Top 5 Most Engaging Team-Building Activities for Student Groups

Possessing a repertoire of engaging and effective team-building games is, without doubt, a skill, and one of which I’m sure many student affairs professionals can attest is incredibly invaluable.

There are all too many occasions when you’re working with a new or initially reserved group of students, need to inject some energy into a lecture, or a training session finishes early. So after many, many, many years of facilitating a diverse array of team-building games (indoor, outdoor, and with groups of varying size), I’ve pinpointed my five ‘tried and tested,’ most successful team-building games:

1. Machinery in Motion

Split your student group into teams (6-15 or more members), making it clear that all team members must participate. Provide each group with the name of a machine, which they must then assemble using their bodies, and 3-5 minutes to practice. Each group must then demonstrate how their machine works, including sound effects. Options for machinery can include a stapler, TV, iPhone, washer/dryer, vacuum, lawn mower, DVD player, or microwave.

Why it works: It’s great for large groups, no props are required, and it’s good fun to watch!

2. Card Towers

Split your student group into teams (6-12 team members), with each group provided with one or more packs of playing cards. Each group is instructed to build the tallest tower possible. Facilitators can choose to provide hints and tips, and answer any questions (for example, can the cards be torn etc.) or can opt to indicate that they will remain silent to encourage creativity.

Why it works: It encourages a healthy competitive spirit, requires only a simple pack of cards, and is a great activity when assessing communication or teamwork skills.

3. Team Olympics

Depending on the size, scope, and interests of your student group, consider activities that are relatively short, and which cater to all interests and fitness levels. Availability of props and setup time should also be considered, with possible activities including building sand castles, sporting competitions (with everything from dodgeball to tunnel ball to ropes courses), puzzles, problem solving, mystery scenarios, or quiz challenges. Escape rooms are on trend right now, providing teams with a challenge they need to solve in order to escape a locked room.

Why it works: It encourages physical activity and movement, which is great if they’ve been cooped up in inside for lectures or training all day. Requires a little more effort as a result of the need for props but is a great longer-term activity encouraging ongoing engagement and/or competition.

4. Scavenger Hunts

Similar to the above, scavenger hunts are great if you want your students to be up and about, orienting themselves to a particular area and the weather is good!

Advance planning is key, but low maintenance hunts can consist of clues and/or questions at each location — perhaps provided to a staff member in waiting or with a person already at the location (for example, a librarian, or a customer service worker who has agreed to be involved). If you are wanting students to learn something, it’s great to require them to seek answers to specific questions, from how much is a bus ticket to how many days can a book be loaned? If you have more staff available, host an activity or skill challenge at each location — which each group must complete in order to move on to the next location.

Why it works: Another great activity to encourage physical activity and healthy competition. It’s great to provide headbands or some forms of bright and colorful identification to encourage competition.

5. Epic Blanket Forts

One of my personal favorites, epic blanket fort building is exactly as it sounds: Provide your teams of students with a few props (think sheets, boxes, chairs and the like) and the instruction to construct their best architectural creation yet!

Why it works: Simple – it’s incredibly fun to watch and play! Props aren’t too difficult to obtain, and it just pays to ensure that the more creative ‘forts’ aren’t risking any occupational health and safety concerns. A great photo opportunity!

Those mentioned above are just a mere sample of what’s out there in the team-building world. What are your ‘go-to’ games or icebreakers that ensures your students are energized, entertained, and even better, learning something about others or themselves?

Reposted with permission from Laura Burge, Residential Education Manager at La Trobe University

P.S. If you’d like more activity ideas, check out this post we wrote about ideas for staff retreats… or this one, which details activities that help students open up about identity and privilege.

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