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Group Critical Thinking Games For Groups

10 Team-Building Games That Promote Critical Thinking

by TeachThought Staff

One of education’s primary goals is to groom the next generation of little humans to succeed in the “real world.”

Yes, there are mounds of curricula they must master in a wide breadth of subjects, but education does not begin and end with a textbook or test.

Other skills must be honed, too, not the least of which is how to get along with their peers and work well with others. This is not something that can be cultivated through rote memorization or with strategically placed posters.

Students must be engaged and cooperation must be practiced, and often. The following team-building games can promote cooperation and communication, help establish a positive classroom environment and — most importantly — provide a fun, much-needed reprieve from routine.

10 Team-Building Games That Promote Collaborative Critical Thinking

You can purchase a classroom-ready version of team-building games that promote critical thinking here.

1. If You Build it…

This team-building game is flexible. Simply divide students into teams and give them equal amounts of a certain material, like pipe cleaners, blocks, or even dried spaghetti and marshmallows.

Then, give them something to construct. The challenge can be variable (think: Which team can build the tallest, structurally-sound castle? Which team can build a castle the fastest?).

You can recycle this activity throughout the year by adapting the challenge or materials to specific content areas.

Skills: Communication; problem-solving

2. Save the Egg

This activity can get messy and may be suitable for older children who can follow safety guidelines when working with raw eggs. Teams must work together to find a way to “save” the egg (Humpty Dumpty for elementary school students?) — in this case an egg dropped from a specific height. That could involve finding the perfect soft landing, or creating a device that guides the egg safely to the ground. Let their creativity work here.

Skills: Problem-solving, creative collaboration

3. Zoom

Zoom is a classic classroom cooperative game that never seems to go out of style. Simply form students into a circle and give each a unique picture of an object, animal or whatever else suits your fancy. You begin a story that incorporates whatever happens to be on your assigned photo. The next student continues the story, incorporating their photo, and so on.

Skills: Communication; creative collaboration

4. Minefield

Another classic team-building game. Arrange some sort of obstacle course and divide students into teams. Students take turns navigating the “mine field” while blindfolded, with only their teammates to guide them. You can also require students to only use certain words or clues to make it challenging or content-area specific.

Skills: Communication; trust

See also: 10 Team-Building Games For A Friendlier Classroom

5. The Worst-Case Scenario

Fabricate a scenario in which students would need to work together and solve problems to succeed, like being stranded on a deserted island or getting lost at sea. Ask them to work together to concoct a solution that ensures everyone arrives safely. You might ask them to come up with a list of 10 must-have items that would help them most, or a creative passage to safety. Encourage them to vote — everyone must agree to the final solution.

Skills: Communication, problem-solving

6. A Shrinking Vessel

This game requires a good deal of strategy in addition to team work. Its rules are deceptively simple: The entire group must find a way to occupy a space that shrinks over time, until they are packed creatively like sardines. You can form the boundary with a rope, a tarp or blanket being folded over or small traffic cones. (Skills: Problem-solving; teamwork)

7. Go for Gold

This game is similar to the “If you build it” game: Teams have a common objective, but instead of each one having the same materials, they have access to a whole cache of materials. For instance, the goal might be to create a contraption with pipes, rubber tubing and pieces of cardboard that can carry a marble from point A to point B in a certain number of steps, using only gravity.

Creative collaboration; communication; problem-solving

8. It’s a Mystery

Many children (and grown-ups) enjoy a good mystery, so why not design one that must be solved cooperatively? Give each student a numbered clue. In order to solve the mystery — say, the case of the missing mascot — children must work together to solve the clues in order. The “case” might require them to move from one area of the room to the next, uncovering more clues.

Skills: Problem-solving, communication

9. 4-Way Tug-of-War 

That playground classic is still a hit — not to mention inexpensive and simple to execute. For a unique variation, set up a multi-directional game by tying ropes in such a way that three or four teams tug at once. Some teams might choose to work together to eliminate the other groups before going head-to-head.

Skills: Team work; sportsmanship

10. Keep it Real

This open-ended concept is simple and serves as an excellent segue into problem-based learning. Challenge students to identify and cooperatively solve a real problem in their schools or communities. You may set the parameters, including a time limit, materials and physical boundaries.

Skills: Problem-solving; communication

While education technology is a basic and crucial component of the 21st century classroom, educators must still ensure that students are engaging with each other in meaningful ways. Team-building exercises are a great way to do this, and because of this, they will never go out of style.

