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Team Building Ideas for Engaging STEM Students Now!

If you are looking for ways to use games for team building in your STEM lab (or regular classroom) I have three fabulous activities for you to try!

Part of my first few days of school, as a regular classroom teacher, was always about team building (community building). It’s those relationships you nurture right from the beginning that make your year the best.  

As a specialist, I do those same things!  I focus the first few classes on team building. 

Team building activities for upper elementary students. Post includes directions to make the string lifter and directions for games.

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My Favorite Team Building Activities

I have tried all sorts of game-type events and the ones I am sharing with you are those that work really well and kids love doing them. I don’t know about you, but I would say I don’t like team-building things. My least favorite one is having a bingo-type grid and having to go around and talk to other people to get their names on my grid. I really dislike that.

I promise these team builders are events most students really like doing- and not just at the beginning of the year!

The String Lifter for Team Building

Team building activities for upper elementary students. Post includes directions to make the string lifter and directions for games.

I have no idea what else to call this one! I just call it the STRING LIFTER!

You will see why after you read the directions describing how it works.

Let me just let you now, students LOVE this activity. I make it harder and harder and then we cheer so loudly when the team is successful!

Just get ready for that:)

Team building activities for upper elementary students. Post includes directions to make the string lifter and directions for games.

To begin the activity, you must arrange your string lifter on the floor.

Just pull all the strings out straight until it resembles a large wheel.

Team building activities for upper elementary students. Post includes directions to make the string lifter and directions for games.

The idea is that students will hold a loose end of the string while standing in a circle and then they will lift- which causes the ring in the center to rise up. They must focus on keeping the string taut and the center ring level…

…because you are going to place objects on that ring to be lifted! Above you can see teams that have advanced enough to lift a cup with a ball on top!

More about this in a minute. First I need to tell you how to make your String Lifter.

Team building activities for upper elementary students. Post includes directions to make the string lifter.

You need a circular object – I use a large binder ring. It’s about a 2-inch diameter. Then you need heavyweight string. Yarn won’t work because it stretches.

Cut about 12-20 lengths of string, each 10 feet long. Now, just loop them through the binder ring so that the free ends of the string dangle. Step-by-step is below.

  1. Fold the length of string in half and make a loop in the center.
  2. Place the loop under the ring.
  3. Pull the strings through the loop.
  4. Pull the strings tight and continue this all the way around the ring.

That’s it- you have your string lifter. Stretch it out on the floor and have each student grab a string or two. With nothing placed in the center, the team will try to lift the entire contraption and keep that center ring level.

Now, let’s get harder! Start with a ball that will sit fairly steady on the center ring. (I use a tennis ball that sits in that center ring and is difficult to knock off!) That makes the first attempt a little easier. As the students lift, they will need to talk to each other and keep lifting at a steady pace. After any failed attempt stop and have them talk. What went wrong? What could they try next?

When they get that first object lifted, try something harder. I usually go with a cup next and turn it upside down. When they successfully lift that I add something sitting on the cup. Eventually, I end with a small stuffed animal that sits precariously in the center.

Some Quick Tips

  • Each student should be holding one string, but sometimes you will have some students with two strings. In fact, you can add enough to the center ring so that every student has two strings.
  • If it gets frustrating have them all sit down and talk it out. This is when you need a rule about one person talking at a time.
  • No calling out of students that aren’t doing this well. We all can drop a string or not hold one tight enough.
  • Start a chant encouraging them- like “Go slow” or “Hold those strings tight”. (That is the secret to this activity. Taunt strings will keep the center level.)
  • The binder ring I use in the center has a diameter of 1.75 inches and the strings are nine feet long.

Students love this! I have tried it with first through fifth graders and they can all do it!

The Hula Hoop Pass-Thru Team Building Activity

Team building activities for upper elementary students. Post includes directions to make the string lifter and directions for games -lie the Hula Hoop Pass Thru.

I know that’s a lot of hula hoops in the photo, but you really only need one.

At first, you may have students who are not happy with this challenge, but once they get started it becomes a very encouraging event.

Have everyone (you, too!) stand in a circle and hold hands. (This is why some kids don’t like this one!) The hula hoop should be over your arm before you grab the hand of a student.

The object is to get the hula hoop to travel around the circle- without letting go of any hands.

So, you start! Step through the hoop and then flip it over your head. The student you are passing to will have to move his or her arm to help you maneuver the hoop and this will continue. The passing student moves arms to get the hoop over the head of the receiving student and so on – until the hoop goes all the way around. It’s actually quite funny to watch.

It also takes tremendous cooperation from the students that are locked together. They help one another!

Want to add something extra? Secretly set a timer for the first try of this. Then tell the students what their time was and see if they can beat the time on a second try! They will!

Silent Toss- the Ultimate Team Building Challenge

Team building activities for upper elementary students. Post includes directions to make the string lifter and directions for games.- like Silent Toss.

This is our absolute, most requested, all-time favorite. Students beg to do this all year.

You need a ball. The one I use is a rubber band ball. Funny story. I bought that ball at Wal-Mart 20 years ago. I do occasionally bring it home and wash it in the dishwasher.

It doesn’t have to be a rubber band ball. A small foam ball or squishy ball will work. It just needs to be soft. (You could try a tennis ball, but I never have. I don’t want a ball to bounce and hit something in the room.)

The rules are simple:

  • Students stand anywhere they want to in the room. It doesn’t have to be a circle.
  • They cannot talk except to say the name of the person they are throwing the ball to. This is one of the fair things about this game. The person is warned that the ball is coming. If the thrower doesn’t say the catcher’s name the thrower is out!
  • They must toss the ball. They don’t throw it hard or fast. It must be a soft, easy underhanded toss.
  • The toss must be catchable. If it’s over someone’s head or doesn’t reach the person it is supposed to, then the thrower is out.
  • If the receiver of the toss does not catch the ball they are out.
  • When you are out you sit down (I send students back to their seats so they are out of the way.)

So, how long does this last? Ha! Here’s where it gets fun!

After about 2 minutes I add a new rule.   I say, “STOP! Put one hand behind your back. Now, you catch with only one hand. The ball can also touch your body.”   This continues for about 2 minutes and then I stop them again! Below is a list of new rules that are added every couple of minutes.

  • Use only one hand to catch. The ball cannot touch any other part of your body.
  • Bounce Catch – this means when the ball comes to a student he must bounce it in the air and then catch it.
  • Bounce-Bounce-Catch -This means the catcher bounces the ball two times and then catches it.
  • Over-Under – This means the catcher bounces the ball with palm down and then palm up and then catch it. (This is hard!)
  • Bounce-Clap – Bounce the ball, clap one time, and then catch it.
  • Bounce-Clap-Clap, Catch – you get it!

And you just keep adding rules until you have a winner. How long does this take? I would say this is a 10-minute game. I use it at the beginning of the year as a team builder- because the kids work together to make those soft, pretty tosses catchable and we cheer loudly when someone makes a spectacular catch. Later in the year, it is a reward game or a time filler. We don’t always finish and declare a winner.

So, as your year starts think about some fun team-building activities that get your students up and thinking and working together. What’s your favorite go-to game?

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Team building activities for upper elementary students. Post includes directions to make the string lifter and directions for games.

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