Cardboard Structure: Pyramids

By Carlos Noguera, October 5, 2009

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Furniture Design

Subject Area

  • Arts

Lesson Time

360 minutes for classroom activities


For this lesson each student will create a cardboard structure, made up of interlocking pyramids, capable of holding the student’s own weight.

The objective is to create a structure made up of pyramids that can interlock. The main issue in this lesson is to present students with the following problems:

A) Can you create a solid cardboard structure using interlocking pyramids?

B) Can you create a structure that is able to hold your own weight?

This lesson is relevant to Advanced Placement Sculpture because it encourages students to think about structures, and how things are built.  It also makes the student focus on craft and the handling of the material.  One of the goals in AP Sculpture is for students to understand how to built/create durable and strong structures.

This lesson will engage students in the design process because they will have to consider many factors (weight, material strength, craft quality, etc.) in order to create a successful structure.  Students will apply the “six design thinking” steps:

1) Define the Problem -- Create a solid structure made up of interlocking pyramids that will support your weight.

2) Research the Problem -- Examine the subject, break it down, classify it.

3) Develop Possible Solutions -- Think, fantasize, produce ideas.  Generate options toward a creative solution.  Relate, rearrange, reconstruct.

4) Choose the Best Solution

5) Implement -- Put your ideas into action.  Realize it.  Transform imagination and fantasy into tangible forms.

6) Test and Evaluate -- Judge the result.  Think about new options and possibilities that have emerged. Revisit your process.

7) Communicate

8) Redesign

National Standards

Visual Arts

Standard 2. Level IV. Knows how to use structures (e.g., sensory qualities, organizational principles, expressive features) and functions of art

1. Understands how the characteristics and structures of art are used to accomplish commercial, personal, communal, or other artistic intention

3. Knows how organizational principles and functions can be used to solve specific visual arts problems

Common Core State Standards:

Anchors for Reading

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing

Text Types and Purposes:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Students will be able to:
  • create solid structures out of cardboard
  • understand different types of pyramids and other solid shapes
  • understand and address many factors to solve a given problem
  • work with delicate materials to create a strong structure



Part I: model making (paper pyramids)

Students will need:

  • computer printouts of the various pyramid nets
  • glue sticks
  • toothpicks
  • scissors
  • X-acto knives (hobby knives)

Part II: (cardboard)

Students will need:

  • overhead projector
  • cardboard boxes (in good shape) or cardboard sheets
  • extra paper (sketchbook) for sketching
  • utility knives
  • rubber cement
  • wood glue
  • broomstick or yardstick


  • prism: a polyhedron with two polygonal faces lying in parallel planes and with the other faces parallelograms
  • pyramid: a polyhedron having for its base a polygon and for faces triangles with a common vertex


Day 1: Introduction

Go over handout #1 in order to define and explain what a polygon is and how it becomes a solid shape.

1. Define the Problem -- 30 minutes

a) Review the design brief: The objective is to create a cardboard structure, made up of interlocking pyramids, capable of holding the student’s own weight.

b) Students should summarize the problem in their sketchbooks.

2. Research the Problem -- 30 minutes

a) Students should use the Internet to find ideas and information.

b) Students should record at least three URLs, sketches, and notes from worthwhile Web sites along with their thoughts.  (They may start with the sites listed in the “Resources” section above.)

Day 2: Model-making

3. Develop Possible Solutions  -- 30 minutes

a) Students should cut and fold the paper pyramids (nets provided).

b) Students should test different arrangements and keep notes on what seems to work the best.

c) (Note: Make copies of the nets on transparency/acetate paper.)  Using an overhead projector, project the nets to the various pyramids, to be traced on the cardboard sheets in order to get the desired scale.  Students can use the measurement of the base from the paper model to figure out the desired scale.  They can measure the projection on the wall to assure that they are tracing the right size.   This will take some time, depending on how many projectors the teacher may have available, and the number of students in the class.

d) After the students are done tracing the nets onto the cardboard, they may start cutting out the excess material around the sides.

(Note: Things to keep in mind while working with cardboard:

IMPORTANT: Keep in mind that you want to use the cardboard so that the ridges of the cardboard are vertical to the ground. This way, the cardboard can resist the most weight.

Work surface: If you care about your tables/floor, don’t cut directly on them!  Use extra cardboard beneath the cardboard you are cutting.

Students should lightly score the fold lines before folding them. This will make for a clean fold without creasing the cardboard.

The best order of construction is to glue the faces without tabs last.  Students may use tape to hold the sides together while the glue dries.

Students should spread a thin layer of glue on the tabs.  A wooden toothpick can be very useful for spreading the glue.

When closing the pyramid it can be helpful to use a ruler or a stick to apply pressure from inside the pyramid.)

4. Choose the Best Solution

a) Each student should choose his or her top design.

b) Each student should get instructor approval of his or her design.

Day 3: Final Model

5. Create a final cardboard model

a) Each student will create his or her final working model. While doing this, students should practice safe and conservative building techniques.

6. Test and Evaluate

a) Each student should ask a team member or another student to sit on their structure.  Students should give eachother feedback on how the various chairs feel.

b) Each student will use their cardboard chair in a normal classroom environment for thirty minutes.

c) Each student should keep mental track of comfort, functionality, stability, and other ergonomic characteristics.

Day 4: Assess

7. Communicate

a) In their sketchbooks, students should record/answer the following questions:

  • Compare your chair to several others in the class.
  • Constructively criticize your design or those in the class.
  • Identify strong points of your design.

b) Each student/group will present their project(s) and explain their thought processes for creating their structure(s).

c) The moment of truth: have them try it out!

d) Group critique:

  • What worked for you?
  • What can you improve next time?
  • What was the most challenging aspect of this project?
  • How did you overcome these difficulties?

8. Redesign

a) In their sketchbooks, each student should draw a sketch of an improved design.  What would they do next time?  The students should support their changes or lack thereof with examples from their class experience.


Does the structure show evidence of the “6 design steps”?

Did the student create a solid structure made up of interlocking pyramids that could support his or her own weight?

What evidence did the student show about generating options toward a creative solution?

Did the student’s project meet the following criteria:

  • Is the structure made up of at least two interlocking pyramids?
  • Is the structure able to sustain the student’s weight?

Enrichment Extension Activities

Looking through  made me think of making/designing instructions for other cardboard structures that could be left at strategic locations, that perhaps homeless people might assemble for a temporary shelter.

Teacher Reflection

I haven’t done this lesson yet, but I am doing something similar with my students, where they have to create a functional structure or a sculptural form, made up of at least five (prismatic) solid shapes. I gave them several URL’s to sites that have nets for various shapes.  I also provided cardboard from pizza boxes that I have been collecting from the cafeteria since school started. Extra-credit will be given to those structures that can take a student’s weight. (I thought this might inspire them to make a functional piece, but still  keep the option of a sculptural form.)

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