Team building isn’t just for the corporate workplace — it can also be used in the classroom to encourage collaboration, problem-solving and decision-making. And it doesn’t have to involve awkward activities such as a ‘trust fall.’ Engaging, relevant team-building activities for students can energize your classroom and take learning to a new level.

By accomplishing group tasks, students learn to listen, trust and support each other, while developing life skills such as communication and collaboration—skills that can’t be learned from a textbook, interactive or not. Learning to get along with peers, for example, isn’t something you can pick up through memorization.

Sara Keinath, Youth Leadership Educator at Michigan State University explains the value of team-building activities for students: “Guiding group members through intentional games can help them improve their communication skills with each other, which will transfer to their work or club projects later. Many team-building activities incorporate such skills as active listening, questioning assumptions, giving clear directions, problem-solving or learning how to ask effective questions.”

Facilitate your team-building games and activities for students over the course of a semester (rather than a one-off event). Here are 21 examples of fun team-building activities for students you can use in the classroom that won’t make everyone cringe.

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Table of Contents

Fun leadership activities for college students

Adding some fun and levity to your classroom helps your students build informal connections with peers.

1) Pub quiz

Group size: Groups of 3–7 students 

Course type: Online (synchronous), in-person

You don’t need to hang out in an actual pub for this team-building activity; the idea is to mimic a trivia pub night, fostering teamwork in a fun environment by encouraging participants to work towards a common goal. For online courses, instructors can make use of Zoom rooms to organize teams or groups. The ‘host’ asks a multiple-choice trivia question, and teams are given 60 seconds to discuss and agree upon an answer. You can use generic quiz questions (from the board game Trivial Pursuit, for example), or you could relate questions back to the course material. The team with the most points wins (consider giving bonus marks on a recent quiz as a prize).

2) Idea building blocks

Group size: Groups of 5–10 students

Course type: In-person

Divide the class into teams and present them with a problem related to your course material. One team member writes down a solution and passes the sheets of paper along to the next team member, who builds upon that idea and then passes it along to the rest of the team. The paper is passed around until each team member has added to the original solution. When their time is up, a spokesperson can present their ultimate solution to the rest of the group or to the class. This activity helps develop students’ problem-solving and collaboration skills, with learners working towards a common goal.

3) Spaghetti tower

Group size: Groups of 3–10 students

Course type: In-person

Divide students into teams and provide them with ‘building’ materials, such as dry spaghetti, marshmallows, string and tape. Set a time limit for designing and building a spaghetti tower (one that’s structurally sound, of course). When their time is up, the tallest freestanding tower wins. Prizes can range from bonus points on a recent assignment to a short extension for their next paper or report. There are several variations on this, such as building a pyramid with paper cups, but the idea is to promote communication and collaboration in a leadership exercise—and provide a little incentive as well.

4) Scavenger Hunt

Group size: Groups of 5–10 students

Course type: In-person

Scavenger hunts aren’t just for kids. While this icebreaker game requires some preparation, it encourages students to be collaborative: planning a strategy, dividing up tasks and communicating progress. Split your students into teams and give them a time limit to find as many items as possible on a list you’ve provided. You can make this more challenging by offering clues or riddles rather than the names of items.

5) Newspaper fashion show

Group size: Groups of 6–8 students

Course type: In-person

While this team-building game is ideal for art and design students, it can be used in any classroom to get learners out of their comfort zones and allow for team bonding. Divide students into teams of six to eight, and supply them with newspaper, tape and scissors. Participants are given a time limit to design and create an item of clothing out of a newspaper, which requires group brainstorming and delegation of tasks. Bonus points if their article somehow relates to your course material. One person in the group could ‘model’ the finished product when their time is up.

Group activities for online and in-person classes

These activities are also great as icebreakers or retreat exercises.

6) Shark Tank

Group size: Groups of 5–10 students

Course type: Online (synchronous), in-person

Split students into small groups and have them develop a product, logo, brand name and marketing strategy before presenting their idea to a panel of ‘sharks’ (those who will judge their ideas). Once each group has presented, the ‘sharks’ all vote on their favorite project with the winner getting a special certificate or an extension on their latest assignment. This activity gives students the opportunity to exercise creative thinking and work on presentation and public speaking skills.  

7) Pipeline

Group size: Groups of 3–5 students 

Course type: In-person

Teams are given the task of carrying a marble or ball from a start line to a finish line, without it ever touching the floor—or students’ hands. Here’s how it works: Each team member is given a PVC pipe (though they could also use paper and tape, or paper towel rolls). Allow five minutes of planning time, so teams can strategize how they will transport the object as a group; if it falls to the floor, they must start over. This helps to promote problem-solving, communication and great teamwork.

8) Classify this

Group size: Groups of 3–5 students

Course type: In-person

Arrange random objects on your desk—anything from paper clips to an umbrella to jewelry (aim for about 25 objects in total). Teams of students must then categorize these objects on a piece of paper or sticky note, even when no obvious connections exist. You can decide on the number of categories they must fit the object into or let each team decide. When their time is up, a participant from each group presents their list and explains the logic behind it. This team-building exercise helps students think outside the box.

9) Goodie bag skits

Group size: Groups of 5–10 students

Course type: In-person

This might take some students out of their comfort zone but it encourages teamwork and collaboration. Divide the class into teams of up to ten people and provide each team with a ‘goodie bag’ filled with random items. Set a time limit (five-to-ten minutes) for each group to create a short skit tied to course content, based on the items in the bag. Teams then present their skits, and a group vote can be held to declare the winner. Winners can get bonus points for their grade on this activity or their in-class participation grade at the end of the school year.

