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The Wright 3
By Blue Balliett
A Curriculum Guide
The Wright 3 Curriculum Guide
Table of Contents
Letter of Welcome 3
Art/Architecture Activities 4
Art/Architecture Discussion Questions 4
Language Arts Activities 5
Language Arts Discussion Questions 5
Social Studies Activities 6
Social Studies Discussion Questions 7
Math Activities 8
Math Discussion Questions 8
1. Architecture vocabulary list 9
2. Letter from Sunny Robie 11
3. Victorian/Prairie style comparison 12
4. Robie House floorplans 14
5. Historic photos 17
Applicable National Curriculum Standards 19
The Wright 3 Curriculum Guide 2
The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett has sparked a lot of interest in Chicago’s Frederick C. Robie House,
designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and completed in 1910. The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust,
along with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, operates the Robie House as an architectural
house museum open to the public. Many young readers of the novel are bringing their parents to tour
this landmark structure.
Unfortunately, not everyone who reads The Wright 3 is able to visit the Robie House personally. This
website allows you to view some of the spaces featured in The Wright 3 by clicking on Tours, then
scrolling down to The Wright 3 Tour.
We hope that you and your students have enjoyed the book and are now interested in pursuing its
ideas and concepts through some follow-up activities.
This curriculum guide suggests activities and discussion topics in the various disciplines relevant to
architecture: art, social studies, language arts, and math. Balliett’s themes of restoration,
preservation, the value of art, and the significance of home and family are the touchstones of these
ideas. The appendix contains all the materials you will need to complete the activities or to develop
Our standard Teacher Packet (www.wrightplus.org/programs/teacher.html) with information about
Frank Lloyd Wright, the Robie House, and Wright’s Home and Studio in Oak Park, Illinois, is also
available for download at this Website. It contains an extensive glossary of architectural terms.
In addition, an illustrated biography of Frank Lloyd Wright is also available on our homepage as well
as an illustrated history of the Robie House.
The website www.architectstudio3d.org gives students the opportunity to design a house with Frank
Lloyd Wright as their guide. It also provides a biography and general architectural information.
We would love to hear about activities and projects you have pursued as a result of students’ interest
in the Robie House. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us of your students’
accomplishments. We hope to be able to showcase student work at the Robie House itself for our
visitors to enjoy.
Thank you to Robie House intern Sarah Rafson and Pennsylvania fourth-grade teacher Sally Rafson for
developing this guide.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust Education Department
Jan Kieckhefer, Director
The Wright 3 Curriculum Guide 3
• Wright’s design is in the Prairie style that reflects the Midwestern landscape. Sketch a design
for a house that reflects the landscape in your area and explain how it does. What would you
name this style? Why?
• Think about the many features of the Robie House that were designed for family living.
Design a new home for your family. Use the design studio at www.architectstudio3d.org to
• Create an art glass window design using the pentomino shapes and 1” grid paper. Using
colored cellophane, turn your classroom windows into art glass.
• “The Robie House seemed more like a collection of shallow, open boxes stacked casually
one on top of the other, some overlapping and some not” (The Wright 3, p. 80). Use the
pentominos in a stacked and overlapping way to design another structure. What is its
function? Use small boxes to construct a model.
• What makes the Robie House a good example of the Prairie style?
• Some people have compared the Robie House to a tree house. The Germans nicknamed it
dampfer (steamship) architecture. What does the Robie House look like to you? Why?
• Ms. Hussey thinks it would be “murder” to split the Robie House into sections and display
them in museums. Do you agree? Why or why not?
• Are there any houses that stand out in your neighborhood? What makes them unique?
Age? Shape? Materials?
• In The Wright 3 the Robie House seemed to be alive. What gives a house its soul? How can
a house seem to be alive or dead?
• Is there art in architecture?
Is the Robie House a work of art? Why or why not?
The Wright 3 Curriculum Guide 4
• If The Wright 3 were to be made into a movie or TV show, write a possible theme song that
includes several words from your architecture vocabulary list. (Appendix 1)
• Perform a Wright 3 puppet show. Construct a set based on the Robie House and write the
script, an abbreviated version of the plot.
• Read the letter written by Sunny Robie, the first boy to live in the Robie House (Appendix 2).
Now write a diary as if you were Tommy Segovia, the first child to live in the Robie House
• Write a fictional article (accompanied by an illustration) for a Chicago newspaper reporting
an alternative ending to The Wright 3. What happened to Tommy, Petra, and Calder? What
happened to the Robie House? What happened to the criminals inside the house?
