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.”1
Facilitate your team building games and activities for students over the course of a semester (rather than a one-off event). Here are ten examples of fun team building activities for students you can use in the classroom that won’t make everyone cringe.
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1. Spaghetti tower
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. There are several variations on this, such as building a pyramid with paper cups, but the idea is to promote communication and collaboration.
2. Scavenger hunt
Scavenger hunts aren’t just for kids. While this team building game requires some preparation, it encourages students to work together: planning a strategy, divvying up tasks and communicating progress. Divide the students into teams and set a time limit in which they have to find as many items as possible on a list you’ve provided. You can make this more challenging by providing clues or riddles rather than the names of items.
3. Pub quiz
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. 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), but you could also relate questions back to course material. The team with the most points wins.
4. Idea building blocks
Divide the class into teams and present them with a problem (again, this can be related to course material). One team member writes down a solution and passes the piece of paper along to the next team member, who builds upon that idea. The paper is passed around until each team member has added onto the original solution. When their time is up, a spokesperson can present their final solution to the rest of the group or to the class.
5. Newspaper fashion show
While this team building game is ideal for art and design students, it can be used in any classroom; in fact, these kinds of games are good examples of how team building activities for students get them out of their comfort zone to exercise their creativity. 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 newspaper, which requires group brainstorming and delegation of tasks. One person in the group could ‘model’ the finished product when their time is up.
6. “Shark Tank”
Similar to the popular TV show where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a panel of investors, this team building activity can be used in the classroom to encourage creative thinking and develop time management, presentation and public speaking skills. Each team of students comes up with a product, brand name, logo and marketing strategy, which is then presented to the ‘panel.’ Encourage feedback from the ‘sharks,’ or other students, in the class.
Teams are given the task of rolling a marble or ball from a start line to a finish line, without it ever touching the floor — or students’ hands. 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 marble as a group; if it falls to the floor, they must start over. This helps to promote problem-solving, communication and cooperation.
8. Classify this
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, even when no obvious connections exist. You can decide on the number of categories 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 of the box.
9. Goodie bag skits
This might take some students out of their comfort zone, but encourages teamwork and collaboration. Divide the class into teams of up to eight people and provide each team with a ‘goodie bag’ filled with random items. Set a time limit (five to 10 minutes) for each group to create a short skit, based on the items in the bag. Teams then present their skits, and a group vote can be held to declare the winner.
10. Deserted island
In this team building game, students imagine they’re stranded on a deserted island. After dividing students into teams, provide them with a list of items for survival. Participants must prioritize and rank those items — first on their own, and then as a group. Not only does this test their problem-solving skills, it helps them differentiate between the needs of the individual and the needs of the collective.
There are literally dozens of team building activities for 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.
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