Team Building – 3 Strategies to Promote Student Collaboration

I always liked to make it a point to incorporate several simple team building activities within the first few weeks of school.  The science classroom is an ideal environment to promote group interaction.  These activities helped to promote effective communication for the problem solving my students did throughout the year.

Team building activities taught my students to work productively and successfully with one another which was crucial while completing labs, projects, and other group activities in class.  There are tons of great activities out there, but here are 3 of the tried-and-true ones I always used for my classroom.

Helium Sticks

I loved this activity because it only required 1 “helium stick” for each group of students.  I liked to use a meter stick in my classroom, but you can use any type of rod as well.  I had my classroom arranged into groups of 4 students, so I had my students complete this activity with their table partners first.  The students split to form 2 rows that faced each other (2 students on each side in this case).  I had them hold out their index fingers so I could then balance the meter stick on top.  Your students might have to raise or lower their fingers in order to make sure the meter stick is horizontal before they begin.

The objective of the activity is for the students to lower the meter stick to the ground without dropping it.  The catch though is that every student must keep both index fingers on the bottom of the meter stick at all times.  Also, they are not allowed to pinch or hold it in any way by curling their fingers around it or using any other part of their hand.  If they break any of these rules, then the group has to start over from the beginning.

This sounds like such simple task but once they start, my students would see that their helium stick would actually go in the wrong direction!  Because they had to keep their index fingers on the meter stick at all times, one or more students tend to overcompensate which actually pushes the stick up.  After a lot of laughter, they realized that they had to communicate with each other more effectively in order to move the stick down.

After all of my groups had completed the activity, I liked to bring out much larger helium sticks.  To make the larger helium sticks, I just duct taped 3-4 meter sticks together at the ends.  I made a few of these for my classroom and had 3-4 groups combine together to repeat the activity.  The larger the group, the harder it is, which made it so fun for me to watch!

Tower of Cups

This is a great team building activity because there’s so many different variations you can do with it.  The basic idea of this challenge is for students to move plastic cups into a specific formation using only a rubber band with string.  The supplies are pretty simple, but you might need to cut and tie some string ahead of time.

Each group will need 6-10 plastic cups and 1 standard rubber band with 4 strings attached to it.  Again, I had groups of 4, but you can change the number of strings based on your group sizes.  The strings need to be evenly spaced out on the rubber band and I usually made them about 12 inches long.  I liked to tie them to the rubber band in order to limit movement, but some teachers like to just have kids loop the string through and hold both ends during the activity.  Personally, I think 1 hand is more challenging.

I started the activity by placing the cups face down at one end of the table.  I told my students that they had to move the cups to the other end of the table and stack them into a pyramid.  However, they were only allowed to use the rubber band with strings to do so.  Each student in the group held 1 attached string.  If I had a smaller group of 3, then someone held 2 strings.  When everyone was ready, I started the activity to see which group could build the pyramid first.

Students had to work together to pull on their strings in order to stretch the rubber band so it would fit around a cup.  Then they would lift up the cup and move it to the other side of the table.  Once they got it in their desired location, they would pull on the strings again in order to stretch the rubber band to lift it off.  They did this over and over until they had correctly stacked the cups to complete the challenge.

After all of my groups had completed their pyramid, I liked to give them different cup formations to stack in order to keep the activity going and make it more fun.  I tried to make different designs that had some cups face up too in order to make it more challenging.  Some teachers like to make a set of task cards with the different cup formations already printed for each table group.  I preferred to keep things simple, so I just used an extra set of cups at my desk to demonstrate the tower I wanted them to make.  It’s was easier to change my formations as I liked and my students loved to help come up with their own tricky tower designs throughout the activity.

Newspaper Towers

This is another fun activity I loved to use in my classroom because it focuses on non-verbal communication.  For this challenge, student groups compete to build the tallest tower possible out of newspaper and tape that can support a golf ball.  The hard part is that they can’t talk or make any noises once the challenge starts.

For this activity, it is important that each group gets the same amount of each supply.  I liked to give each group 5 full sheets of newspaper, 3 feet of masking tape, and 1 golf ball.  However, you can change these amounts to whatever you’d prefer.  The more supplies you give your groups, the taller the towers they can build.  If you don’t have newspaper, you can use magazines or even construction paper.  If you’re limited on the number of golf balls, you can just bring one over to each group when they’re ready to test their tower.   You can also change the golf ball to be a ping pong ball, a tennis ball, or even a baseball.

After I explained the purpose of the activity to my students, I set a timer for 2 minutes to let the groups quickly discuss their strategy.  Not only do they have to build a tower, but they need to develop a way to communicate with one another without talking.  They can use hand signals and gestures, but they are not allowed to make any noises at all.  Once their 2 minutes of planning time is done, I reset the timer for 15 minutes.  Students have to work quickly and silently in order to build their tower by the end of the 15 minutes.  I liked to keep the challenge fast paced, but you can adjust the timer based on how you feel your groups are doing during the activity.  It’s fun to see how each group chooses to communicate and the super creative tower designs they produce.

I know there are tons of amazing team building activities out there but these are 3 that I used consistently.  I’d love to hear about your favorite ones you like to use in your classroom!

Thank for reading!


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Hello everyone! We are Scott and Natalie of The Science Duo. We have 21 years of combined experience in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Science. Natalie has a BS in Geology from Stephen F. Austin University and Scott has a BS in Biology from Southern Nazarene University. You could say that we are pretty big science nerds. We now focus full time on creating interactive and engaging resources for middle school classrooms.

We strive to display our passion of science through highly engaging and differentiated lessons. We feel it is important to get students up and moving and actively participating every day. Most important of all, school should be a safe environment in which all students are respected and appreciated.

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