Shaping a Poem

Lesson Plan


Students will use Concept Model for Denver International Airport Passenger Terminal, Denver, Colorado to inspire and inform their creative writing process when writing poetry connected to the piece.

Intended Age Group

Elementary (grades K-5)

Length of Lesson

One 50 minute lesson

Standards Area

Language Arts


Students will be able to:

  • identify the Concept Model for Denver International Airport Passenger Terminal, Denver, Colorado;
  • revise and edit a poem that captures a quality of the art work;
  • use multiple perspectives when writing descriptively;
  • provide constructive and supportive feedback when peer editing; and
  • feel comfortable taking creative risks with their writing.


  1. Preparation: Read the “Details” information from the About the Art section on Concept Model for Denver International Airport Passenger Terminal, Denver, Colorado.
  2. Warm-up: Show students the picture of the mountains. Have them write a poem about what they see. Tell them it’s just a warm-up exercise so to not hold back or try to make it perfect. After three minutes, have them turn to a partner to share what they’ve written. Have them look at the picture again and tell them they now need to write another piece, but that this time they cannot use anything they see. They have to write about what they imagine they would smell, feel, or taste if they were in the picture.
  3. Show students the model and talk about the details behind its design. For older students, allow them time to read the About the Art section and ask them to write down four key points they think are important about the artwork. Lead a short discussion in which students share the key points, fill in gaps as needed.
  4. Have the students close their eyes and draw an outline of the shape of the terminal design model in the air. Call on students to share what they notice about the shape. Compile a list of words they use to describe the piece on the board.
  5. Now ask them to imagine they are a ladybug crawling around on the terminal design model. Have them turn to a partner and share what different things they notice about the artwork from the ladybug’s perspective. Call on students to share new ideas that emerged from their brainstorming.
  6. Tell the students that they are going to write a poem about the terminal design model, but that they need to have their words in the shape of the model. Encourage them to use the words generated from the list, or others they come up with on their own. They might also choose to write from the perspective of the ladybug to inspire their poems.
  7. Hand out the templates of the terminal design shape. Tell them they should use the first sheet as a rough draft to see how the words fit and sound together. Walk around and help students as needed.
  8. Have students share their rough drafts in groups of 3-4. For the peer editing they need to decide if the person’s poem helps them get a good sense of the design of the model. Ask students to talk about what is most surprising about each piece, as well as one thing the author could do to strengthen what he or she wrote.
  9. Allow students time to write a final draft based on the feedback and then get into their groups of 3-4 for a final reading.
  10. Ask each group to select one composition to share with the entire class. Discuss the differences between the first writing and the second. What new details were called to attention? How can these methods strengthen their writing, whether creative or technical? What was the hardest part of the process? What did they enjoy most?

    Note: For younger students who do not yet have the ability to write down their ideas, the teacher can lead the entire class through the process, writing collective pieces each step of the way. Volunteers could also be used to break the class into smaller groups to go through this process.


  • Pencils or pens for each student
  • One copy of a picture of the mountains for each student (or the ability to project an image)
  • Paper for each student
  • Two photocopies for each student of the terminal design poem template
  • About the Art section on the Concept Model for Denver International Airport Passenger Terminal, Denver, Colorado
  • Color copies of the Concept Model for Denver International Airport Passenger Terminal, Denver, Colorado for students to share, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards

  • Visual Arts
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
    • Writing and Composition
    • Reading for All Purposes

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Concept Model for Denver International Airport Passenger Terminal, Denver, Colorado, 1991–95

Concept Model for Denver International Airport Passenger Terminal, Denver, Colorado, 1991–95


Fentress and Bradburn Architects

Who Made It?

