Using team builders to develop a student-centered culture by John McCarthy


Team builders are great for helping students develop understanding of global competencies, sometimes called college/career readiness skills. When doing a team builder, the key is the reflective conversation that happens after the activity. I ask the question: “What qualities and skills do you use in order to be successful at this task?”

Participants share out words and phrases, such as: listening, following directions, encouraging others, patience, etc. As participants share, the facilitator records the words and phrases on chart paper or electronically. The results become the team norms for the work to be done that day or during the unit. It’s a powerful way to involve students in shaping the classroom norms.

Here are two of my favorite team builders that I use prior to the reflective discussion shared above.

Game: Clutch


  1. Participants stand in a circle, approximately within inches of the persons standing on either side.
  2. