Alternative WATERLESS Activity for U1L1


Paper Tower Challenge

Waterless Activity Groups of 2-4
1 sheet of copy paper per group & no other tools Student Directions: Using only the sheet of paper create a structure to support a textbook/dictionary 1 inch above the surface for at least 5 seconds. If multiple groups accomplish this goal - whose structure will support the most books? Teacher Notes: no tape no scissors or glue. Students can manipulate their paper in any manner they choose. Activity credit to Pinterest. Successfully executed with 6th graders.


Do you have suggestions or pics you can offer to teachers to help us see successful ideas that work if our students are really stumped?


Here is my compilation of different mini challenges that can fit into this lesson as well. If you want other ideas, search “Brown Bag Engineering” or “Dollar store Engineering”


Water would be difficult in my classroom so I really like this activity. I revised the Activity sheet to go along with the paper structures and attached for anyone to use if you click on the following link.Paper Structures activity guide


Howdy all - sorry for my delayed response… email filters caught everything.

Here are some links to help you visualize the paper tower strength STEM activity.
Many of these let students use tape or scissors or such.
When I did this in my class of 6th graders it was intended as a teambuilding activitiy during our 25 minute home room time so I didn’t want to pull out a large amount of supplies.

The strongest structures were cylinders just as you see in these links however my students didn’t tape them closed but rather created paper spirals that curled because of wrapping around their fingers or a table leg and they held their shape.

This link previews with the exact directions I used but is blocked by my district filters so I can’t verify:

continued in next post


Sorry it will only let me put 2 links per post…

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Post 3/3 due to link attachment restriction


I had my students create a tower with a suspended 3 oz. cup that needed to be at least 3 inches above the bottom of the tower. We tested the tower’s strength with pennies. I modified the worksheets from the boat activity to fit the tower activity. My students were given 20 non-bendable straws, 36" of masking tape, 36" of string, and a 3 oz. cup with holes punched in opposite sides. They could use scissors and rulers. No supplies were replenished. They loved the activity, although a few said they had done something like this previously.

Like others mentioned, I did debate working through the Problem Design Process first, however I used it as a discussion to walk my students through each step and we identified each part of the building tower lesson.


Paper Structure Challenge: I revised this lesson to a have kids build a Paper Structure to hold textbooks as high as possible off the desk. This was a good non-water alternative and I revised the student worksheet that worked well. I had a stack of textbooks in my classroom but when I do this again I will remember that I need many more! The kids were amazing in their building efforts and you need lots of textbooks for multiple groups to test their structures at the same time…!

Here is the Paper Structure Challenge - enjoy!


I did have pairs use this simulation to discuss iterations and the problem solving process

They also have a ‘fire’ interactive that allows frequent iterations.

the faster you fail, the faster you improve.