The Bridge as a Connection

Why were the
bridges built?

The Bridge as Machine

How did they
build the bridges?

The Bridge as Art

Why do the bridges
look like they do?
  People of the Bridge
Who designed
the bridges?

Tacoma Narrows Bridge Lesson Plans
Language Arts and Social Studies

Crossing the Narrows: Idea & Dream,…to 1937

Pacific Northwest History

Building the Tacoma Narrows Bridge was a long and complicated process. It began with the vision of one man, who was considered “crazy” at the time. The Northern Pacific Railroad also considered building a trestle across the Narrows. But it wasn’t until the 1920s and 1930s that the idea of a bridge spanning the Narrows was seriously contemplated. In this lesson students will research one of the organizations that were involved in the discussion regarding building a bridge across the Tacoma Narrows during the 1920s and 1930s.

Lesson Objectives

As a result of this lesson, students will be able to:
  • Understand the political forces that led to the building of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge;  
  • Participate in a democratic process to determine whether or not the Tacoma Narrows Bridge should be built;  
  • Construct a clear argument either for or against building a bridge across the Tacoma Narrows.

Time: 3 days or class periods, including one day of research, one day preparing persuasive paper, and one day to argue/discuss with the other students.

Materials Needed: Textbooks and books of other types for research and Internet access.

Lesson Steps

1. Ask students to choose from among the following groups:

  • The “Narrows Bridge Gang,” a coalition of Tacoma community groups and businessmen;
  • Tacoma Chamber of Commerce;
  • Tacoma Newspapers;
  • U.S. Army and Navy Departments;
  • Peninsula residents;
  • WA Navigation Co.; or
  • Taxpayers

2. Then, have them research the following questions:

  • What was your group’s position regarding the building of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge?
  • Why did they take that position?
  • What evidence can you find that will support their argument?

3. After completing their research, have students write a persuasive essay either for or against building the bridge using the information they found to support their arguments.

4. Have students translate their essays into an oral argument, and put them into groups to argue their positions among one another.

5. Ask the students to vote within their groups on whether or not to build the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

6. Come back together in a large group for further discussion and to tally the votes of each group.

7. How many groups agreed to build the bridge?

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 persuasive essay might have, and list those attributes on an overhead projector or white board. Possibilities might include:

  • Information is historically accurate;
  • Contains compelling arguments either for or against building the bridge;
  • Arguments are well-supported by evidence;
  • 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, or ask students to evaluate the projects that they observe.


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