I love using team building activities in Spanish. These activities present the class with a problem that requires communication and teamwork to solve.
Team Building in our school’s program:
- Involves physical movement and contact
- Requires communication.
- Requires everyone to participate.
- Students need to take risks and make mistakes to be successful.
- These tasks are designed to be difficult even when done in the L1, therefore students are stretched out of their linguistic comfort zone.
- Language is no longer the focus, the problem is the focus and the language is the tool.
- The activity creates a shared experience that can be discussed at a variety of language levels after the task is completed.
I’m going to share four of these activities with you below. Each activity, follows this similar format.
1. Teacher presents the problem.
Sometimes this takes a while, depending on how complex the rules are. Use prop, actions, and modeling to help students to understand. At the lower levels, it’s also important to use cognates and to model conversation at the word level.
2. Students problem-solve
They communicate, try out an idea, fail, discuss new ideas, and re-try (repeat).
Students work together to figure out a solution. Sometimes a leader emerges right away and sometimes there is more cooperation. Sometimes students talk all at once and they work through systems for taking turns together.
These activities are designed to be student centered. The teacher steps back after step 1 and only helps to clarify rules as needed, be a time keeper, and provide vocabulary when requested.
When communication is not going well, I may step in and ask the students to sit in a circle and do a share for everyone to be heard before moving on.
3. Problem solved
Once the problem is solved to the group’s satisfaction, we take some time to celebrate the success. Or if time remains, we adjust a rule or add an element to the problem to see if they can find another solution.
This is the best part. There are so many ways to debrief the activity at any language level. So much just happened and we all experienced it together. That is the content for our follow-up conversations. Depending on the level students could: list new vocabulary, describe the activity, describe their feelings during pats of the activity, tell the story of what happened, compare our first idea with the second, compare the way we worked together at the beginning with how we ended up working together, brainstorm other ideas or ways to make the challenge more difficult, etc.
Below I will share 4 of these activities.
1. Lava & Turtles
This was a favorite activity for our students. Basically, students have to work together to get everyone across the classroom from one line to another. We explain that no one can step in between the lines because it is a lake of lava. Say this with dramatic flair, of course. If someone steps in the lava, the whole group has to go back and start again. They are given 5 lava-proof turtles (pieces of paper) that they can use to step on. It’s important to mention that the turtles need to be in contact with someone or they will swim away.
It’s interesting to see different groups attacking this problem. Some students tend to grab the turtles and jump right into solving this problem without first discussing ideas. They will often lose turtles and they also touch the lava and have to start over.
It also takes a while for the talkers to listen to others. In one of my classes, I heard that one of the quieter students had an idea that would solve the problem, but no one would listen to her. Eventually, when the outspoken students’ ideas continued to fail, they took the time to listen to their classmate.
The communication that happens during this activity is a chance for students to actually use their Spanish to exchange ideas. But, the best part, as I mentioned above, is the talking that happens after. Click here to listen to a student talking about the activity.
2. Trap Door
We found this activity that was created in English and asked our maintenance staff to build a square following these instructions.
We did the activity with emerging Novice-Mid and emerging Novice-High students. It was very challenging and provided a shared experience that brought the class closer together, gave us new vocabulary, and a story to tell.
My favorite story that came out of this was when one student simply could not balance long enough to make it to the other side. Luckily, this particular student was beloved by his classmates and had a good sense of humor. After many failed attempts, his classmates finally decided that he could simply stand and step while every single other student would move passed him. Slowly they each stepped over him so that he could eventually make it to the other side.
This was also a story that I was able to tell my other groups because they already had a context for the story.
3. Hula Hoop Pass
This activity is one of the most simple. Students need to pass a hula hoop around the circle while holding hands. The challenge is to get the fastest time possible. Check out my fastest group. They had the idea that starting at a lower position made it easier for each person to simply step out of the hula hoop.
4. Don’t Touch Me
The best part of this one is that the rules are vague on purpose and students are supposed to think outside of the box. I used a paper plate for this one.
We did a lot of challenging activities but the hardest one was the plate activity. It was hard because the whole class had to effectively communicate with each other to solve a problem. We all had some great ideas and sometimes it was hard to listen to everyone. My favorite part was that we all never gave up and were never satisfied with our time. -Hannah, Grade 7
Take a moment to comment. I’d love to hear what team building activities you’ve adapted for the target language classroom and/or which of these four activities you plan to try.