Posts Tagged STEM Tuesday

STEM Tuesday– Architecture– Writing Tips & Resources

What do you see when you picture an architect? They might be sketching building plans using rulers, protractors, and pencils. Or they might have finished their design and now have their plans rolled up and tucked under their arm. Are they making a model of their building projects? Long before the construction process begins, architects are busy planning and designing what the finished building will look like. And it often takes a lot of trial and error.

This is an image or an architect's building plan

Writers also spend a lot of time planning and designing their work. As part of the process, they decide what structure their writing will take. Will the writing be a narrative with a main character, setting, and conflict? Is it a “how to,” which uses a sequential, step-by-step structure?  Or does this piece of writing have description structure? Like creating a building plan, choosing writing structure is full of trial and error and experimentation.

Let’s look at some of this month’s books from the Architecture Book List to see how authors have structured their writing.


Narratives focus on a main character and follow a chronological structure. This month’s book list features several narratives, including MAYA LIN: THINKING WITH HER HANDS by Susan Goldman Rubin. The first chapter begins with May Lin’s birth, and each chapter traces her projects in chronological order, ending with her “What is Missing?” project – her latest. Along the way, Lin encounters obstacles as she struggles to achieve her dreams. If you look at other biographies of architects from the book list, you’ll see a similar pattern.

Narratives frequently use the “story spine” popularized by Pixar to organize them. The story spine starts with “Once upon a time…” introducing the main character and their world before the inciting incident, the moment everything changes. And it ends with “the moral of the story is…” which shows what the main character learned from their journey. Writers can use the story spine to both preplan and revise their narratives.  You can learn more about the elements of the story spine here.

How To (Step-by-Step Structure)

ADVENTURES IN ACHITECTURE FOR KIDS by Vicky Chan uses a “how to” structure. If you’ve ever cooked or baked using a recipe, you’ve encountered how to structure before. How to books give step-by-step instructions for doing or making something. They may include a list of ingredients or materials. Then the steps are in the exact order they need to be completed. If you choose this structure, think about what the reader must do first, second, third, and so on. Your writing will probably even include those words as cues.

Expository Books (Description structure)

In expository books, authors describe or explain something to the reader. Since the ideas are not necessarily presented chronologically or step-by-step, writers have to organize their ideas in a logical way that readers will understand. In HOW WAS THAT BUILT? Author Roma Agarwal describes how various structures are built from the bottom up – literally. The first chapter, “Building Flat,” focuses on foundations, the bottom of the building. Chapter Two is “How to Build Tall,” focusing on the framework for building skyscrapers like beams and columns and the machines used to do so. “How to Build Long” focuses on bridge-building, “How to Build a Dome” describes dome construction, etc.

In description text structure, a writer’s chapter headings and subheadings can reveal their plan.  For example, in Nancy Castaldo’s BUILDING’S THAT BREATHE, the first subheading in chapter one is “city life” where she explains the problems of city living, including pollution and traffic creating carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming. This comes immediately after the opening hook, which describes a treescraper designed by Stefano Boeri.

Next up is the subheading “planning for change.” There she explains how scientists, planners, and architects met in 2018 to discuss the urban greening idea and how architect Stefano Boeri focused on trees. In “why trees?” she covers why trees are an ideal source for greening designs. “Is there a downside?” explores issues like allergies and other drawbacks from greening cities. The final subsection “The Green Builders” explains more types of green building. Then Castaldo moves to the history of green building in the next chapter. 

Throughout the book, Castaldo’s ideas unfold logically, giving the reader just the information they need at just the right time, as if anticipating reader’s questions. She also builds upon what readers already know and what have learned previously in the book.

Look at other expository books in this month’s book list, like WILD BUILDINGS AND BRIDGES by Etta Kaner, illus. Carl Wiens to see how other writers have used description structure their writing.

Your turn

What’s the best structure for your writing? There’s no right or wrong answer. Remember, writers don’t always see their structure from the start. Sometimes it just takes rolling up your sleeves and jumping in, drawing and erasing your plan, just like an architect. You can use this month’s books as your mentor texts.