See Also: 10 Team-Building Games To Promote Critical Thinking 

Aimee Hosler is a writer and mother of two living in Virginia. She specializes in a number of topics, but is particularly passionate about education and workplace news and trends. She hold a B.S. in Journalism from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo and is a contributor to several websites including OnlineSchools.com; 10 Team-Building Games For Kids, Teenagers, or Adults

Lights, Camera, Writing!
How it Works
Divide your class into teams of no more than five players each. Give each team a note card with a made-up movie title and have them create an outline (including characters, plot, and the lesson learned) and a scene (no more than
three pages). Each group then performs the scene for the class.

- Connect it to class. Titles can be related to what you are studying (e.g., division, civil rights, mammals).
- Get inspired. Or, have kids come up with titles based on popular songs or books.
- End on a cliffhanger. Have students write only the dialogue that leads up to a climax (and let the other groups think of an ending).
- Give it a score. Create a rubric that includes elements of scene writing or performance and have a panel of judges rate the scenes.
- Film it. If you can get three cameras, film the scenes from three different perspectives and have students edit them into a short film.

What They Learn
Elements of a story (characterization, dialogue, theme, plot, moral, exposition,
rising action, climax, resolution), time management, acting/performing, critiquing (assessments), screenwriting, visualizing

North Pole, South Pole
How it Works
Students are given complex questions and answer by choosing only one side. (For example, ask, "Is Fern's father in Charlotte's Web a good or bad person?" All who say good go to one side of the room; all who say bad go to the other.) Whichever team comes up with the most creative and thoughtful answer to the question wins.

- Question everything. Once students are familiar with the game, have them think of questions based on what you are studying (e.g., "Will you use math in your career?" "Would you rather be a T-rex or a triceratops?")
- Put it on a spectrum. Create the option of a spectrum instead of two polar opposites. Invite students in each group to find their own individual point on the spectrum-and also what point they would collectively choose on the spectrum if they had to compromise.
- Get persuasive. Use this game as a precursor to a lesson on persuasive writing. Have the students take notes on all the different answers to complicated questions and discuss the importance of including more than one of these sides in a persuasive argument.

What They Learn
Decision making, compromise, metaphor, positive identity, spectral vs. polar thinking, persuasive writing

Poetic Challenge
How it Works
Students are divided into small groups (between three and four people per group). Each group is given one or more topics and, in 10 to 20 minutes, must come up with one or more poems to present on the topic.

- Brainstorm ideas. Invite students to brainstorm topics
based on a specific unit. Write the topics on note cards and assign them to groups randomly.
- Play with structure. In conjunction with lessons on different types of poetry (i.e., limerick, haiku, sonnet), challenge each group to write a different
type of poem each day. Discuss which forms are the easiest and which are the most challenging to write.
- Say it in spanish. English language learners can write poems in both their language and English. Or a great way to connect ELLs with non-ELLs: Have them each write a poem in their native language and translate one another's poems using only language dictionaries. See whose translations are funnier!
- Think sensory. Reinforce a lesson on sensory language by seeing what poems or descriptions each group can come up with based on random items you've placed in paper bags. Include things like office supplies, fruit, clothing items and small toys, and prepare a different one for each group.

What They Learn
Poetic structure, time management, style vs. meaning, language translation, poetic license, sensory language, flexibility of thinking, oral presentation, articulation

Shake and Share
How it Works
Students each get a note card with a question such as "How did you spend your summer break?" or "What is your favorite memory?" On your go, players walk around the room, until you say stop. Then count to three and tell the students to shake hands and share. Each person gets 30 seconds to read the question on the card and listen to the other person's comment.

- Play it twice. Start a second round in which students exchange their note cards each time they shake and share.
- Write it down. Invite students to write several questions, ranking them from "Easy" to "Difficult." Easy ones would be one-word-answer questions or questions that aren't very personal. Difficult questions would be ones that require more thought or more trust.
- Test their memory. At the end of the questioning, see who can remember the most answers. Or try the same activity playing musical chairs with two lines of chairs facing each other. When you say stop, students must sit and exchange their questions and answers until there are only two remaining. The one who remembers the most information wins.
- Practice interviewing. Give students questions they might find in a job interview. Or if they are researching historical figures, give them biographical questions.

What They Learn
Creative questioning, answering on their feet (literally!), time management, manners, interviewing skills, memory skills, trust building

Out-of-the-Box Thinking
How it Works
Divide the class into teams of no more than six players each. Give each team a stack of boxes of all sizes. Within the time allotted (20 to 30 minutes) each group should build a creature, structure, or original invention using scissors and tape. Each group should explain their creations and be scored for originality, design, and presentation.

