Tacoma Narrows Bridge Lesson Plans
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.
As a result of this lesson, students will be able
- Understand the complex special interest groups and political
forces that led to building the Tacoma Narrows Bridge;
- Understand the competing forces at work planning any grand
project of this nature;
- Explain the alternatives that were available for bridging the
Narrows, and the costs of each;
- Compare and contrast the various alternatives proposed for
the Narrows Bridge; and
- Evaluate the merits of each proposal for Bridging the Narrows.
Time: 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.
- Internet access, graphing software such as PowerPoint or Excel,
drawing paper, rulers, colored pencils.
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
3. While students are doing their research,
they should also make a data table of the estimated costs of each
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:
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:
- Information is complete and historically accurate;
- Contains accurate and well-crafted drawings of bridges;
- Graph is clear and colorful;
- Arguments for building a particular bridge are well-supported;
- Shows investment of time and effort;
- Oral argument well presented.
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.