• Combining phrases from the book and your own impressions and figures of speech, create
lines of a poem that capture your personal impressions of the Robie House. For an
additional challenge, arrange your phrases in such a way that an outline of the poem looks
like the shape of the Robie House.
• After doing some research on your own house or a house or building in your neighborhood
(or maybe even your school building), write a short biography of the building. Bring the
building to life as if it were a person, discussing its beginnings, changes over time, and its
reaction to different uses by different people or families. Or let the building “speak” and
write its own autobiography.
• Why did Tommy, Calder and Petra care about the Robie House? The three characters
engaged with the Robie House in different ways and liked it for different reasons. What
were those reasons? Think about the most special building in your life and describe why it is
so special to you.
• Compare and contrast the design of the Robie House to Victorian houses of the time and to
suburban houses of today. (Appendix 3 provides a guide for discussion.)
• What is historically true about the story and what has the author altered? Is the author
biased toward either keeping the Robie House standing or splitting it up and letting it live in
museums? What do you think is the best way to preserve a piece of architecture and why?
The Wright 3 Curriculum Guide 5
• Petra said the Robie House seemed “maze-like” on p. 79 in chapter 10. Navigate the twists
and turns of the floor plans according to the chase scene of chapters 29-31. Draw the path
the characters took through the house. Create symbols and a legend to indicate where the
events happened in these chapters. (Floorplans in Appendix 4.)
• Color code the floor plans according to function: use colors to distinguish the formal spaces
to impress guests, family spaces where the Robie family could relax , and servant spaces for
the people and machines that let the Robie family live comfortably. (Appendix 4.)
• Examine the photos taken in 1916 by the Wilber family in the house (Appendix 5). Using
the floor plans, indicate where in the house each photo was taken.
• Create an architectural guide to your neighborhood, street, or block. Make a map of your
neighborhood (see the map in The Wright 3) and classify different types of buildings. Are
they houses or businesses? Separated or attached? Tall or short? Old or new? Are they
similar architectural styles or different? Sketch and describe examples of the different types
of buildings to accompany the map.
• Keep a collection of newspaper articles that have to do with preserving historic buildings.
Scrapbook these articles throughout the year. At the end of the year conclude your book
with a description of the state of historic preservation in your area.
• Find a building in your area that was built before 1950. What is its story? Find out how it
has been used in different ways since it was built and try to find pictures of it when it was
new. Does it look different now than it did then? How has it changed?
• Walk around a neighborhood in your area with older buildings. Make a checklist of ways
that people change or modify buildings. As you walk down the street, keep track of how
many of these changes you can see in the buildings.
• Read the article that Ms. Hussey reads on p. 15-18 in chapter 3 and the information Petra
reads in chapter 12 on p. 104-109. Using this information as your guide, make a visual
timeline of the Robie House’s history.
• Think about how well you know the houses in your neighborhood. Do research in a library
to find if there are any architectural “treasures” in your area, too.
The Wright 3 Curriculum Guide 6
• Research one or more of the modern houses listed below.
o Mies van der Rohe’s Tugendhat House, 1930
o Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, 1934
o Charles Eames’ Eames House, 1945
o Philip Johnson’s Glass House, 1949
o Pierre Koenig’s Stahl House, 1960
What distinguishes these houses from traditional Victorian style homes? Is either style better for
• Even though the Robie House was designed 100 years ago, it was designed for a family. It
had a playroom, a courtyard, ample space for kids to run around, and built-in furniture that
the kids could not break. Think about designing a new home for your family. What would
you include? How has family life changed since the Robies lived in their house in 1910?
• Do you know of any houses that have been threatened like the Robie House? When is it
okay to tear down an old building and when is it important to save it? Why might a business
owner have a different opinion than a historian?
• In chapter 29, the Wright 3 hid behind a terrace wall and overheard people talking about the
house’s destruction. When Ms. Hussey took her class to protest the destruction of the
Robie House, their message attracted media attention. Did this help save the house? If so,
how? Look in your local newspaper. Try to find a time when architecture has caused
discussion in your neighborhood or city.
• In the book, Ms. Hussey encouraged her fourth grade class to get involved in saving the
house. In real life, a fourth grade class in Hyde Park held a bake sale and raised about $500
to go towards the restoration of the Robie House. Kids have more power than you think!
Can you think of ways that you can help save a historical treasure in your neighborhood or
The Wright 3 Curriculum Guide 7
• Design your own art glass window using the Fibonacci ratio. (See Appendix 1 for definition.)
• Design a floorplan using www.architectstudio3d.org. Enlarge the design by transferring it to
one-inch grid paper, maintaining scale and proportion. If you like, build a model of your
design with cardboard walls and glue on the 1” grid.
