Great Group Games: Team Building for Kids

On-your-feet games that build communication, trust, and academic skills.

By Dana Truby, Ephraim Stempler

Lights, Camera, Writing!
How it Works
Divide your class into teams of no more than five players each. Give each team a note card with a made-up movie title and have them create an outline (including characters, plot, and the lesson learned) and a scene (no more than
three pages). Each group then performs the scene for the class.

- Connect it to class. Titles can be related to what you are studying (e.g., division, civil rights, mammals).
- Get inspired. Or, have kids come up with titles based on popular songs or books.
- End on a cliffhanger. Have students write only the dialogue that leads up to a climax (and let the other groups think of an ending).
- Give it a score. Create a rubric that includes elements of scene writing or performance and have a panel of judges rate the scenes.
- Film it. If you can get three cameras, film the scenes from three different perspectives and have students edit them into a short film.

What They Learn
Elements of a story (characterization, dialogue, theme, plot, moral, exposition,
rising action, climax, resolution), time management, acting/performing, critiquing (assessments), screenwriting, visualizing

North Pole, South Pole
How it Works
Students are given complex questions and answer by choosing only one side. (For example, ask, "Is Fern's father in Charlotte's Web a good or bad person?" All who say good go to one side of the room; all who say bad go to the other.) Whichever team comes up with the most creative and thoughtful answer to the question wins.

- Question everything. Once students are familiar with the game, have them think of questions based on what you are studying (e.g., "Will you use math in your career?" "Would you rather be a T-rex or a triceratops?")
- Put it on a spectrum. Create the option of a spectrum instead of two polar opposites. Invite students in each group to find their own individual point on the spectrum-and also what point they would collectively choose on the spectrum if they had to compromise.
- Get persuasive. Use this game as a precursor to a lesson on persuasive writing. Have the students take notes on all the different answers to complicated questions and discuss the importance of including more than one of these sides in a persuasive argument.

What They Learn
Decision making, compromise, metaphor, positive identity, spectral vs. polar thinking, persuasive writing

Poetic Challenge
How it Works
Students are divided into small groups (between three and four people per group). Each group is given one or more topics and, in 10 to 20 minutes, must come up with one or more poems to present on the topic.

- Brainstorm ideas. Invite students to brainstorm topics
based on a specific unit. Write the topics on note cards and assign them to groups randomly.
- Play with structure. In conjunction with lessons on different types of poetry (i.e., limerick, haiku, sonnet), challenge each group to write a different
type of poem each day. Discuss which forms are the easiest and which are the most challenging to write.
- Say it in spanish. English language learners can write poems in both their language and English. Or a great way to connect ELLs with non-ELLs: Have them each write a poem in their native language and translate one another's poems using only language dictionaries. See whose translations are funnier!
- Think sensory. Reinforce a lesson on sensory language by seeing what poems or descriptions each group can come up with based on random items you've placed in paper bags. Include things like office supplies, fruit, clothing items and small toys, and prepare a different one for each group.

What They Learn
Poetic structure, time management, style vs. meaning, language translation, poetic license, sensory language, flexibility of thinking, oral presentation, articulation

Shake and Share
How it Works
Students each get a note card with a question such as "How did you spend your summer break?" or "What is your favorite memory?" On your go, players walk around the room, until you say stop. Then count to three and tell the students to shake hands and share. Each person gets 30 seconds to read the question on the card and listen to the other person's comment.

- Play it twice. Start a second round in which students exchange their note cards each time they shake and share.
- Write it down. Invite students to write several questions, ranking them from "Easy" to "Difficult." Easy ones would be one-word-answer questions or questions that aren't very personal. Difficult questions would be ones that require more thought or more trust.
- Test their memory. At the end of the questioning, see who can remember the most answers. Or try the same activity playing musical chairs with two lines of chairs facing each other. When you say stop, students must sit and exchange their questions and answers until there are only two remaining. The one who remembers the most information wins.
- Practice interviewing. Give students questions they might find in a job interview. Or if they are researching historical figures, give them biographical questions.

What They Learn

Creative questioning, answering on their feet (literally!), time management, manners, interviewing skills, memory skills, trust building

Out-of-the-Box Thinking
How it Works
Divide the class into teams of no more than six players each. Give each team a stack of boxes of all sizes. Within the time allotted (20 to 30 minutes) each group should build a creature, structure, or original invention using scissors and tape. Each group should explain their creations and be scored for originality, design, and presentation.

