.337 Stu) Kits, available through Discovery Toys. The Curriculum Laboratory also has a new kit that could be used, Marbleworks Deluxe Set (Oversize 371.337 Mar).

Search the library catalogue for these subjects: railroads -- trains, castles

Booth, Philip. Crossing.  811.54 Boo

Crews,  Donald.  Freight Train.  F Cre

Crews, Donald.  Shortcut.  F Cre.

Eastwood, Kay.  Life in a castle. 728.81 Eas

Graham, Ian.  Cars, bikes, trains, and other land machines. 629.049 Gra

Kellerhals-Stewart, Heather.  My brother's train.  F Kel

Kuklin, Susan.  All aboard!  A true train story. 385.52 Kuk

Macaulay, David.  Castle.  623.1942 Mac

Mille, Claude.  The castle.  728.81 Mil

Rex, Michael.  My freight train. F Rex

Simon, Seymour. Seymour Simon's book of trains. 385 Sim

Turnbull, Stephanie.  Trains. 625.2 Tur

Wise Brown, Margaret.  Two little trains.  F Bro

Give out the Expert Engineer's Certificates


The students have now completed "the great building things challenge," and achieved four levels of engineering excellence.  Award them their certificates!

Produced by:  Bill Glaister, December 2004. Updated in January 2010.