It may seem an obvious question but it is necessary to begin at the beginning with third graders. Its one of those things we know but try to explain it and the exact words seem hard to find. I might begin by giving the children a piece of paper and asking them to write down and draw what they think a bridge is and how they would describe it. We would review and share the ideas they present. I might even make a list of ideas they give.
We might take their ideas and questions and construct a KWL chart (What I know, What I want to know, and What I want to learn about bridges?), which is a graphic organizer that will help us to organize their learning so that the unit centers on their needs. Hopefully, their questions would match most of the content I have suggested in the outline above.
In truth no one really knows when the first bridge was made. Most of the literature assumes that the idea for a bridge occurred after early man saw a fallen tree crossing a small stream and the idea seemed to click. There are numerous examples of early bridges from China to Africa and even in the ancient cultures of middle and South America.
Often teachers use some piece of literature as a way to segue into a unit, or to help tie it together. There are a couple of bridge related poems and stories which the teacher may want to consider using throughout the unit. As an opening piece I have included a Jack Prelutsky poem:
I'm Building a Bridge of Bananas
(see Appendix A). You might also consider using William Wordsworth's
Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802
. This poem is a reflective piece about the joy that the bridge gives the writer as he looks at the bridge. This poem may be used further into the unit to lead students into writing their own poem to a bridge that they may visit as part of the unit.
There is also the classic children's tale:
Three Billy Goats Gruff
, retold by Janet Stevens (there are other versions) in which the bridge is the main setting for the action. Three clever goats outwit a mean troll that lives under they must cross to go to the mountains. Students might build dioramas of the bridge and or act out the story with stick puppets. In researching literature for the unit, I also came across the story by Natalie Savage Carlson called
The Family Under the Bridge
. In this story a hobo who lives under a bridge crossing the Seine River in Paris finds a mother and her children have moved there because of bad times. At first the hobo, Armand, decides to move, but then he comes to care for the children and helps the family to find a home. This chapter book could help focus children on thinking about the bridge and how it influences the life around it. There are numerous possibilities for writing and art activities that can accompany this particular story.
Teachers may want to use the poem:
by Ralph Waldo Emerson, which commemorates a monument being placed where the original bridge was at the sight of the battle of Concord. Here the colonists first engaged the British in battle, thus beginning the revolutionary war. This poem is well known for one line:
Here embattled farmers stood / And fired the shot heard round the world
. Discussing this bridge and what happened could lead into many areas depending on the teacher's goals and the sophistication of the students.
Finally I offer the well-known rhyme:
. It was thought that the poem refers back over a thousand years when the English and Norwegians were fighting against the Danish Vikings. The bridge was in the middle of the two warring sides. The English couldn't get across or get by in boats to attack so they tied ropes to the wooden piers and rowed downstream as hard as they could. The bridge tumbled down. Some other historians think the rhyme was started in 1281 when ice knocked down five of the bridge's arches.1
I'm sure that there are probably a number of other possible pieces of literature that could compliment this study; I have named only a few.