Build a tower, build a team! Life skills: Teamwork

I have recently come across a very thought-provoking speech by Jack Ma, a world-famous businessman and…a former English teacher! In the speech, he points out that today´s education system is far too knowledge based. He suggests that teachers should also focus on developing students´soft skills: teach values, believing, independent thinking, teamwork and care for others. “Everything we teach should be different from machines”, he goes on to say and personally, I couldn´t agree more.

In the following lesson idea students will discuss the benefits of teamwork as well as reflect on their own team-building and communication skills.

The second part of the lesson was inspired by Tom Wujec´s Marshmallow Challenge:

Levels: Intermediate/Upper-intermediate/Advanced

Aimed at: Young adults/adults

Aims: To encourage speaking in the context of TEAMWORK/ To expand students´vocabulary/ Revision of useful expressions for the language function of giving opinions and negotiating/ To encourage group work and promote interaction/ To help students reflect on their own team-building skills and the importance of working as a team/ To increase students´motivation/ To make learning memorable

Time: +/- 90 minutes

Materials: Measuring tape/Camera/mobile phone with built-in camera/Overhead projector/Power Point presentation:

Team building

For each group of four students:

  • 20 sticks of spaghetti
  • 1 metre of tape
  • 1 metre of string
  • 1 marshmallow
  • scissors


Part 1

Power Point Presentation with teacher´s notes:

Team building

Screenshot 2018-01-29 11.20.49

+/- 40 min

Part 2:

  1. The Marshmallow Challenge

Have students work in groups of four and distribute the following materials to each group:

  • 20 sticks of spaghetti
  • 1 metre of tape
  • 1 metre of string
  • 1 marshmallow
  • scissors


Explain the rules of the challenge (adapted from the original):

  1. Your challenge is to build the tallest freestanding structure using only the above listed materials.
  2. The structure must stand on its own for measuring. Teams touching or supporting their structure will be disqualified.
  3. Teams can choose to use all or just some of the materials provided. Extra materials can´t be used.
  4. Teams cannot eat their marshmallows.
  5. Teams are allowed to communicate ONLY in English. Teams communicating in their L1 will be penalized.
  6. Teams have 18 minutes to complete the task.

+/- 5 min

Have students start the challenge. Walk around the room and take photos of the development of the structures and students´interaction.  Remind the Teams of the Time: Countdown the time. Call out how the Teams are doingLet the entire group know how teams are progressing. Call out each time a team builds a standing structure. Build a friendly rivalry. Encourage students to look around. Remind the Teams that they should use English ONLY.

After the time runs out, ask the Teams to sit down and measure the structures. Now you can call out the winning Team!

18 min

2. Reflection

Have the pictures you were taking during the challenge displayed on the board. Reveal them one by one and ask the students to work in groups and describe what´s happening in the pictures, e.g:

FullSizeRender (45)

FullSizeRender (48)


Have the teams answer the following questions:

Did each of the team members actively participate in the challenge? How was their participation different?

In most team settings, you´ll have a leader and one or two other people who share the workload for the entire team. Do you agree?

Did your team get along well? What were the main problems, if any?

What was the key point to the successful completion of the challenge?

Did working as a team help you complete the challenge? Why/why not?

What was the purpose of the challenge?

Did you enjoy it?

Have a brief class feedback.

+/- 30 min

As a follow up activity you can ask the students to write a short essay on the followig topic:

Lessons learnt from the Marshmallow Challenge

You can then use their essays and the pictures to create a wonderful classroom display!


Happy Creating!






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