For an overview of text structures, see this handout from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

About the blogger—–

Kirsten W. Larson used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. Kirsten is the author of the picture books: WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek, 2020), A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion, 2021), THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, February 2023), and THIS IS HOW YOU KNOW, illustrated by Cornelia Li (Little, Brown 2024). She also is the author of the middle grade, graphic nonfiction, THE LIGHT OF RESISTANCE, illustrated by Barbara McClintock, (Roaring Brook, 2023), along with 25 nonfiction books for the school and library market. Kirsten lives near Los Angeles with her husband, lhasa-poo, and two curious kids. Learn more at

STEM Tuesday– Architecture– In the Classroom

From an early age, children are fascinated with building. Whether it’s with wooden blocks, LEGO bricks, or Magna-Tiles, kids love to create.  For many, this enjoyment doesn’t wane as they get older. My thirteen year old son’s favorite pastime is building his own LEGO MOCs (My Own Creation). Many incredible books have been written to inspire budding architects and demonstrate how their passion can be turned into an art form in the real world using STEM. These books can be used as a springboard for classroom discussions and activities.


Wild Buildings and BridgesWild Buildings and Bridges: Architecture Inspired By Nature by Etta Kaner and Carl Wiens

This books shows young readers how many architects look to nature to find organic ways to solve building challenges. It features a greenhouse inspired by termite towers, a conference center inspired by an armadillo, and apartments made out of recycled shipping containers. The book also highlights the people behind some of the designs. A handful of activities are included to get young architects building.

Classroom Activity: Have students choose one of the architects mentioned in the book, including Koen Olthuis, Frank Gehry, or Frank Lloyd Wright. Research this person to find out what other buildings they’ve designed. What inspired them? What challenges did they face? What makes their buildings noteworthy?


Maya LinMaya Lin: Thinking with Her Hands by Susan Goldman Rubin

This book introduces students to Maya Lin, an incredible artist, architect, and environmentalist. Told in chronological order, each chapter highlights one of her designs and is named after the medium she used to create it. Young readers may be surprised to learn that she designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial when she was still in college! Photographs and design sketches interspersed throughout the text will give students a more intimate look at this accomplished woman.

Classroom Activity: Give students an even closer look at Maya Lin by sharing an interview with her. In In Conversation with Maya Lin, Maya reflects on her life and ongoing work and how her childhood shaped her commitment to the environment. In Maya Lin: WONDER Artist Talk, Maya talks about the importance of the natural world in her art, architecture, and memorials.


Adventures in Architecture for KidsAdventures in Architecture for Kids: 30 Design Projects for STEAM Discovery and Learning by Vicky Chan

This book will soon become one of the most popular books in your classroom. Students will enjoy trying out some of the many awesome building challenges, like making a house for a cat out of corrugated cardboard, twine rope, and glue or creating a structure that can withstand extreme weather conditions using water, flour, salt, and sand. Each activity uses common household items and incorporates math, history, engineering, and/or natural sciences. And students will learn that architecture is about more than just making buildings; it’s about solving some of our world’s most important problems, like climate change, pollution, and social inequality.

Classroom Activity: Take students on a Virtual Tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and studio Taliesin West. Here, they will see the form and function of building materials he used and learn more about organic architecture.


Hopefully, these books and activities will inspire your students to design, build, and create.



Jenna GrodzikiJenna Grodzicki is the author of more than twenty fiction and nonfiction children’s books. Her books include Wild Style: Amazing Animal Adornments (Millbrook Press 2020) and I See Sea Food: Sea Creatures That Look Like Food (Millbrook Press 2019), the winner of the 2020 Connecticut Book Award in the Young Readers Nonfiction Category. Jenna lives near the beach with her husband and two children. In addition to being a writer, she is also a library media specialist at a K-4 school. To learn more, visit her website at




STEM Tuesday– Architecture– Book List

Architecture is the art and science of designing buildings, from skyscrapers to houses, cathedrals to factories, theme parks to museums. Architecture brings together art, math, physics, and engineering, plus an understanding of how people interact with designed spaces.

How Was That Built?: The Stories Behind Awesome Structures by Roma Agrawal

Author Roma Agrawal is a structural engineer. She has designed bridges and skyscrapers, and spent six years working on The Shard (the tallest building in Western Europe). In her book, she shows how engineers and architects approached a variety of challenges, from building a dome to building underground, on ice, even in space.

Buildings that Breathe, Greening the World’s Cities by Nancy Castaldo

Can a skyscraper be a forest? That’s the question architect Stefano Boeri asked when he integrated trees into his design for the Bosco Verticale in Milan, Italy. Readers will learn about the inspiration for his vertical tree towers, engineering the design, creating a team that includes arborists, and thinking about skyscrapers as forest habitat. It ends with how to make a difference in your city.

