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Hands-on Activity: Newspaper Tower
Contributed by: Techtronics Program, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University

Petronas Towers
The Petronas Towers


Students will be challenged to design and construct a tower out of newspaper. They will have limited supplies including newspaper, tape, and scissors since engineers are often restricted by economic reasons as to how much material they can use in their building. The students will be building for height and stability, and their towers must be designed to withstand a lateral "wind" load.

Engineering Connection

Engineering analysis or partial design

Students are placed in the role of civil engineers for newspaper towers in this activity. Students must pay particular attention to designing the tower to withstand high winds, a problem that students may not have considered in the construction of tall buildings.


  1. Learning Objectives
  2. Materials
  3. Introduction/Motivation
  4. Vocabulary
  5. Procedure
  6. Safety Issues
  7. Troubleshooting Tips
  8. Investigating Questions
  9. Assessment
  10. Extensions
  11. Activity Scaling
  12. References

Grade Level: 7 (6-8) Group Size: 3
Time Required: 50 minutes
Activity Dependency :Skyscrapers: Engineering Up!
Expendable Cost Per Group
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Related Curriculum :

Educational Standards :    

  •   International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
  •   Next Generation Science Standards: Science
  •   North Carolina: Math
  •   North Carolina: Science
Does this curriculum meet my state's standards?       

Learning Objectives (Return to Contents)

  • At the end of this activity, the student will be able to identify which designs can withstand the self-weight of the newspaper tower as well as a lateral wind load and which do not.
  • The students will be able to explain how their towers worked to withstand the lateral wind load using terms learned in other lessons within this curricular unit if applicable or general engineering terms.

Materials List (Return to Contents)

  • Newspaper
  • Scotch Tape
  • Scissors
  • Meter Stick

Introduction/Motivation (Return to Contents)

  • Introduce the project as an engineering design competition. The newspaper tower they will be designing will be in a hurricane prone area, and budget requires that limited materials be used. Explain how this is realistic as economic factors are usually the driving force behind engineering projects. A company that can build more with less material will be favored over another company that cannot utilize the given materials as effectively.
  • Detail the procedure listed below to the students so that they understand how much material they may use and how much time they will have.
  • Tell them to think about real skyscrapers as inspiration (i.e. real towers in their home town with cylindrical shapes, or large foundations, or triangular trusses for support.

Vocabulary/Definitions (Return to Contents)

Buckling: When a column fails by bending at some point in the height of the column, usually towards the midpoint caused by a vertical force.
Lateral Force: A force that impacts a structure horizontally (i.e. wind and earthquakes).
Deflection : The amount a structure bends or moves from its "at rest" position.
Civil Engineering : The field of engineering pertaining to non-moving structures such as roads, sewers, towers, buildings, and bridges.
Bundled Tube : The design principle that the Sears Tower is built on. The building is basically a collected bunch of tubes, with all the supporting columns of each "tube" located on the perimeter of the tube. This structure is very good at resisting wind loads.
Tube-style support: Implemented on building such as the World Trade Center, Sears Tower, and many newer structures. The majority of the supporting columns are mover to the perimeter of the tower instead of spread throughout. This allows open expanses of floor space on every floor.
  • Allow the students to work individually. Distribute scissors around the classroom for students to share. Give each student 12 inches (30 cm) of scotch tape and three full sheets of newspaper.
  • The students should then get 20 minutes to test different designs.
  • After the 20 minutes is up, students are allowed to return all their materials to the teacher in exchange for another 12 inches (30 cm) of tape and three more sheets of newspaper.
  • Tell the students they may have an additional 25 minutes of construction time.
  • Measure the height of the student's tower. Then step away from the tower so that it is at arm's length and blow out a full breath to simulate a hurricane. A successful tower will not topple over. Make sure the tower is not secured to a table, the floor, or any other piece of furniture or wall.

Safety Issues (Return to Contents)

  • Students should just be asked to be careful with the scissors.

Troubleshooting Tips (Return to Contents)

  • If the students seem to be struggling, either allow more time or extra materials.
  • For younger students that are struggling, give them the suggestion of rolling the paper for strength if they have not thought of it. Also, perhaps suggest a triangular base or a wider base.

Investigating Questions (Return to Contents)

  • There are several solutions to this problem that are more obvious that others, although the students can definitely surprise you with unexpected designs that work quite well. Rolling several small tubes to attach to the bottom or a central tube of newspaper is a good design. The cylinder acts to allow the tower to have the wind go around the building. The more narrow and slender the tower is at height the better it will be able to withstand the "wind" because the less surface that the wind will have to act upon.
  • Another solution is a tripod type design. The majority of the newspaper will be used to build up, but toward the bottom, three tightly wound newspaper rolls can extend down from the tower to the table at an angle. This will give tower more resistance against toppling in the wind load.
  • Another solution involves having a very wide base for the tower to sit on, like a foundation.
  • Have the students explain how their towers work to resist the "wind" load, using engineering terms learned from earlier in the lesson, or from other lessons within the curricular unit if applicable.
  • Have the students discuss as a class what designs did and did not work and why that was so. Likely responses for designs that worked include: triangular base, wide base, small tower surface area, tubes, etc. Likely responses for designs that did not work include: large flat surfaces for tower sides, small bases, etc.

Activity Extensions (Return to Contents)

  • Have the students try building newspaper towers for height or to hold up an object. Have them then compare the differences in design between towers designed to hold vertical vs lateral loads, and between towers that are not designed to hold any weight but their own.

Activity Scaling (Return to Contents)

  • For younger kids allow more time and materials and maybe suggest some design ideas that may work.
  • For high school kids, allow less time and materials, or have them use only one sheet of letter sized paper but more time.

Building Big
Building Big, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/buildingbig/, 6/25/04. Building Big - PBS's Biulding Big website


Kelly Devereaux and Benjamin Burnham, Primary Contributors, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University


© 2004 by Engineering K-Ph.D. Program, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University
including copyrighted works from other educational institutions and/or U.S. government agencies; all rights reserved.

Supporting Program (Return to Contents)

Techtronics Program, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University

Last Modified: April 24, 2014
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