Cross the Gap: Building Bridges with Toothpicks

6 Min Read

The Toothpick Bridges activity is a popular and educational STEM challenge that involves designing and building bridges using toothpicks and glue. This activity is a great way to introduce engineering concepts, structural stability, and problem-solving skills to participants. Below is a step-by-step guide for conducting the “Toothpick Bridges” activity:

Materials Needed:

  1. Toothpicks (flat or round, depending on availability)
  2. White glue or wood glue
  3. Ruler or measuring tape
  4. Small weights (for example, coins or small objects)
  5. Optional: Cardboard or a flat surface for building the bridges


  1. Introduction: Start by introducing the purpose of the activity and its connection to engineering and bridge construction. Explain that the goal is to build a strong and stable bridge using only toothpicks and glue.
  2. Basic Bridge Designs: Discuss different types of bridge designs, such as beam bridges, truss bridges, and arch bridges. Show examples of these designs and explain how they distribute forces to support weight.
  3. Divide into Teams: Divide the participants into small groups (2-4 participants per group). Each group will work together to design and build their toothpick bridge.
  4. Design and Planning: Give each group some time to plan and sketch their bridge design. Encourage them to consider the type of bridge they want to build and how they can make it strong and stable.
  5. Building Time: Provide the groups with toothpicks and glue, and let them start building their bridges based on their designs. Remind them to work carefully and precisely.
  6. Testing Phase: After the building time is up, it’s time to test the bridges. Each group should place their bridge on a flat surface and gradually add small weights one at a time to see how much weight the bridge can support.
  7. Observations and Reflection: As each group tests their bridge, encourage them to observe how the structure behaves and discuss its strengths and weaknesses. What could be improved in their design? How does the bridge respond to the added weight?
  8. Competition (Optional): If you have multiple groups participating, you can turn it into a friendly competition to see whose bridge can support the most weight before collapsing.
  9. Debriefing: Gather all the participants together for a debriefing session. Discuss the different designs and approaches used by each group. Ask the following questions:
    • What challenges did you face during the activity?
    • What strategies did you use to make your bridge stable?
    • How did your group work together as a team?
    • What could you do differently to improve your bridge’s performance?

10. Cleanup: Ensure that all the toothpicks and other materials are properly cleaned up and disposed of after the activity.

This activity can be adjusted based on the age and skill level of the participants. For younger children, you may provide more guidance and simplify the objectives, while older participants can be given more complex challenges to tackle. The Toothpick Bridges activity is a hands-on and enjoyable way to learn about structural engineering and the principles behind building strong and stable structures.

STEM Concept Explanation and Application
Science Concepts
Forces and Loads Understanding how forces, such as tension and compression, act on the toothpick bridges under different loads.
Materials Science Observing the properties of toothpicks and how they interact with glue to create a stable bridge structure.
Technology Concepts
Construction Using toothpicks and glue as construction materials to build the toothpick bridges.
Structural Integrity Considering how to distribute forces and ensure the structural integrity of the bridge design.
Engineering Concepts
Design and Planning Planning and sketching the bridge design to meet specific criteria, such as span length and load-bearing capacity.
Problem-solving Applying engineering principles to address challenges and optimize the stability of the toothpick bridges.
Mathematics Concepts
Measurement Measuring the dimensions of the toothpicks and the bridge’s span length for accuracy and precision.
Geometry Understanding the angles and shapes used in the design and construction of the toothpick bridges.
Data Analysis Recording and analyzing data from the bridge testing phase, such as the weight each bridge can support.

Toothpick Bridges activity. Each concept can be further explored and expanded based on the age, understanding, and grade level of the participants. Additionally, this activity can be a starting point for exploring more complex STEM topics related to civil engineering, materials science, and advanced mathematical modeling as participants deepen their understanding of bridge design and construction. The activity encourages hands-on learning and critical thinking while building and testing toothpick bridges.

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