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Tunnels: Underground MarvelsTunnels-Underground-Marvels

  • Subject: Technology
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Two or three class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will:
1. understand some of the technology involved in constructing tunnels under cities, through mountains, and under water; and
2. examine some notable tunnels that have been constructed over time.


The class will need the following:
Computers with Internet access (optional but very helpful)
Each group will need the following:
Approximately 50 blank index cards
Pens and pencils
Scrap paper
Each student will need the following:
Pens and pencils
One copy of Take-Home Activity Sheet: Design a Tunnel of the Future (see printable version)
One copy of Tunnels Fact Sheet (see printable version)


1. Begin the activity by asking students what they know about tunnels. For example, ask them if they know where tunnels are usually built and how they are constructed. Then ask students if they can name any tunnels.
2. Divide the class into four teams of six or seven students. Tell students that their assignment is to create a class quiz game that focuses on tunnels. Give each group one of the following categories:
  • History of tunnels
  • Tools and techniques used to build tunnels
  • Notable tunnels
  • New tunnel technology
3. Each group should develop 10 questions in its category. Each game will consist of five questions in each category, worth 100, 200, 300, 400, and 500 points. Have students develop a range of answers, based on easy to difficult questions, and assign a number value to each. (Of their 10 questions, 2 should be worth 100 points, 2 worth 200 points, and so on.) Answers can be prepared in response to a multiple-choice format, true/false questions, or simple questions requiring a short answer.
4. For your information, the Fact Sheet includes some interesting points about each category that you can use to help students start their research. To supplement this information, students can use encyclopedias, books, and other reference materials, as well as the suggested Web sites.
5. After students have completed their answers, play two rounds of the quiz game. One student can be the moderator, another can be the scorekeeper, and three students can be contestants. As the contestants pick categories, the moderator should call on a student from the appropriate team to give the answer. Give each group of three students a chance to respond to five answers. Then select new contestants and a new moderator and scorekeeper. If possible, play the game until everyone has had a chance to be a contestant. Students with the three highest scores win the game.
6. Assign the Take-Home Sheet: The Future of Tunnel Construction for homework. Have students bring their sheets to class and share their ideas.

General Web Sites about Tunnels

This Web site provides general information about tunnels. Students should probably begin their research here.

All About Tunnels

These Web sites provide information about specific tunnels. These Web sites would be useful for students' research on notable tunnels.

Some Notable Tunnels
Central Artery/Tunnel Project (Big Dig)—Boston
Channel Tunnel (Chunnel)—England and France
Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel—Virginia
Seikan Tunnel—Japan
Hoosac Tunnel—Massachusetts
Holland Tunnel—New York-New Jersey

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Have high school students research a current tunnel project underway somewhere in the world. Then they should write a paper about where, how, and why it is being built. They should include information about unusual or new materials or design. Students can learn about current tunnel projects by country

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Discussion Questions

1. Where are tunnels usually constructed? Think of different types of tunnels, such as those under water, under land, or through a mountain. Why are such tunnels constructed? What benefits do they serve?
2. Why do major tunnel projects take so many years to complete?
3. What are some of the challenges involved in trying to dig through a mountain using a tunnel boring machine (TBM)?
4. Research a tunnel located in your area. Try to find out the estimated number of cars and trucks that pass through it each day.
5. What health hazards do tunnel construction workers face?
6. What precautions can tunnel builders take to prevent injury or death as they work underground?

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Students should be able to work cooperatively in teams; conduct thorough research on their topic; compose clear, well-written answers and questions; and play competitively but fairly with their classmates. Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson:
  • Three points: Students worked effectively in their groups; researched their topic thoroughly; wrote clear, thoughtful, and interesting Jeopardy answers; and competed fairly with their classmates.
  • Two points: Students worked somewhat effectively in their groups, researched their topic somewhat thoroughly, wrote some clear and interesting answers to Jeopardy questions, and competed somewhat fairly with their classmates.
  • One point: Students had difficulty working in their groups, researched their topic but had many gaps in their knowledge, wrote a few interesting questions, and had trouble competing fairly with their classmates.

