Hands-on Activity Design Communication Messages Like Charlotte’s Web

Quick Look

Grade Level: 4 (3-5)

Time Required: 45 minutes

Expendable Cost/Group: US $2.00

[Approximately $10 for an entire class: foam core board ($9) or extruded foam insulation ($7), string ($1-2), thread ($.59), Popsicle sticks ($1)]

Group Size: 1

Activity Dependency: None

Subject Areas: Life Science


Similar to how Charlotte uses her web to communicate, students create webs for short messages. They learn how spiders create their webs, and about the different types of webs they make. With this knowledge, students design and create their own webs and incorporate messages.

A large spider's web on a tree.
Students learn how webs are created
Copyright © Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/97/Spider_web_with_dew.JPG

Engineering Connection

Design is a key part of engineering. It involves first understanding the problem or challenge, and clarifying what we want to accomplish, then imagining different ideas, then researching methods and making plans, then documenting the best plan with sketches and diagrams, then creating a prototype and refining it until it satisfies the goal.

Learning Objectives

  • How spider webs are made and what they are used for.
  • How to sketch a design before constructing a product prototype.
  • Construction and design techniques in their own spider webs.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Information can be acquired and sent through a variety of technological sources, including print and electronic media. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Communication technology is the transfer of messages among people and/or machines over distances through the use of technology. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Compare how things found in nature differ from things that are human-made, noting differences and similarities in how they are produced and used. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Use appropriate symbols, numbers, and words to communicate key ideas about technological products and systems. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Design solutions by safely using tools, materials, and skills. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Identify a problem that reflects the need for shelter, storage, or convenience. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Describe different ways in which a problem can be represented, e.g., sketches, diagrams, graphic organizers, and lists. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Identify relevant design features (e.g., size, shape, weight) for building a prototype of a solution to a given problem. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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  • Compare natural systems with mechanical systems that are designed to serve similar purposes, e.g., a bird's wings as compared to an airplane's wings. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

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Materials List

Each student needs:

  • 2 9 x 2-in pieces of foam core board OR 1 9 x 12-in piece of 3/4-in thick extruded foam insulation (available at hardware stores)
  • 30 push pins
  • 75 ft white string or thread
  • 1 piece of black construction paper
  • glue
  • 1 Popsicle stick
  • Communication Worksheet

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/charlottes_web] to print or download.


Photo shows a spiral-shaped web glistening with dew.
Copyright © 2004 Microsoft Corporation, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052-6399 USA. All rights reserved.

How many of you remember the story of Charlotte's Web? (Read or review with students, as needed.) In what ways did Charlotte use her web? What are some methods of communication we use that are similar to Charlotte as well as other spiders?

What do you know about spiders? What is spider "silk"? (Listen to student ideas.) The bodies of spiders are able to spin "silk" thread that they use to make webs. What are some ways spiders use their webs? For what else might they use their silk? They use their silk for travel, to catch prey, to construct shelter, to cover eggs, to enclose their young, and for flight to safety.

Spider silk is pretty amazing. Have you ever been "caught" in a spider's web? Well a unique characteristic of spider silk is that it is the strongest natural (and human-made) fiber. Spider silk can be stretched 20-25% without breaking and return to its original shape.

Not all spider webs look like Charlotte's. Different types of spiders make different kinds of webs. Here are some examples. (Show students the attached templates for a few web structure types. Add to the discussion any additional information on spiders, webs and communication.)

Today you are going to communicate, as Charlotte did, by creating webs that contain messages. You will come up with a design that you sketch before constructing your own spider web. Can you be as creative as Charlotte?



Spiders use their silk for travel, to catch prey, to construct a home, to cover eggs, to enclose young, and for flight. Spider silk is the strongest natural and human-made fiber. Spider silk can be stretched 20-25% without breaking and returns to its original shape. Different types of webs include spiral orb, tangle or cobwebs, funnel, sheet, tubular, triangle, dome or tent webs (see recommended resources and Attachment sections for examples and more information).