10) Deserted island

Group size: Groups of 3–5 students

Course type: Online (synchronous or asynchronous), in-person

In this icebreaker, small groups of students imagine they’re stranded on a deserted island. This activity can help students build on their leadership skills. After dividing students into teams, provide them with a list of items for survival. Students must prioritize and rank those items—first on their own, and then as a group. Not only does this test their problem-solving skills, but it also helps them differentiate between the needs of the individual and the needs of the collective. 

11) Think-pair-repair

Group size: 20 students (minimum)

Course type: Online (synchronous), in-person

Change up your usual think-pair-share activities by posing an open-ended question to your class and asking students to come up with their best answer. Next, pair peers up and encourage them to agree on a response. Combine two pairs and have a group of four accomplish the same task. Continue until half the class goes head-to-head with the other half, defending their stance. This way, students benefit from hearing their peers’ perspectives, as well as getting to practice their debate skills. If your students are online, breakout rooms on Zoom or Microsoft Teams allow you to replicate this experience with virtual team-building. 

12) Why am I here?

Group size: 15–20 students (maximum)

Course type: Online (synchronous), in-person

Have students draw a picture that represents why they enrolled in your course. Encourage them to think beyond the fact that they may need your course credit to graduate. They could think about wanting to learn more about your field or simply that their friends were enrolled in your class, too. After five minutes, have students share their picture with the larger group if they’re comfortable—a fun way to help students feel like part of one interconnected community, particularly in the back-to-school season.

Community-building activities for college students

13) Improv games

Group size: 20 students (minimum)

Course type: Online (synchronous), in-person

Improvisational (improv) games encourage students to think quickly and step outside their comfort zone to connect with their peers. Here are a few examples: Pair up students and ask them to figure out the most unexpected things they share in common (this can also be done online in breakout rooms). Or challenge your students to count to 20 as a group with one person saying each number—but no one is assigned a number, and if two people talk at the same time, everyone starts again at one. 

There are literally dozens of in-school activities for college students that can be used in the classroom—you can even ask students to create their own. By incorporating group activities into your teaching, you’re providing students with an opportunity to learn essential life skills they’ll carry with them long after they graduate.

14) Socratic seminar

Group size: 20 students (minimum)

Course type: In-person

Ask students to prepare for a discussion by reviewing a course reading or group of texts and coming up with a few higher-order discussion questions about the text. In class, pose an introductory, open-ended question. From there, students continue the conversation, prompting one another to support their claims with evidence from previous course concepts or texts. There doesn’t need to be a particular order to how students speak, but they are encouraged to respectfully share the floor with their peers.

15) Concentric circles

Group size: 20 students (maximum)

Course type: In-person

Students form two circles: an inner circle and an outer circle. Each student on the inside is paired with a student on the outside; they face each other. Pose a question to the whole group and have pairs discuss their responses with each other. After three-to-five minutes, have students on the outside circle move one space to the right so they are standing in front of the next student. Pose a new question, and the process is repeated, exposing students to the different perspectives of their entire team.

16) Absurd questions

Group size: Groups of 5 students

Course type: Online (synchronous or asynchronous), blended, in-person

Pose a fantastical, outrageous or fictitious statement to the entire group. Statements can be tailored to your discipline such as “what if everyone lived to 150” for a developmental class or “what if there was no such thing as evolution” for a biology class. Students are asked to develop as many answers to the question as they can by considering all political, social, economical and psychological angles. They can then share the answers out loud or, if you’re teaching remotely, on a discussion board, which is a great option for introverts as well.

17) This or that

Group size: Groups of 5–10 students

Course type: Online (synchronous or asynchronous), in-person

This activity allows students to see where their peers stand on a variety of different topics and issues. Instructors should distribute a list of provocative statements before class, allowing students to read ahead. Then, they can ask students to indicate whether they agree, disagree or are neutral on the topic in advance, using an online discussion thread or Google Doc. In class, use another discussion thread or live chat to have students of differing opinions share their views. After a few minutes, encourage one or two members in each group to defend their position amongst a new group of students. Ask students to repeat this process for several rounds to help familiarize themselves with a variety of standpoints.

18) Snowball discussions    

Group size: Groups of 2–4 students

Course type: Online (synchronous), in-person

Assign students a case study or reading to discuss with a partner, then have them share their thoughts with the larger group. Use breakout rooms in Zoom and randomly assign students in pairs with a discussion question. After a few minutes, combine rooms to form groups of four. After another five minutes, combine groups of four to become a larger group of eight—and so on until the whole class is back together again.

19) Make it personal

Group size: Groups of 2–8 students

Course type: Online (synchronous), in-person

After you’ve covered a topic or concept in your lecture, divide students into small discussion groups (or breakout rooms online). Ask the groups questions like “How did this impact your prior knowledge of the topic?” or “What was your initial reaction to this source/article/fact?” to encourage students to reflect on their personal connections to the course concepts they are learning, which is particularly beneficial to educators around the first day of school.

20) Synthesis

Group size: Groups of 5–10 students

Course type: Online (synchronous), in-person 

This discussion activity can help students connect course concepts by leaning on prior knowledge and other learning experiences. Consider asking questions such as “How can this idea be combined with ________ to create a more complete or comprehensive understanding of _________?” Then, students can discuss these questions in their small teams (or online breakout room) in order to learn more about one another’s experiences inside and outside the classroom. 

21) Gallery walk

Group size: Groups of 5–10 students

Course type: Online (synchronous), in-person

Start by setting up stations or posters in a few locations around the classroom (like on the walls or on tables). For online classes, students can complete this activity in breakout rooms. Divide students into small groups and have them rotate between each station together, performing some kind of task like sorting their observations into categories. Ask them to write down a list of questions about the source material they are viewing or respond to a discussion prompt related to the course material to generate conversation.

Help your college students connect and collaborate. Download 45+ Team-Building Activities for College Courses and build community in any classroom.

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