Tacoma Narrows Bridge lesson plans - Math, Science, Social Studies, Technology

Timeline - Curriculum connections

Pacific Northwest history

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. In this lesson students will crate a timeline of proposals made for building a bridge across the Tacoma Narrows during the 1920s and 1930s. They will research the types of bridges proposed, and draw illustrations of them on the timeline. Students will also create a graph showing the estimated costs of each of the bridges proposed, and evaluate the merits of each proposal on the basis of what they learned.

Lesson objectives

As a result of this lesson, students will be able to:

  1. Understand the complex special interest groups and political forces that led to building the Tacoma Narrows Bridge;
  2. Understand the competing forces at work planning any grand project of this nature;
  3. Explain the alternatives that were available for bridging the Narrows, and the costs of each;
  4. Compare and contrast the various alternatives proposed for the Narrows Bridge; and
  5. Evaluate the merits of each proposal for Bridging the Narrows.


Three days or class periods, including one day of research, one day preparing timeline and graph, and one day to evaluate the proposals. The third day could also be used to discuss and share evaluations.

Materials needed:

Internet access, graphing software such as PowerPoint or Excel, drawing paper, rulers, colored pencils.

Lesson steps

1. Allow students to access the Tacoma Narrows Bridge website to find information for their timeline. After creating a rough draft, ask them to create their timeline on a large piece of drawing paper.

2. Next, have them research the various bridge types proposed and draw them on the timeline, using an appropriate scale.

3. While students are doing their research, they should also make a data table of the estimated costs of each proposal.

4. After completing their research, have students create a multi-colored graph showing the costs of each of the proposed bridges.

5. Ask students to evaluate various proposals and choose which they think was the best option for bridging the Narrows. Ask them to support their argument and be prepared to present it to the class orally.

6. After finishing their timelines, graphs and analysis, ask students to share their findings with the rest of the class. Discuss the merits of the various proposals and vote on the options. Which bridge would your class have chosen to build?

Related links on this site:

Crossing the Narrows: The setting


After the students have been working on their projects for a day or two, bring them together in a large group and ask them to help create a grading rubric. Ask them what attributes a top-quality timeline, graph or presentation might have, and list those attributes on an overhead projector or white board. Possibilities might include:

Evaluate each attribute on an appropriate scale based on your own school's grading system, for example giving points or letter grades. Include student evaluations also, if desired.