- Create a hybrid. In conjunction with a lesson on mutation, have students research two animals and build a hybrid mutation from the boxes, such as ahalf-penguin, half-gorilla.
- Design a city. In conjunction with a lesson on urban planning, have students imagine a floating spaceship that contains all of the structures of a successful city. Assign a city planning focus for each student (i.e., government, education, recreation, waste management, etc.).
- Talk in gibberish. Have the students explain their creation in gibberish
(and expressive body language) while the rest of the class tries to interpret it.
- Sell the concept. Teach advertising by having the students create a commercial to pitch their creation.
- Measure it out. Have the students practice volume by having them create an apartment complex with a maximum number of square inches.
- Go green. Assign an invention that would improve the environment. Then create a contest to find the best way to recycle all the boxes after the projects are finished!

What They Learn
Spatial organization, aesthetics vs. purpose, geometry, measurement, selling, communication, environmental awareness

Hot Seat
How it Works
A single chair is set up in the front of the room. Student A sits in a chair. Student B approaches Student A and gives her a reason to leave the chair. It could be as silly as calling out, "train!" or imitating the class bell, or miming a charging bull. Student A leaves the chair and Student B takes her spot. The game continues with the next student approaching the sitting child with another zany reason to leave the chair. This game is a lot of fun and is excellent as a warm-up activity for older groups. It can be played in an organized way or "popcorn" style, where students approach the chair in no particular order.

- Time it. Nothing gets the adrenaline pumping like a stopwatch. See how fast each student in the class can make someone leave the hot seat.
- Add it up. Practice math skills by giving each person a note card that
contains a single-digit number or a symbol of addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. One by one, students come to the hot seat to show their number or symbol, creating a super-long math problem that students must solve.
- Review for a test. Divide the class in two and put two chairs in the middle facing each other, and assign a number to each member of each team. Come up with 25 or so questions, and you've got a face-to-face game show.

What They Learn
Creative thinking, concentration, listening, ways to practice math or review material, performing under pressure

Recycled Goods
How it Works
Take a simple object (a chair, a fork, a pencil), set a timer for 10 minutes, and challenge students to think of as many possible uses for it as they can-apart from the intended use.

- Visit the junkyard. Take it a step further by taking your students to a junkyard or visiting the school custodian. Have students each bring a box to fill with items they find. They can then write about the pre-bin history of these items, or create something new.
- Research recycling. It may be popular to "go green," but many students take that for granted. Have students research facts about recycling and post these facts in the form of mobiles or wind chimes made of (what else?) recycled materials.

What They Learn
Imagination as the ultimate form of recycling, ways to review material

Circles, Balls, and Weights
The Premise
Have everyone stand in a circle. Join the group and pretend to be holding a ball. Toss the imaginary ball up in the air, catch it, and give the kids a sense of the ball's weight and dimensions. Explain that it is a magic ball that can become heavy or light, and big or small, depending on who catches it. Pick the person next to you and tell him that when you pass the ball, he has to take it as it is given (i.e., how you were acting with it), but that he can then transform it into whatever kind of ball he wants. Suggest that students express themselves by staggering under a heavy ball, bouncing a basketball against the floor, or throwing a football. As they become more comfortable, you can change the game from passing the ball around the circle to having them toss it to one another from across the room.

- Switch it up. Change the imaginary object to something animated, like a kitten, a daddy longlegs spider, a fish, a boa, or a thousand-pound elephant stuck in the middle of the circle.
- How it works. Tell students to use the imaginary ball as a metaphor for how they're feeling. Is it a big ball but weighs little? Or a little ball that weighs 100 pounds? What might each of these mean metaphorically speaking? Encourage the students to share in more detail after the "balls" go around.

What They Learn
Measurement, acting, improvisation, empathy, emotional transference, visualization, and alternative ways to experience subjects

Finder's Keepers
How it Works
Gather a collection of odds and ends, and sort them into small paper lunch bags. You might include anything you have lying about-a marble, a fortune from a fortune cookie, a bird's feather, a photo of a little girl and her dog, a poker chip, and so forth. You might have a bag for every student, a bag for a group of students, or one bag for the entire class. Tell students, "The bag you've received stores a collection of treasures left behind by someone. Your job is to write (or act out) a description of that character."

- Write an obituary. Give the students an empty paper bag, and lay out all the pieces on a large blanket. Each student must pick up five items and create the owner's obituary based only on these items. How can small objects act as big symbols in a person's life?
- Think about symbols. Take actual obituaries and have the students
choose items from the blanket based on what may have been symbols in this person's life. Have them explain it-either through writing or improvisation.
- Get personal. Each student chooses and explains three objects that they feel symbolize important events or chapters of their life-or three objects that symbolize three peers in the room.
- Touch and feel. For younger kids learning about sensory description: Have them guess the object in the paper bag by only reaching in and touching it.
- Personify it. Ask kids what an object would say or do.

What They Learn
Metaphor/symbolism, sensory description, creative writing, improvisation, inferences, sharing, personification, empathy

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