I like to do this exercise at the beginning of the class, before they form learning teams, to help students recognize how they, and others, work in a group dynamic.
1. Divide the students into teams of four to five.
2. Give each team half a package of spaghetti, a jumbo box of Dots candy and one regular size marshmallow.
3. Tell the teams they have 18 minutes to build a tower. The tallest free-standing tower at the end of 18 minutes wins. When time is up, hands off.
4. The only rules are: the tower must be free-standing (no propping), the marshmallow must be at the top of the tower, and teams must use only the materials provided.
The exercise is a variation of one that a friend participated in at a police academy. They also use it in business schools, and in various employee retreats. If you search "spaghetti team building" you will find the original exercise using 20 spaghetti noodles, a length of string, a length of tape and one marshmallow. I modified the materials to get more inventive, taller towers.
After the exercise, I have students write a few paragraphs of reflection:
1. How did your group work together?
2. Did someone emerge as the leader? How were decisions made?
3. What was your role in the group dynamic?
4. Was someone primarily a creative thinker? A practical thinker? An analyzer?
5. What could your group have done better?
6. How could you better contribute to the group dynamic?
Students love this activity, and it gets them thinking about the different ways people approach group work. The discussion is afterwards is always interesting.
Most recently, one group said they worked together seamlessly because they were all ex-military and had a similar mindset, with no problem trading off leadership. Another group had some contention because one of the members was eating the Dots and the self-appointed leader was trying to convince her that the group needed every Dot. One all-male team finished two minutes early and sat back. One all-female team fussed with their tower until the very last second. Every team is different, but there is always plenty to analyze.
The winning tower!