• Measure your own house or apartment. Find the area of each room. Compare the sizes of
the rooms to the standard sizes given in the architecture information section of
• Using the Robie House floorplan, calculate the actual measurements of the Robie House
rooms. Measure your own classroom and compare it to the size of Robie House.
• Geometry was very important to Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture. How did Blue Balliett,
the author, make the triangle important to the characters and the plot of the book? Where
can you see triangles in the Robie House?
• How would you explain the Fibonacci Ratio to others? Why do you think the author
included it in this book? Where did Frank Lloyd Wright use it in the Robie House?
The Wright 3 Curriculum Guide 8
Architecture Vocabulary List
Suggested vocabulary to use in discussion about architecture and the Robie House. Additional vocabulary may be
found in the Teacher Packet at www.wrightplus.org/programs/teacher.html
1. Art glass- Glass panels made of many small panes of glass separated by lead or zinc dividers
(called cames); either colored or clear glass can be used. The Robie House has 174 art glass
2. Cantilever- A horizontal projection with no visible means of support. A diving board is a
good example of a cantilever. Cantilever technology is used in the roof of the Robie House.
The eves of the west roof extend 17’5” from the nearest support, a feat made possible by the
use of steel beams.
3. Casement windows- A window hinged on one side that opens like a door—the preferred
window of the Prairie style. Nearly all of the art glass windows and doors in the Robie
House open up to let nature inside.
4. Commercial architecture- A type of building meant to house a business.
5. Dampfer architecture- “Steamship” architecture; a nickname given to the Robie House in
Germany. Some believe the house looks like a steamship, and in 1910 the Robie House was
as modern to the world as steamships were then.
6. Decoration- Something added to a structure to make it more beautiful.
7. Domestic architecture- A type of building meant to be a home.
8. Exterior- The outside of a building.
9. Fibonacci numbers and ratio- Fibonacci’s number sequence in which each number is the
sum of the two before it, i.e., 1,2,3,5,8. Geometrical designs can be created using shapes
whose sides grow successively larger according to Fibonacci’s number sequence.
10. Floor plan- A drawing that illustrates in simple terms the size and arrangement of rooms in
11. Formal spaces- The parts of a house meant primarily to entertain and impress guests.
These are often the most lavishly decorated spaces.
12. Geometrical ornamentation- Something added to a structure to make it more beautiful
using shapes made from points, lines, angles and planes in geometry. Examples include
circles, triangles, squares, spheres and cubes.
13. Historic preservation- Preventing further change or destruction to keep a building or
object as it is.
14. Horizontal- Flat and straight across.
15. Informal spaces- The parts of a house meant to be used for practical purposes by the
family or its servants, usually not as richly decorated as the formal spaces.
16. Interior- The inside of a building.
17. Iridescence- Lustrous, rainbow-like colors. The art glass windows of the Robie House are
noted for their iridescence.
18. Organic design- Frank Lloyd Wright’s philosophy of organic design stated that a building
should be a whole whose parts are all related.
The Wright 3 Curriculum Guide 9
19. Prairie style- The term describing the work originated by Frank Lloyd Wright and other
architects around the beginning of the 20th century, which was designed to be a truly
American form, free of European influences, and inspired by the environment.
- open floor plan
- low, horizontal design that reflects the Midwestern prairie
- geometric forms
- windows grouped in a series—or band—known as ribbon windows
- limited exterior materials (wood, stone, brick, stucco), usually only one or two
- integrated furniture, often built-in
- wood banding or trim on walls
- colors taken from the palette of Nature
20. Restoration- Taking a building back to exactly the way it looked at a certain time. The
Robie House is currently being restored to its 1910 condition.
21. Ribbon windows- A series of windows separated only by frames, which forms a horizontal
band; Wright and other Prairie school architects often used such groupings.
22. Roman-style bricks- The elongated rectangular style of bricks used in the Robie House,
longer and narrower than standard bricks.
23. Urns- Decorative stone planters such as those that sit on the south walls surrounding the
24. Victorian architecture- A style of domestic architecture popular in the mid-19th century.
Main aspects of the style include a strong vertical direction; a steep gable roof; windows
located randomly, usually one or two per room; and a center axis with box-like rooms. Often
the houses were colorful with large amounts of applied decoration.
The Wright 3 Curriculum Guide 10
Letter from Sunny Robie
Dear Young Visitors:
Hello! I understand that you are planning to visit the Robie House, which was my home when I was
three years old. My father, Frederick Robie, hired the architect Frank Lloyd Wright to design our
house. Mr. Wright wasn’t too famous then, but he is very famous now, and our house is one of his
greatest accomplishments. While it was being built, I used to play in the big piles of sand that the
builders used to make mortar and concrete. I also had fun walking on the boards the workmen used
as bridges for their wheelbarrows and carts. They seemed very high and dangerous to me, even
though they were only a foot off the ground.