- Create a hybrid. In conjunction with a lesson on mutation, have students research two animals and build a hybrid mutation from the boxes, such as ahalf-penguin, half-gorilla.
- Design a city. In conjunction with a lesson on urban planning, have students imagine a floating spaceship that contains all of the structures of a successful city. Assign a city planning focus for each student (i.e., government, education, recreation, waste management, etc.).
- Talk in gibberish. Have the students explain their creation in gibberish
(and expressive body language) while the rest of the class tries to interpret it.
- Sell the concept. Teach advertising by having the students create a commercial to pitch their creation.
- Measure it out. Have the students practice volume by having them create an apartment complex with a maximum number of square inches.
- Go green. Assign an invention that would improve the environment. Then create a contest to find the best way to recycle all the boxes after the projects are finished!

What They Learn
Spatial organization, aesthetics vs. purpose, geometry, measurement, selling, communication, environmental awareness

Hot Seat
How it Works
A single chair is set up in the front of the room. Student A sits in a chair. Student B approaches Student A and gives her a reason to leave the chair. It could be as silly as calling out, "train!" or imitating the class bell, or miming a charging bull. Student A leaves the chair and Student B takes her spot. The game continues with the next student approaching the sitting child with another zany reason to leave the chair. This game is a lot of fun and is excellent as a warm-up activity for older groups. It can be played in an organized way or "popcorn" style, where students approach the chair in no particular order.

- Time it. Nothing gets the adrenaline pumping like a stopwatch. See how fast each student in the class can make someone leave the hot seat.
- Add it up. Practice math skills by giving each person a note card that
contains a single-digit number or a symbol of addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. One by one, students come to the hot seat to show their number or symbol, creating a super-long math problem that students must solve.
- Review for a test. Divide the class in two and put two chairs in the middle facing each other, and assign a number to each member of each team. Come up with 25 or so questions, and you've got a face-to-face game show.

What They Learn
Creative thinking, concentration, listening, ways to practice math or review material, performing under pressure

Recycled Goods
How it Works
Take a simple object (a chair, a fork, a pencil), set a timer for 10 minutes, and challenge students to think of as many possible uses for it as they can-apart from the intended use.

- Visit the junkyard. Take it a step further by taking your students to a junkyard or visiting the school custodian. Have students each bring a box to fill with items they find. They can then write about the pre-bin history of these items, or create something new.
- Research recycling. It may be popular to "go green," but many students take that for granted. Have students research facts about recycling and post these facts in the form of mobiles or wind chimes made of (what else?) recycled materials.

What They Learn
Imagination as the ultimate form of recycling, ways to review material

Circles, Balls, and Weights
The Premise
Have everyone stand in a circle. Join the group and pretend to be holding a ball. Toss the imaginary ball up in the air, catch it, and give the kids a sense of the ball's weight and dimensions. Explain that it is a magic ball that can become heavy or light, and big or small, depending on who catches it. Pick the person next to you and tell him that when you pass the ball, he has to take it as it is given (i.e., how you were acting with it), but that he can then transform it into whatever kind of ball he wants. Suggest that students express themselves by staggering under a heavy ball, bouncing a basketball against the floor, or throwing a football. As they become more comfortable, you can change the game from passing the ball around the circle to having them toss it to one another from across the room.

- Switch it up. Change the imaginary object to something animated, like a kitten, a daddy longlegs spider, a fish, a boa, or a thousand-pound elephant stuck in the middle of the circle.
- How it works. Tell students to use the imaginary ball as a metaphor for how they're feeling. Is it a big ball but weighs little? Or a little ball that weighs 100 pounds? What might each of these mean metaphorically speaking? Encourage the students to share in more detail after the "balls" go around.

What They Learn
Measurement, acting, improvisation, empathy, emotional transference, visualization, and alternative ways to experience subjects

Finder's Keepers
How it Works
Gather a collection of odds and ends, and sort them into small paper lunch bags. You might include anything you have lying about-a marble, a fortune from a fortune cookie, a bird's feather, a photo of a little girl and her dog, a poker chip, and so forth. You might have a bag for every student, a bag for a group of students, or one bag for the entire class. Tell students, "The bag you've received stores a collection of treasures left behind by someone. Your job is to write (or act out) a description of that character."

- Write an obituary. Give the students an empty paper bag, and lay out all the pieces on a large blanket. Each student must pick up five items and create the owner's obituary based only on these items. How can small objects act as big symbols in a person's life?
- Think about symbols. Take actual obituaries and have the students
choose items from the blanket based on what may have been symbols in this person's life. Have them explain it-either through writing or improvisation.
- Get personal. Each student chooses and explains three objects that they feel symbolize important events or chapters of their life-or three objects that symbolize three peers in the room.
- Touch and feel. For younger kids learning about sensory description: Have them guess the object in the paper bag by only reaching in and touching it.
- Personify it. Ask kids what an object would say or do.

What They Learn
Metaphor/symbolism, sensory description, creative writing, improvisation, inferences, sharing, personification, empathy

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