We all know that team building is essential for middle school students (if you don't know this, jump to the "Why" section first!), but it can be hard to really implement well.
The team building activities that are thrown in here and there are often just fillers, or supposed to act as a get-to-know-you exercise. The students instantly recognize these as "lame" and often do not even enjoy them, because they are either forced out of their comfort zone, or feel that the process is pointless.
To make a truly valuable team building experience, put together an activity that is:
We think that one of the most important tips is to keep a focus on why you are incorporating a team building day or lesson into your curriculum. The goals listed here are what we feel are most important in each individual subject during a team building lesson.
Make your team-building exercise a learning experience that sets expectations for all cooperative learning for the rest of the year!
Our team decided to target an essential question across the 4 major subject areas:
"What does a team player look like in______ class?"
We incorporated the most important skills that we want kids to have within each specific classroom. Collaboration in math class has a different look than collaboration in English class, and we wanted our team building day to reflect that.
As a math teacher, I want my students to know how to describe and discuss a problem solving approach. I want them to be able to reach out to another group when they get stuck. I want them to be able to explain their own strategies and try to understand a classmate's strategy. I want them to keep going when a problem seems impossible. I don't want them to give up when they get stuck.
A Science teacher wants different results. In a lab, it is important for each team member to know their own lab role. We broke it all down and came up with the following "WHY" goals for the reason behind a solid team building day in each class:
- Plan really carefully. I wanted my students to first try a puzzle, then feel like it is impossible, then get stuck. Then I wanted to pause and have them communicate what was happening. Next, I wanted to subtly hint that they could try reaching out to another group, without giving it all away! To do this, I carefully scripted my lesson, and even made "hint cards" so I could use just the right wording at just the right time for each different group as they worked. It turns out that the puzzle seems impossible until they realize that it requires TWO team's sets of cards to complete it! They have to ultimately reach out and work together.
- Make it hands-on. The math activity has cards, The science one has water and is all about sinking and floating. The ELA one requires students to gather pieces of the story from different people. The Social Studies one has them making crazy little pictures. The kids have to be engaged!
- Require reflection. The effects of the lessons they learned will only stick if they really take time to reflect on the experience. We decided to include worksheets that ask students to notice how things went, how leaders came out, what they felt before and after a cooperation breakthrough, etc. This way, they can stop at the end of each activity and pull all their thoughts together before moving on.
- Integrate! We really feel that it's important for students to see these important values threaded through each subject area and mirrored by each teacher. They can see how a team player looks in each classroom. Plus, they see that even their teachers worked together as a team to put this lesson into action for them!
- Reinforce. We bring it all together at the end of the day and have students create a little bookmark that they can then use as a punch card. Throughout the next weeks, any time one of the teachers sees the team behaviors coming through, the students can earn a punch in their cards.
Here's the Best Part!
And it's all completely FREE! Click the images to download all four lessons.
Meet the Team
This set of activities is great for the first day of school, and also works really well on those weird last days before a break. You can really insert this in anywhere you want throughout the school year.
Please let us know what you think!