Big Build

Use newspaper rods fastened together with masking tape, to assemble a free-standing structure that students can get into.
Science content
Physics: Motion and Forces, Newton’s Laws, Gravity (K, 2, 6)
  • Stiff rods, plastic or wood, 1 or 2cm in diameter and ~40cm long e.g. pieces of broom handle or conduit pipe. One for each pair of students.
  • Several newspapers, a couple for each pair of students. Take out the smaller pages of shiny advertisements.
  • Masking tape, one roll for each pair of students

Tell the students that they will be building a structure large enough for at least one student to get into (and might fit more). Their structure, however, will only be made from newspaper and tape, and must stand up on its own.
Prepare students by letting them know that this project will take some time and requires some patience. During the first lesson the class will be starting to make many rods from the newspapers. In a later lesson, when there are enough rods, they can be fastened together to make the structures.

Rod preparation:
Show students how to make newspaper rods:
Make a stack of eight sheets of newspaper and roll them tightly around the plastic/wooden rod. (Photo 1.) Use three small pieces of masking tape to secure the ends and centre of the newspaper so that it forms a rod. Remove the plastic/wooden rod from inside the newspaper roll.
The newspaper can be rolled along the length of the newspaper as shown in the photo at right, although wider newspaper which produces longer rods is preferable for building large structures more quickly.
Spend some class time making a common bin of rods. Store the rods upright so that they do not get bent. Make sure that the rods made are tight and stiff.
The students will continue to add to the common bin of rods throughout the following days, when they have time. The class needs about 50 rods for each group of four students.

Show students how to tightly join the newspaper rods:
Flatten the ends of two newspaper rods. Hold the flat faces tightly together and bind them tightly with masking tape, to make a strong and flexible joint (see photo 2)
Two students working on a joint together will allow the strongest joints to be made, as some hand strength and coordination is needed.
Often during the Big Build, additional rods will be added to the joint. The end of these additional rods should also be flattened and added to the stack of flat rod-ends, then taped tightly.
Students should be reminded throughout the Big Build to make their joints in this manner. As more weight is added to their structure, weak joints will not support the load. Strong individual joints will ensure success of their larger structure as they build it.

Introduce strong shapes that can be used for the Big Build:
Depending on whether students are already familiar with the superior strength of a triangle in structures, review or introduce this concept.
Ask students to build a triangle from three newspaper rods, assembling the joints as demonstrated above. See photo 3. Ask them to feel how strong the triangle is. If there is weakness, point out the most likely source: a joint that is not flat and bound tightly with tape. Check and assist in the students’ work to ensure strong, flat joints.

Once students are confident in joining rods together and in building strong triangles, let the Big Build begin!
Allow a morning (or longer) for students to work on their structures. Assist where needed, but make sure the students are designing and building their own structures as much as possible. Groups can borrow ideas from each other. Once the frame is in place, students may want to add a skin of a single sheet of newspaper.


The Big Build takes a lot of classroom space (so tables must be cleared), or it can be done needs a gym or activity space. Rod preparation can be done in the regular classroom space.

The photo of the structure with the girl inside was made with 50 rods.

Students can sit in their structures to watch a video on how other animals build structures - and notice the shapes in them.

Grades taught
Gr 2
Gr 3