Grade Levels: K-3

In this lesson plan, adaptable for grades K-3, students watch the BrainPOP movie Engineering and Design Process and discover that engineering is an area of science that explores designing, building, and improving things to solve problems and that engineers do this by brainstorming ideas, making a plan, and testing and improving their designs. Then they will collaborate to design a paper cup telephone.


Students will:

  1. Review the steps of the engineering and design process
  2. Brainstorm solutions for a paper cup telephone and select one
  3. Make a paper cup telephone and test it (improve the design if necessary)
  4. Share their paper cup telephones


  • Internet access for BrainPOP Jr.
  • Interactive whiteboard
  • Paper cups of different weights and sizes
  • String of different lengths and thickness
  • Paper clips


Lesson Procedure:

  1. Ask students what they think of when they hear the word engineering or engineer. Jot their ideas on the whiteboard. Briefly explain that engineering is about designing, building, and improving things to solve problems or improve our lives. Prompt students to think about things engineers have designed that have improve our lives. You can start by giving examples, such as the computer or car.
  2. Now show the BrainPOP Jr. movie Engineering and Design Process on an interactive whiteboard or other large display for the whole class. Pause at various points to reinforce student understanding of key concepts.
  3. Next, open Make-a-Map from within the Engineering and Design Process topic, and either use the cyclical relationship map or create your own. Then watch the movie again from within Make-a-Map and pause each time Annie mentions a step in the engineering and design process. Type in the, or add the clip to the map. The steps should be as follows: Find and understand a problem; Gather information about a problem; Make a plan; Test and improve the design.
  4. Now divide the class into pairs. Distribute paper cups, string, and paper clips to each pair. Explain that the telephone is an example of a solution to a problem. Ask students what problem the think the telephone solved. After the share their ideas, be sure they understand that it solved the problem of communicating over distance.
  5. Challenge pairs to use the engineering and design process (leave the map up on the whiteboard) to design a string telephone using their paper cups, string, and paper clips. Provide different lengths and thicknesses of string as well as different sizes of paper cups. Prompt students to come up with a paper cup telephone that works best.
  6. Remind students to use the engineering and design process to come up with the best solution.
  7. Finally, have pair present their paper cup telephones to the class, and describe their process including what worked and didn’t work.

Extension Activities:

Paper Airplanes

Challenge small groups of students to design paper airplanes by folding standard sheets of paper into different shapes with the goal of engineering a plane that will fly the farthest.  Encourage them to collaborate on ideas and to use the engineering design process they learned about in the movie. Give them time to experiment with different designs and test how far their planes will fly. Then have a paper airplane contest. After, discuss why certain planes flew farther than others.    

Invention Convention

Working in small groups, have students identify a problem in the classroom or school. What is a small inconvenience that people face at school? What can be improved? What can be clearer to students and staff? They may want to observe fellow students in the cafeteria or in the playground to find things that can be improved. Challenge groups to identify a problem and come up with a solution using the engineering and design process. Have them create a drawing of their design with a written description of how it works. Hold an Invention Convention, inviting other classes to explore and learn.