About This Lesson Plan



Hands-On Lessons

Building Paper Airplanes


Have you ever wondered why planes can fly? This lesson will turn your students into aviation experts as they design and test out their own planes.

Students will be able to:

  • Participate in a research project.
  • Answer questions relating to their airplane's flight.
  • Discuss and analyze data relating to paper airplane flights.

Paper for making airplanes, Elmer's foam board, Project Popperz ® Permanent Markers, colorful paper, Elmer's Disappearing Purple Glue Stick, scissors, and other decorative materials for the planes.
Airplanes KWL Chart PDF
Paper Airplane Data PDF

Content Introduction
The way that planes fly through the air is called "aerodynamics." As planes fly they push air ("drag" or resistance). When you "launch" a paper airplane, your throw is the "thrust" or movement that starts it flying, after that your plane will "glide" with air under its wings until it lands. All those factors together determine how far a plane can fly.

Essential Questions
Use these essential questions to help shape student discussion:

  • How do airplanes fly?
  • What characteristics help an airplane fly?

Common Core Standards
Participate in shared research about a topic.
Organize, represent, and interpret data; ask and answer questions about the total number of data points, how many are in each category, and how many more or less are in one category than in another.

Introduction (3-5 minutes)
Tell students that today they are going to study aerodynamics and will be designing and testing paper airplanes. Display the Airplanes KWL Chart PDF (Know/Want-to-Know/Learned chart) to record what you already know about planes and how they fly (they fly through the air, you can make a plane out of paper or metal, etc.) and write what you want to know (guide the conversation to include the guiding question).

Paper Airplane Laboratory (5 minutes)
As students work on their paper airplanes, instruct them to focus on the size of the plane (large, medium, small), weight (light or heavy), and wing structure (long and thin, short and wide, big like a butterfly, etc.).

Students work for three to four minutes at their desks to create a paper plane. Students who finish early can write a hypothesis about how far their plane will fly and support their hypothesis with information about their plane.

Launch Lesson (10 minutes)
One at a time, students come to the front of the room, describe their plane, and "fly" it.

  • Kindergarten students: each time a student "flies" his or her plane, record it on a class chart using an approximation of distance (e.g., did it go farther than the edge of the rug?).
  • 1st-grade students: measure the distance that each plane flies in "feet" (use a ruler or a cutout picture of a foot that is 12 inches long and show data using "feet" for each plane). 
  • 2nd-grade students: create a chart with the various aspects of each plane (is it large, small, medium, are the wings long, short, etc.) and chart the distance that each plane flies so you can analyze which aspects of a plane make it go farthest.
Craft Component: Graphing Plane Flight (5-10 minutes)
  • Ask students track their planes' flights, use Elmer's foam board to create a chart of how far each plane flew.
  • Have students choose a marker color to represent their plane and mark the distance their plane flew on the foam board. When you're finished, decorate and label your graph.

Wrap Up (5 minutes)
As a class, discuss your data. What do you notice? Which plane flew the farthest? The shortest distance? Did any planes fly the same distance?

Complete your KWL chart: What did you learn about how planes fly? Did anything we knew about planes change based on our activity?

Whiteboard Component Activities

  • Once you have your class data, display the Paper Airplane Data PDF on your whiteboard. Have students write in their information for each category: Distance Flown, Plane Size, and Plane Wing Size. Then, analyze the data to show various ways of presenting your information. For example, draw a bar graph to show how far each plane flew or create a bar graph comparing the planes' wing sizes and the distance they flew. Or calculate and tally your class's data using a computer program, such as Microsoft Excel.
  • Brainstorm adjectives that are ways of flying. Using your whiteboard, sort objects and animals according to words that describe how they move through the air. For example, squirrels and hang gliders "glide." 
  • Display the Airplanes KWL Chart PDF again and work with students to fill in what they've learned.

Extension Activities

  • Have students record a hypothesis about how far their plane will fly, or about the data you collect during the plane activity. Then have students write a reflection about their hypothesis. Were they right? Were they close? If they were going to make another paper airplane, what would they do differently?
  • Have students make a person or animal out of [TK ELMERS PRODUCT HERE] and glue it onto their plane. How does it change the plane's "trajectory" or flight? Why?

Ten paper airplane designs (http://www.bestpaperairplanes.com/)

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