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Subways Around the World
Most students probably aren't aware that subways are really tunnels with train tracks built in them. Have students pick one subway system to research. Examples include the system in Washington, D.C., considered one of the best in the world; the subway system in New York City; and the "Tube" in London, England. Have students research when it was built, record any new or unusual technologies or materials used in its construction, and find a map showing the system's different routes. If time permits, have students share their findings. Stimulate discussion with questions such as the following: How is each subway alike? How is each one different? Which one do you think is the best in the world? Why?

The World's Longest Tunnels
Have student create a mural that shows scale illustrations of the world's longest tunnels. The information needed to complete the murals can be found at

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Suggested Readings

Structures: The Way Things Are Built
Nigel Hawkes. Collier Books, 1993.
More than fifty of the world's greatest man-made structures are discussed in this tribute to their designers and builders. Informative text, photographs, working diagrams, and cutaway drawings show how the largest, longest, highest, most massive constructions were built. It includes sections on feats of civil engineering, architectural wonders, and amazing underground construction.

Construction: Building the Impossible
Nathan Aaseng. The Oliver Press, 2000.
This book profiles eight innovative builders and their famous construction projects. Numerous illustrations, photographs and sidebars help explain the problems these early engineers were faced with an how they overcame them.

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The Chunnel (a lesson plan)
This integrated unit will illustrate the physical, economic, and cultural effects of the Chunnel on Western Europe. Each lesson (Historical Perspective, Channel Geography, 200-Year-Old Dream, Chunnel Construction, and Chunnel Economics) is guided by downloadable worksheets, newspaper articles, and many diagrams.

Great Engineering Successes: The Channel Tunnel
The Chunnel is considered to be among the top ten engineering accomplishments of the 20th Century. It is described at this web site with easy text and animated diagrams.

World's Longest Tunnel Page
The best reference list on the web providing historical information on every kind of tunnel that has ever been created under the surface of the earth since antiquity.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    compressed air drill
Definition: A drill that uses pressurized air to cut through rock
Context: The compressed air drill is three times more effective than gunpowder for making tunnels.

speaker    cut-and-cover technique
Definition: An open trench cut in the earth into which a premade tunnel is dropped; once the tunnel is in place, the workers cover it with soil.
Context: Because engineers aren't able to move buildings and roads out of the way very easily, the cut-and-cover technique isn't always the best solution for digging under cities.

speaker    excavate
Definition: Dig up or remove from the ground.
Context: In 1867, dynamite was used to excavate the Hoosac Tunnel in Massachusetts.

speaker    nitroglycerin
Definition: An explosive compound made from a mixture of glycerol and concentrated nitric and sulfuric acids.
Context: Nitroglycerin is an important chemical found in dynamite.

speaker    subway
Definition: An electric underground railway.
Context: In the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, the subway system, known as the Metro, is the most efficient way to travel from the city to suburbs in Maryland and Virginia.

speaker    tunnel shield
Definition: A structure used at the head of a tunnel to prevent it from collapsing.
Context: Tunnel shields are frequently used when engineers construct subways, water supply systems, and sewers.

speaker    Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM)
Definition: An enormous rock-chewing machine that can create tunnels through the ground.
Context: As the 200-ton Tunnel Boring Machine works, its round cutter head grinds into the tunnel face and splits large chunks of rock.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: Technology
Understands the nature and uses of different forms of technology.
Knows that construction design is influenced by factors such as building laws and codes, style, convenience, cost, climate, and function.

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: Technology
Understands the nature and uses of different forms of technology.
Knows that manufacturing processes use hand tools, human-operated machines, and automated machines to separate, form, combine, and condition natural and synthetic materials; these changes may either be physical or chemical.

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: Technology
Understands the nature of technological design.
Knows that the design process relies on different strategies: creative brainstorming to establish many design solutions, evaluating the feasibility of various solutions to choose a design, and troubleshooting the selected design.

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Jordan D. Brown, a freelance author in New York City, enjoys writing books, magazines, and Web sites for kids and teachers.

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