The Robie House is special because in it Frank Lloyd Wright tried out many ideas that became
known as the Prairie style. For example, there is a lot of open, flowing space in the house, so our
family spent a lot of time together. Notice how few of the rooms can be closed off with doors.
My father asked Mr. Wright to create a special place for my sister and me to play. We had our own
playroom on the ground floor with a door that opened onto a play area outside. We could ride our
tricycles right out the playroom door and into the courtyard! My father also asked for a high wall to
be built around our courtyard so we could play safely. My mother could keep an eye on us from the
balcony above the courtyard without having to come downstairs. In our playroom, notice how the
fireplace is child-sized.
We loved the beautiful art glass windows in our house. Mr. Wright loved nature, and he wanted us
to be able to see the sky and the trees. When the house was built, there were no buildings across the
street. We could see all the way to the Midway Plaisance two blocks away! In the winter, we
watched people ice skate there.
I hope you enjoy your visit to this house that Frank Lloyd Wright built for my family. You can
experience for yourself the beauty, light, and space that surrounded us in Mr. Wright’s design.
Fred “Sunny” Robie, Jr.
Written by Jan Kieckhefer, based on information from a 1996 interview with
Lorraine Robie O’Connor and from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House
by Donald Hoffman.
The Wright 3 Curriculum Guide 11
A Contrast in Style
Prairie and Victorian Architecture
Wright’s Prairie Style
At the turn of the last century, many of today’s everyday features were strange curiousities. The country was
becoming urbanized, industrialized, motorized, and electrified. Frank Lloyd Wright, designing in his studio
in Oak Park, Illinois, was making revolutionary changes in American architecture.
He rebelled against the elaborate exuberance of the Victorian style, with its historic ties to Europe. He set
about to create a new, truly American style. He designed buildings that reflected their Midwestern landscape
and called them Prairie style houses. They were homes that used humble materials in a natural way —
homes with strong horizontal lines; bands of art glass windows; wide, protective eaves; and welcoming,
By opening up narrow doorways, space literally flowed from room to room without interruption. Wright’s
open floor plan broke the “boxes” of the Victorian style. His interiors featured innovative built-in furniture
and indirect lighting, and he designed carpets, lamps and other decorative elements that enhanced his
Horizontal emphasis Vertical emphasis
Integration with site No relationship to site
Banded windows Random windows
Low-pitched, often hipped roofs Tall, steep-pitched roofs
Low, broad chimney Tall narrow chimney
Obscure entrance for privacy Direct, formal entrance
Simple materials used naturally, honestly Fanciful, ornate materials and decorations
Open plan—spacious interior “Box” rooms form the interior spaces
Basement and attics
The Wright 3 Curriculum Guide 12
Prairie Style House
Victorian Style House
The Wright 3 Curriculum Guide 13
Robie House floorplans
See the following two pages.
The Wright 3 Curriculum Guide 14
Courtesy of Richard Twiss/The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust
Jeannette Wilber at her desk, Robie House, 1916
Courtesy Scott Elliot/The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust
Jeannette Wilbur plays with toys, Robie House, 1916
The Wright 3 Curriculum Guide 17
The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust
Isadora, Jeannette, and Marshall Wilber, Robie House, 1916
The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust
Jeannette Wilber, Robie House, 1916
The Wright 3 Curriculum Guide 18
The Wright 3 Curriculum Guide
National Educational Standards met by suggested activities and discussion questions
Elementary School English Standards
National Council of Teachers of English
1. Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of
themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to
respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment.
Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.
They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their
knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their
understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context,
4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style,
vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by
posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and
non-print texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose
12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for
learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
National Council for Geographic Education
1. How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire,
process, and report information.
3. How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth’s surface.
6. How culture and experience influence people’s perception of places and regions.
Social Studies Standards
National Council for the Social Studies Standards
2. Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of the ways human
beings view themselves in and over time.
3. Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of people, places,
8. Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of relationships
among science, technology, and society.
The Wright 3 Curriculum Guide 19
9. Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of global
connections and interdependence.
10. Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of the ideals,
principles, and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic.
Visual Arts Standards
Arts Edge Standards
2. Using knowledge of structures and functions.
3. Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas
4. Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures
5. Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others
6. Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines
Historical Thinking Standards
National Council for History in the Schools
1. Chronological thinking
3. Historical Analysis and Interpretation
4. Historical Research Capabilities
5. Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision-Making
The Wright 3 Curriculum Guide 20