Architect Curtis Fentress grew up and went to school in North Carolina and started his career in New York City at the offices of acclaimed architect I. M. Pei. While working at Pei’s office, Fentress became fascinated with large-scale public projects like city halls, judicial centers, courthouses, university buildings, and medical centers. He began working with a new studio, Kohn Pedersen Fox, and moved to Denver to work on the firm’s design of the Chase Tower, a skyscraper located on 17th street in downtown Denver. Three years later, he decided to start his own firm, C. W. Fentress and Associates, and in 1988, he launched Fentress and Bradburn Architects with partner James H. Bradburn. Their architecture firm is now known as Fentress Architects. It was likely the success of their Colorado Convention Center design—which proved their ability to work on complex civic projects with many stakeholders—that led to the commission to design the new Denver International Airport.

A team of three model makers at Fentress and Bradburn Architects made this concept model of the passenger terminal to show the innovative roof design to city officials before it was built. Most model makers come from highly skilled trade backgrounds like fabricating and woodworking, and typically apprentice with other experienced model makers. Throughout the design process, architects use various methods to test out their ideas and solutions to unique project challenges. For the Denver International Airport, architects constructed models by hand and on the computer and also built models like this one.

What Inspired It?

Denver International Airport opened in 1995, replacing Stapleton International Airport as Denver’s travel hub. It became the fifth busiest airport in the United States and the tenth busiest in the world by 2010. It is a “greenfield” airport, meaning it was a new design built on open space rather than an expansion (or modernization) of an older airport. This model represents Fentress’s first airport commission, one that led to others worldwide.

The Fentress team was originally brought on as the project architects for this airport, which meant they were primarily responsible for the construction drawings and other details. It wasn’t until the project was over budget and behind schedule that they were given an opportunity to come up with their own design proposal.

One of the design principles of the Fentress architecture firm is to “use context to create identity.” Its connection to the local setting is a central feature of this iconic airport. The dramatic peaked roof echoes the angular forms of the nearby Rocky Mountains. Huge glass window walls on either end of the terminal let in natural light and give visitors sweeping views of the surrounding landscape.

In describing the particular challenges and unique qualities of this airport, architect Curtis Fentress explains, “Yes, we created a metaphor for the mountains, and, yes, we related it to place. We had the idea of embracing the light, which was very special at this location. But there was also a lot of problem-solving. . . we flipped the building upside down to make it work.” Flipping the building upside down is quite literally what Fentress ended up doing with the design. To make the building more economically and environmentally efficient, the designers used a lightweight and relatively inexpensive material for the roof structure—which created open, lofty spaces in the interior of the building—and moved the heavy infrastructure to below ground.


Unique Roofline
Unique Roofline

By locating the building’s mechanical systems underground, Fentress and Bradburn Architects opened up space for an airy, tent-like roof that lets in an abundance of natural light from any sun angle.

Great Hall
Great Hall

Notice how the interior of the great hall is free of columns and walls. This sense of openness is further emphasized by the translucent ceiling “floating” high overhead like a layer of clouds in the sky.


The model includes both interior and exterior views and is built to scale (1/16 of actual size). However, it represents only half of the terminal; the mirror behind it doubles the view so that all twenty-eight peaks of the roof can be seen.

Itty Bitty People
Itty Bitty People

Architects include tiny plants, people, and furniture in scale models to better visualize how the space will function in real life.

The Floor
The Floor

This model was made early in the design process and some things changed before the terminal was built. For example, the floor shown here doesn’t look like the one that was actually installed, which is polished granite that reflects sunlight, further brightening the interior and lessening the need for artificial lighting.

Roof Structure
Roof Structure

The strings on the edges of the concept model create rhythm and visual interest, and they also represent an important structural characteristic of the roof. See how the roof fabric is pushed up by the poles and tied down by the strings? This is the essence of the roof’s steel cable support system.


The materials used in a model mimic the way the real materials will act but they don’t have to be the same materials. In the model, a cotton-Lycra blended fabric, similar to t-shirt material, stands in for the industrial Teflon-coated fiberglass fabric that the roof is actually made of.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.