My favorite team building activities to use are simple and easy to organize.
The Counting Game
I tell the class the total number of students and that they must count from one to the last number. So, if there are 26 students, they must count from 1 to 26. Without talking to each other, a student must say number one out loud. Only one student can say a number. If only one student says one, then someone must quickly say two out loud. When a student says a number they may no longer say another number. If at any point two people say a number at the same time, then the class must start all over at number one. I encourage you to have your students sit in a circle facing away from each other to do this and remind them that they can’t count around the circle. It can be a frustrating task for some classes and you may need to have them take a short break and talk to them about what is going on and offer a suggestion if needed.
Another favorite is an activity called Magic Carpet. For this activity, you need an old bed sheet that you have drawn a big X on one side. Students will spread the sheet on with the X facing down on the ground. Then the entire class will stand on the sheet. Their task is to get the entire sheet flipped over so that the X is up without anyone touching the ground during the process. I encourage you to have a twin, full, queen, and king size sheet in your arsenal because your class sizes are never the same!
Buddy Walkers is another activity that we have done to get students to communicate and cooperate. This activity takes a little bit of planning ahead and some odd materials. You can buy sets of buddy walkers or make them yourself, which is the option we chose. We made 5 sets of buddy walkers using 8’L 2x4s and rope. We made ours for 5 people on one set. You will need to drill 5 evenly spaced holes in each 2×4. Then cut your rope into 5’L pieces. Feed one rope through each hole and knot it so it will stay in place. After that they are ready to use. I randomly select student groups and assign them a set of buddy walkers. Then they must stand on their set of buddy walkers and hold the ropes. Really it looks like they are standing on a giant set of skis. Start with a simple task of walking from a start to finish line that is 20-30 yards apart. Then you can give them the task of walking through obstacles or even through the hallway to the office, nurse, or a random teacher in your building. I encourage you to mix your groups during the lesson too so that students are encouraged to work with as many different students in class as possible.
Class Scavenger Hunt
My last cooperative game idea to start the year is a class scavenger hunt. This one takes some thinking on your part and a lot of organization depending on how crazy you want to get! If you are lucky enough to have geocaching equipment, this is a great time to incorporate these devices. I also suggest that at each destination you have the students complete a fitness challenge, like as a class you need to complete 200 push-ups total. Your work in this is having clues at each destination that they must figure out as a class/group to get to the next destination.
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No matter which cooperative game/activity that you choose to use with your classes, remember that bringing them together at the end of class and talking about how it went is an important part of the process. Your students need to know that talking about the difficulties and successes is an important part of getting along.
And last but not least, as the teacher, YOU have to be extremely encouraging and focused on getting the students to understand the importance of cooperating and working with everyone in class. You have to set the tone and work to get your students to follow your lead!