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Skyscrapers Soar with Solid Foundations

Students visualize how supporting details strengthen main ideas with this vibrant cityscape of skyscrapers supported by solid foundations.

  • Grade 3
    Grade 4
    Grade 5
  • 30 Minutes or Less
  • Directions

    1. Introduce the lesson by asking students to think of the tallest buildings they have ever seen. Does anyone know what building is the tallest in the world? Why don’t skyscrapers fall over like those towers of blocks so many children try to build? Talk about foundations and how they support tall buildings. In what ways are the blocks of a building’s foundation like the supporting details in a piece of writing? Do the supporting ideas raise the main idea to greater heights in much the same way as the foundation helps a skyscraper soar?
    2. Gather a collection of nonfiction articles related to a current science or social studies unit. Read one together and ask students to identify the main idea and supporting details.
    3. Invite each student to select another article from the collection. Ask them to look for the main idea and supporting details as they read. Discuss their findings and provide help for anyone who is having trouble.
    4. Once students have a clear understanding of their articles, tell them they will be making skyscrapers to represent the soaring ideas and supporting details they have discovered.
    5. Set out a selection of paper and Crayola® materials. Show students how to create textured paper by laying it on a rough surface and rubbing the side of a crayon or colored pencil across it. Once students have textured their paper, allow time for each to cut out the shape of a skyscraper. Suggest that they use markers or colored pencils to draw the outline of several building blocks at the bottom to represent the foundation.
    6. Ask students to write the supporting ideas of the articles they read on the foundation blocks and the main idea along the center of the skyscraper itself. Encourage them to use markers or colored pencils to add other details such as windows, doors, and the name of the building.
    7. Work together as a class to create a cityscape of ideas. Cover a wall or bulletin board with dark blue or black background paper. Invite students to “build a city” by placing their skyscrapers in various positions across the city skyline. Use Crayola® Glue Sticks for this or glue dots if a 3D effect is desired. Remind students that buildings in the distance appear smaller than those in the foreground so suggest that they arrange their buildings in such a way as to achieve that effect.
    8. Encourage students to read what other students have written and consider how the supporting details relate to the main ideas.
  • Standards

    LA: Determine the main idea of a text; recount the key details and explain how they support the main idea.

    LA: Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.

    LA: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.

    LA: Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence

    MATH: Classify two-dimensional figures into categories based on their properties.

    SCI: Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

    SS: Examine the interaction of human beings and their physical environment, the use of land, building of cities, and ecosystem changes in selected locales and regions.

    SS: Identify and describe examples in which science and technology have led to changes in the physical environment, such as the building of dams and levees, offshore oil drilling, medicine from rain forests, and loss of rain forests due to extraction of resources or alternative uses.

    VA: Students will initiate making works of art and design by experimenting, imagining and identifying content.

    VA: Students will investigate, plan and work through materials and ideas to make works of art and design.

    VA: Students experience, analyze and interpret art and other aspects of the visual world.

  • Adaptations

    Use this as a prewriting activity to help students clearly define a main idea and supporting details before writing an essay.

    For a 3-D version of this activity, ask students to bring quart sized cardboard milk cartons to class. Encourage them to make textured paper to create the illusion of building materials. Have them cover cartons with this paper and then use markers or colored pencils to draw foundation blocks at the bottom. Write the main idea along the side of the building and the supporting details on the foundation blocks.

    Extend the lesson with a study of skyscraper design, its history and development. What were some of the earliest skyscrapers? Who designed them? Where are the newest skyscrapers located? How big are they and who designed them?

    Adapt this for a social studies lesson on communities and neighborhoods. Ask each student to create a project representing a particular building in a specific community in or near your school. Main ideas and supporting details could communicate information associated with the community, its history or local issues.

    Arrange for an architect to visit the class and discuss building design problems. What can he or she tell you about the foundations of skyscrapers? If possible, arrange for a tour of a skyscraper or other tall building near your community.


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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