The middle school years are often a difficult time of transition for preteens. One of the best ways to prevent bullying and encourage positive social engagement is for parents and teachers to foster a sense of community at school.
Building that community atmosphere takes time, but the best way to begin is to engage students in team-building activities. Team-building exercises will help middle schoolers learn how to collaborate, communicate, problem-solve, and express empathy. Get started with these top team-building activities for middle school students.
Marshmallow Tower Challenge
Put students in groups of three to five. Provide each team with 50 mini-marshmallows (or gumdrops) and 100 woodentoothpicks. Challenge the teams to work together to build thetallest marshmallow-toothpicktower. The structure should be stable enough to stand on its own for at least 10 seconds. Teams have five minutes to complete the challenge.
For a more challenging activity, increase the number of marshmallows and toothpicks each team has to work with and give them 10 to 20 minutes to construct a freestanding bridge.
The marshmallow tower challenge targetsteamwork, communication, andcritical thinking skills.
Obstacle Course Challenge
Set up a simple obstacle course using items such as traffic cones, fabric tunnel tubes, or cardboard boxes. Divide students into two or more teams. Blindfold one student on each team.
Then, have the blindfolded students race through the obstacle course, guided only by the verbal directions of the other students on their teams. Instructions could include statements like "Turn left" or "Crawl on your knees." The team whose blindfolded player completes the course first wins.
This activity targets cooperation, communication, active listening, and trust.
Divide students into groups of six to eight. Have each group gather in the center of the classroom or gym. Place a boundary around each group using a rope, plastic cones, cardboard boxes, or chairs.
Instruct the students to move out of the circle and decrease its size by removing one cone, box, or chair or by shortening the rope. Students should then get back inside the ring. All students must be within the border.
Continue to decrease the size of the border, making students strategize how to fit all members inside. Teams that can't get all members within their perimeter must drop out. (You may want to use a timer and give students a time limit for each round.)
This activity focuses on teamwork, problem-solving, and cooperation.
Build It From Memory
Construct a structure from building blocks, a metal construction kit, Legos, or a similar set. Place it in the classroom out of sight from students (such as behind a trifold presentation board).
Divide the class into several teams of equal number and provide each group with building materials. Allow one member from each group to study the structure for 30 seconds.
Each student will then return to his team and describe how to replicate the hidden design. Teams have one minute to attempt to duplicate the original structure. The team member who has seen the model cannot participate in the building process.
After one minute, a second member from each team is allowed to study the structure for 30 seconds. The second set of students then return to their team and attempt to describe how to build it. This team member can no longer participate in the building process.
The activity continues with an additional student from each team looking at the structure after one minute and dropping out of the construction process until one group has successfully recreated the original structure or all team members have been allowed to see it.
This activity focuses on cooperation, problem-solving, communication, and critical thinking skills.
Divide students into groups of eight to 10. Describe to them a fictional disaster scenario in which they've found themselves. For example, they might have survived a plane crash in a remote mountain area or find themselves stranded on a deserted island after a shipwreck.
Teams must strategize to formulate a survival plan and make a list of 10 to 15 items they need that they could make, find, or salvage from the wreckage or natural resources available to them. All team members must agree on the supplies needed and their survival plan.
Provide 15 to 20 minutes for the activity and have teams select a spokesperson and take turns reporting their results when they are finished.
Each team can brainstorm the same scenario to compare and contrast their answers after the exercise. Or, they may be provided with different situations so that classmates outside their team can weigh in with their thoughts of the survival plan and items needed after the activity.
The disaster scenario activity targets teamwork, leadership, critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills.
Divide the class into two teams. Tell the teams to choose two students to step apart from the group for the first part of the activity. Instruct the students to grasp the wrists of the person on either side of them until the entire group is connected.
First, one of the two students who are not part of each group will twist the students into a human knot by verbally instructing them to walk under, step over, or rotate through other students' connected arms.
Give the students two or three minutes to twist their respective groups. Then, the second of the two students who are not part of the twisted knot will try to untangle her group through verbal instructions. The first group to untangle wins.
Caution students to use care not to hurt one another. Ideally, students would not release their grip on the other students' wrists, but you may want to allow exceptions to avoid injury.
This activity targets problem-solving and critical thinking skills, along with following directions and leadership.
Divide students into groups of four to six. Give each team a raw egg and instruct them to use the materials you will provide to devise a contraption to keep the egg from breaking when dropped from a height of 6 feet or more. In a central location, provide an assortment of inexpensive craft materials, such as:
- Bubble Wrap
- Cardboard boxes
- Drinking straws
- Craft sticks
- Pipe cleaners
Set a time limit (30 minutes to an hour). Let each team explain how their device is supposed to work. Then, each team can drop their egg to test their device.
The egg drop activity targets collaboration, problem-solving, and thinking skills.
Instruct students to form a circle with one student in the middle. Blindfold the student in the middle or instruct him to keep his eyes closed. Give one of the students in the circle a potentially noisy object, such as a tin or aluminum can containing just enough coins to make it jangle. The students must pass the object around the circle as quietly as possible.
If the student in the middle hears the object being passed, he can point to the spot where he thinks it is currently located. If he is correct, the student holding the object takes the first student's place in the center of the circle.
This activity targets listening skills and teamwork.
Divide kids into groups of eight to 10. Have one student put her arm through a Hula-Hoop then join hands with the student next to her. Then, ask all the kids to join hands with the student on either side of them, forming one large, connected circle.
Direct students to figure out how to pass the Hula-Hoop to the person next to them without breaking the chain of hands. The goal is to get the Hula-Hoop back to the first student without breaking the chain. Two or more groups can race to see who accomplishes the task first.
The Hula-Hoop pass activity targets teamwork, problem-solving, and strategizing.
In this activity, students will work together on a collaborative art project. Give each student a piece of paper and colored pencils or paints. Instruct them to start drawing a picture. You can give them some direction as to what to draw—a house, a person, or something from nature, for example—or allow this to be a freestyle activity.
Every 30 seconds, tell the students to pass their paper to the right (or to the front or back). All students must continue the drawing that they received. Continue the activity until all students have worked on each picture. Let them display their group masterpieces.
This activity focuses on teamwork, collaboration, creativity, and adaptability.