When most people think of team building activities, they often picture elaborate events, such as ropes courses, or games that involve supplies, such as the popular Saving Sam activity. Even though I have never saved Sam, I have led hundreds of Girl Scouts through a ropes course and understand the value of asking a group of people to work together to complete a challenging task followed by a debriefing.
I regularly use team building activities to build camaraderie within classes and to prepare students for group work. This year, I’ve had to search for a few new games to add to my list since most of the minutes in my classroom are consumed by a formal reading curriculum. Paper Towers is one of my new games. It is so simple that my students and I were able to complete the entire game and debrief in less than fifteen minutes.
A Team of My Seventh Graders Building a Paper Tower
The instructions and debrief questions are below. Please set aside enough time to conduct the debrief–without it students will just see the activity as a competitive game and may leave frustrated. Just use one of your regular classroom discussion techniques to ask the students questions. Remember that you want draw insights from your students, so try to avoid adding your own observations and analysis.
For this activity, the questions can be answered in a whole group, in the small tower-building teams, or in small groups with representatives from different teams. You could also ask your students to write a brief reflection afterward if you use classroom journals, discussion boards, or blogs.
If you play Paper Towers, please share on social media and use the hashtag #tvszed and/or tag @npriester or @tvszed, and I will share it with others. We also have a Facebook group at bit.ly/tvszFB which is perfect for sharing photos and tips. Feel free to leave questions or suggestions below. Have fun!
- Students work as a team to complete a task
- Students are divided into teams and given one sheet of paper to build a tower that is taller than the other team’s towers
- Build the tallest tower within the given time frame
- Floor or desk space that allows teams to work together while hiding their tower from other teams during construction
- One sheet of large paper per team. I used 11×17 tabloid size copy paper. Construction paper would also work well. Use whatever you have on hand.
- Yardstick, measuring tape, or a simple piece of yarn to use to measure towers
- 12 minutes with debriefing (Remember, “Stop while they’re having fun!”)
- Divide students into teams.
- Designate a construction space for each team.
- Distribute one sheet of paper to each team.
- Prepare a timer for six minutes.
- Tell students:
- Your challenge is to work together to build the tallest tower possible using only this sheet of paper. You have six minutes to complete this challenge.
- Start the timer.
- Observe and possibly photograph the groups. Try your best to avoid giving any feedback.
- When the timer goes off, tell everyone to freeze and stand by from their tower.
- Measure the towers.
- Announce the winners.
- What happened?
- What went well? What didn’t?
- Did everyone in your group participate? Why? Why not?
- How did you pick your plan?
- Did your plan work?
- If people had different opinions, how did your group handle them?
- So what?
- How did you feel when the challenge ended?
- How did the time limit affect your group?
- What would you do differently if you could redo this challenge?
- What did you learn about working with others during this challenge?
- What now?
- Can you connect this experience to something else you have experienced in school, with your family, on a sports team, etc? Explain.
- What will you do differently the next time you work with a group?