Make the strongest paper shapes. Which type of paper structure will hold the most books? Experiment with folding paper in different ways to test its strength, and learn what shapes make the strongest structures. A fun and hands-on paper STEM challenge for all ages. Explore simple STEM activities any day of the week. 


What Is The Strongest Folded Shape?

Did you discover that the cylinder can support the greatest number of books? The reason is that its walls don’t have any edges. The weight of the books can be distributed evenly. In other words, all parts of the cylinder share the weight of the books.

The square and triangle paper structures (prisms) deform more easily. They shift the weight of the books to their edges and corners, which deforms their walls and leads to a quick collapse. They are unable to carry weight only at their edges.

The cylinder is one of the most widely used shapes in column construction. Early architects in several ancient civilizations, including the ancient Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, used columns in their buildings.

Strong Paper Structures Challenge

While you are at it, check out these other fun paper STEM challenges… Paper Bridges, Paper Chain, Walking Through Paper.


  • Tape
  • Books
  • Paper (regular copy paper will do; try card stock for a thicker paper and compare the results!)


STEP 1: Fold a piece of regular copy paper into three paper structures: a triangle shape (prism-like), a square or box shape (prism-like), and a cylinder. Note the shapes are not completely closed on all sides like traditional 3D shapes. See the photos below.

Tip: You can make this challenge as open ended as you like. You could give kids time at the beginning to come up with their own designs and test them out. Then make some of the shapes below if needed.


STEP 2: Use tape to connect the ends of the folds together to secure the shape.


STEP 3: Place one book at a time, carefully, onto each folded shape to see which shape provides the strongest base.


STEP 4: How many books will each paper structure hold? Record your results!


Get your FREE printable strong paper STEM challenge!

Grab this free challenge and get started today. Want a fantastic way to easily grab all our printables, packs, and extras? Grab the ALL ACCESS PASS.

More Fun STEM Challenges To Try

Straw Boat Challenge – Design a boat made from nothing but straws and tape, and see how many items it can hold before it sinks.

Strong Spaghetti – Get out the pasta and test our your spaghetti bridge designs. Which one will hold the most weight?

Paper Bridges – Similar to our strong spaghettti challenge. Design a paper bridge with folded paper. Which one will hold the most coins?

Paper Chain STEM Challenge – One of the simplest STEM challenges ever!

Egg Drop Challenge – Create your own designs to protect your egg from breaking when it is dropped from a height. 

Spaghetti Marshmallow Tower – Build the tallest spaghetti tower that can hold the weight of a jumbo marshmallow.

Marshmallow Toothpick Tower – Build the tallest tower using only marshmallows and toothpicks.

Penny Boat Challenge – Design a simple tin foil boat, and see how many pennies it can hold before it sinks.

Gumdrop Bridge – Build a bridge from gumdrops and toothpicks and see how much weight it can hold.

Cup Tower Challenge – Make the tallest tower you can with 100 paper cups.

Paper Clip Challenge – Grab a bunch of paper clips and make a chain. Are paper clips strong enough to hold weight?

What Is STEM For Kids?

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math, and activities involving these fields have a huge impact on kids. Even the simplest STEM activities like this strong paper structure challenge provide numerous opportunities for kids to learn and explore STEM.

It might look like your kids are just playing, but they are doing oh so much more. Look closely, you will see the design process in motion. You will see experimenting and critical thinking in action, and you will notice problem-solving at its finest. When kids play, they learn about the world around them!

Take this simple strong paper STEM challenge below. All you need is tape and paper to design and engineer the best shape to make the paper strong enough to support weight. Hands-on problem solving in action!

Helpful STEM Resources To Get You Started

Here are a few resources that will help you introduce STEM more effectively to your kiddos or students and feel confident yourself when presenting materials. You’ll find helpful free printables throughout.

STEM Questions For Reflection

These questions for reflection are perfect to use with kids of all ages to talk about how the challenge went and what they might do differently next time around.

Use these questions for reflection with your kids after they have completed the STEM challenge to encourage discussion of results and critical thinking.

Older kiddos can use these questions as a writing prompt for a STEM notebook. For younger kiddos, use the questions as a fun conversation!

  1. What were some of the challenges you discovered along the way?
  2. What worked well and what did not work well?
  3. What would you do differently next time?
  4. Why do you think cutting the paper in this way helps?

Printable STEM Pack for Kids

80+ Doable Engineering Projects in one convenient pack!

  • Full instructions with sample images
  • Activity-specific instruction sheets
  • Data Collection Sheets
  • Questions for Reflection
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