Tacoma Narrows Bridge lesson plans - Language Arts - Galloping Gertie

Galloping Gertie

Lesson objectives

The students will be introduced to the different type of bridges using a virtual reality bridge builder on the internet. At the end of this lesson students will be able to understand:

  1. Write clearly and effectively;
  2. Write in a variety of forms for different audiences and purposes;
  3. Understand and use the steps of the writing process.


1-7 partial days or class periods.

Materials needed:

Paper, writing and drawing utensils, costumes and props as desired, and Internet access.

Lesson steps

The decision to build the Tacoma Narrows Bridge took a long time and deciding what type of bridge to build was a complicated process, due to the various bridge styles available and the costs associated with each.

During the 1920s and 1930s a number of proposals were considered for building a bridge. Clark Eldridge, Bridge Engineer for the State Highway Department was in charge of designing and planning all bridges in the State of Washington. His design for a bridge spanning the Narrows, "a tried and true conventional bridge design," would cost about 11 million dollars.

Engineers from the East Coast claimed that the Tacoma Narrows Bridge could be built for much less money, and convinced the government to use their design, which would cost only 5.6 million dollars because it was lighter and more slender "in the interests of economy and cheapness."

The government decided to go with the cheaper bridge design in spite of the protests of engineering experts at the Washington State Highway Department in Olympia, who claimed that the design was "fundamentally unsound." The 1940 bridge represented a culmination in the trend toward building slimmer, lighter and more flexible bridges. It was also the cheapest.

The problem was, that the bridge would move even in a light breeze, and as the wind increased the bouncing and rippling of the roadway increased as well. The bridge became known as "Galloping Gertie" and many terms were used at the time to describe its movement:

Activity 1 - Poem

Using the terms above, or any others they can come up with, ask students to write a poem about Galloping Gertie.

Activity 2 - Name That Bridge

Ask students to come up with another name for the bouncing bridge.

Galloping Gertie survived for only four months and seven days. In the early morning hours of November 7, 1940 strong winds began to buffet Gertie, and by 11:00 am she was resting on the floor of the Narrows.

Today, Gertie is known as "the world's largest man-made reef." An abundance of marine life thrives among the massive girder sections, concrete rubble and half-mile of roadway submerged beneath the Sound. It is a thriving ecosystem, and anemones, sea stars, mussels, barnacles, octopi, salmon, rays, sea lions, black bass, lingcod, crabs, wolf eels, sea lance and diving birds make their homes nearby.

Activity 3 - Design a monument

Ask students to design a monument and plaque to Gertie.

Activity 4 - Draw Gertie

Have students imagine Gertie on the bottom of the Sound. Ask them to create a drawing showing what her final resting-place might look like.

Activity 5 - Write a Narrative

Ask students to write a narrative of the collapse of the bridge from Galloping Gertie's point of view. Include her resurrection as a reef, if desired. Refer to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge website for further background information.

There were numerous eyewitness accounts of Galloping Gertie's collapse. Howard Clifford, Leonard Coatsworth, Clark Eldridge, F.B. "Bert" Farqujarson, Ruby Jacox and Winfield Brown provided accounts, excerpts of which are included on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge website.

Activity 6 - Act it Out

Put students in groups of six, and using the Tacoma Narrows Bridge website as a resource, assign each student one eyewitness account of Galloping Gertie's collapse. Ask them to create reenactments of their account, and act it out for the benefit of the group. Students should create dramatic performances to make these accounts come alive, using costumes and props as appropriate.

The collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge resulted in only one fatality: Tubby, a black cocker spaniel who was riding with Leonard Coatsworth, a news editor for the Tacoma News Tribune. The gigantic twisting motion of the bridge threw Coatsworth's car against the curb, and he climbed out of an open window to try to crawl to safety. Unfortunately, Tubby was left behind in the car. Howard Clifford tried to save Tubby, but was turned back. Then, Bert Farquharson tried to save him, but the dog bit his finger when he tried to get him out of the car. Thus, when the bridge finally collapsed, Tubby went with it.

Activity 7 - Tubby Talks

Using the six traits of effective writing, ask students to create a narrative account of the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge from Tubby's point of view. When they are finished, ask volunteers to share their accounts with the class.

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