Discovering Architecture by Eduard Altarriba & Berta Bardí I Milà

An engaging examination of the architecture of buildings around the world, from the pyramids to architecture of the future (green growth, sustainable buildings, & perhaps even life on Mars), famous architects, and the role of architecture in our daily lives. Awesome cut-aways, illustrations, and floor plans combine with history, math, and practical examples to make architecture fun.

Wild Buildings and Bridges: Architecture Inspired by Nature by Etta Kaner, illustrated by Carl Wiens

Many architects look to nature to help solve building challenges and inspire design. Readers will see how cacti and desert canyons inspired cooling features, and water lilies inspired a floating house. Sidebars highlight architects and there are a few activities included.

The Story of Buildings: From the Pyramids to the Sydney Opera House and Beyond by Patrick Dillon, illustrated by Stephen Biesty

This book looks at the diversity of buildings as well as materials used. Visit the Parthenon, examples of Roman architecture, and Notre Dame. Tour the Forbidden City, and compare Renaissance buildings with modern styles. The tour ends with a close look at a straw bale house incorporating environmental design for heating and cooling.

Atlas of Amazing Architecture: The Most Incredible Buildings You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of by Peter Allen

Buildings have amazing stories, and this book introduces 30 lesser known buildings around the world. They range from neolithic monuments to airports, temples to pyramids, palaces to hideaways. A great way to tour architectural diversity.

Ancient Wonders – Then & Now by Lonely Planet Kids, Stuart Hill, illustrated by Lindsey Spinks

Gatefolds and flaps offer a fun interactive look at architectural marvels throughout the world, including Easter Island, Angkor Wat, and Petra as well as sites in Rome, England, Greece, and Egypt. Explaining the construction, usage, and current condition.

Great Building Designs: 1900 to Today by Ian Graham

Stunning photos of 12 famous buildings around the world and the architects who built them. Side bars define design elements, statistics, history, and the buildings’ interactions with the environment. It includes a challenge to design a building, timeline, glossary, and further ideas for research.


Maya Lin: Thinking with Her Hands by Susan Goldman Rubin

Maya Lin won the design competition for the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial when she was a college student. She uses stone and water to design her monuments as well as other buildings: a museum, library, chapel, house. Lin’s designs take into account how people interact with the space.

Immigrant Architect: Rafael Guastavino and the American Dream by Berta de Miguel, Kent Diebolt, and Virginia Lorente, illustrated by Virginia Lorente. (Picture Book)

Historical fiction told in a wonderful conversational voice from the perspective of architect Rafael Gustavino Moreno’s son, Rafael Gustavino Expósito, about their experiences immigrating from Spain, patenting of the “Gustavino tile vaulting system,” hard work, and ultimate creation of over a thousand buildings in the U.S., including Grand Central Station in N.Y, the Boston Public Library, the ceiling at Ellis Island, and a “ghost” subway station (that can still be seen).


Architecture for Kids: Skill-Building Activities for Future Architects by Mark Moreno and Siena Moreno

The first part of the book is an introduction to architecture, presenting information about foundations, structure, site plans, elevations – even climate and landscape considerations. There’s an activity on each page, and each chapter ends with a challenge. Part two is all about designing your dreams, with prompts for everything from a tiny house to clothing. Lots of fun and all you need is a pencil.

Adventures in Architecture for Kids: 30 Design Projects for STEAM Discovery and Learning by Vicky Chan

Awesome hands-on activities using cardboard, vegetables, and other common household items guide kids through general construction, historic architecture (using or combatting nature), landscape architecture (tree houses and zoos), sustainable architecture, and city planning. It provides materials lists and notes for adults (outlining physical and mental challenges) for each project, a glossary, and templates.

This month’s STEM Tuesday book list was prepared by:

Sue Heavenrich examines fungi

Sue Heavenrich, who writes about science for children and their families on topics ranging from space to backyard ecology. Bees, flies, squirrel behavior—things she observes in her neighborhood and around her home—inspire her writing. Her most recent book is Funky Fungi (with Alisha Gabriel). Visit her at

Maria Marshall, a children’s author, blogger, and poet who is passionate about making nature and reading fun for children. When not writing, critiquing, or reading, she watches birds, travels the world, bakes, and hikes. Visit her at