Building structures that stay sound during earthquakes are a real life engineering challenge. Sixth-graders studying earthquakes should work on experiments for earthquake resistant structures to learn about the science behind earthquake-proof buildings. According to CNN, buildings that are flexible and sway during earthquakes are stronger than conventional buildings. Student experiments should include learning about basic building, creating models, working with different architectural challenges and building earthquake resistant bridges.


Students should initially learn about engineering earthquake-proof buildings by building without any earthquake warnings. This experiment will teach sixth-graders about basic building with materials such as cards, wooden sticks and tape. Ask the children to build structures in the bottom of a cardboard box. After the structures are complete, shake the boxes lightly to simulate a small earthquake. The students should analyze how to reinforce the structures and work on the buildings again. The boxes are then shaken harder to simulate a much stronger earthquake. Students should compare the buildings to find what the best designs were.


To learn more about how structures withstand earthquakes, students should build models. A simple experiment to create an earthquake is making gelatin in a 8 1/2-inch square pan overnight. Students will build structures with toothpicks and marshmallows in cubes and triangles stacked into towers. The bases of the towers can have large or small "footprints." Only 30 marshmallows and toothpicks should be distributed to each sixth-grader to represent the limited resources many engineers have. Once the structures are complete, the structures are placed on the pan of gelatin. Shake the pans back and forth for the simulation or secondary waves of an earthquake. After the tests, students should analyze the best structures.

Architectural Challenges

Once students have a basic understanding on earthquake resistant building, students should research a variety of architecture for a variety of landscape challenges. Students should be given three experiments with building plastic straw structures.

One experiment is to build a plastic straw structure that will withstand a high impact earthquake, or a heavy book dropped next to it.

The second experiment is to build a hillside home.

The third experiment is create a structure on an unstable surface.

The hillside home will have a box of staples dropped on it to demonstrate falling debris. The third experiment will be placed on marbles with more marbles rolling onto it to represent a rolling type earthquake. These experiments will demonstrate the real challenges engineers have when building for earthquakes.


Earthquake resistant bridges are just as important as buildings. Sixth graders can experiment which types of bridges best withstand earthquakes. Students will build different types of model bridges such as suspension and cable. Once the models are built, an earthquake simulator should be created from two pieces of wood with PVC pipes built in between. Place the model bridges onto the earthquake simulator and add weights on top of the bridge. Analyze which type of bridge will hold more weight during an earthquake.