Recommended Resources:

Ed Nieuwenhuys' excellent website on The Spider: Web and Silk: http://ednieuw.home.xs4all.nl/Spiders/InfoNed/webthread.html

Garden Orb Web Spider; step-by-step pictures and diagrams show the creation of an orb web structure: http://animals.howstuffworks.com/arachnids/spider5.htm

Spider Web, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider_web

Spider Silk, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spider_silk

Do a Google image search for "spider silk" for pictures to show students.


  • Gather materials and make copies of the worksheet and other attachments.
  • IF USING FOAM CORE BOARD: Pre-cut two 9 x 12-in pieces of foam board per student. Glue the two pieces of board together and let dry.
  • IF USING EXTRUDED FOAM INSULATION: Pre-cut to 9 x 12-in pieces, one piece per student.
  • Measure out the string. Technique: Measure and wind the string around a one-foot ruler until the desired length is achieved. Then cut the string and wind it around a Popsicle stick as you take it off of the ruler. (Takes about one minute to measure, cut and wind around a Popsicle stick.)

With the Students

PROBLEM - THE CHALLENGE: Communicate without using sounds, and preferably without using pen and paper.

  1. Introduce spiders, their webs and silk. Discuss the purpose of webs (and silk), how they are created, and basic types. Discuss various forms of communication (a brief look at the history of communication would be appropriate) and the story of Charlotte's Web.
  2. Have students pick one type of web to build. Have them draw preliminary design sketches for their webs.
  3. Give students the materials. Have them glue the piece of black construction paper to the foam board (or foam insulation).
  4. Demonstrate how to create a web (as follows): Push the push pins into the foam board at every point you want change directions. The push pins act as the "skeleton" of the web. Wind string around the push pins to create the web. Technique: To secure the web, pull the push pins up a little bit to expose a tiny bit of the metal post. Wrap the string around the post once and then push the push pin down. You can also wind string around the upper part.
    Photo shows a web that spells out TIME made from white string wrapped around push pins poked into a black board.
    Example completed web design with a message.
  5. Have students create their own webs patterned after one type of web structure used by spiders. Show them how they can use the string on the Popsicle stick to easily wrap around the push pins. The string pulls off easily, just like thread off a spool.
  6. Once students have created their webs, challenge them to create words, just as in Charlotte's Web. Restrict the words to three or four letters in length.
  7. As a class, share the completed webs and read the words contained within them. Was your method of silent communication successful?


design: The ideas and plans to be made into a prototype, as represented by sketches or drawings.


Worksheet: Have students answer the questions on the activity worksheet. Review their answers to gauge their mastery of the subject.

Rubric: Evalalute student performance by using the attached rubric with criteria for web message design and construction as well as worksheet completion.

Investigating Questions

  • What is communication?
  • What are different ways to communicate?
  • How do babies communicate?
  • What are ways to communicate without sound?
  • What resembles a spider web in our world? (Possible answers: Fishing nets, crochet, bridge trusses.)
  • What materials can we use to create our own webs?
  • What are the advantages of spider's silk?
  • Why do spiders build webs?

Activity Scaling

  • To simplify the activity, introduce the concepts and background information, and demonstrate how to create a web. Then, rather than have students create the web first and then messages, have them create their messages and then a random spider "web-like" design.
  • For an easier modification to the activity (but with a less impressive end result), introduce the concepts and background information, demonstrate how to create a web and have students design and create webs following the Procedure instructions. Then have students write their messages on pieces of paper and attach them to their webs.
  • For more advanced students, have them first do research on spiders, silk and web types, and share what they learned with the rest of the class before conducting the web messaging activity. Have other students research the history of communication and/or types of verbal and non-verbal communication.

Additional Multimedia Support

Learn more about the steps of the engineering design process at https://www.teachengineering.org/engrdesignprocess.php


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Kramer, David C. Animals in the Classroom. 1989 Addison Wesley Longman Inc., published by Dales Seymour Publications, a division of Pearson Education Inc. (portions of the activity)

White, E.B. Charlotte's Web. Harper Trophy. April 1999. ISBN:0064400557

Charlotte's Web Theatreworks. Sangamon Auditorium, University of Illinois Springfield. (image of Charlotte's Web book cover) http://www.uis.edu/sangamonauditorium/classacts/untitled.htm


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2004 Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Supporting Program

Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University

Last modified: November 15, 2021

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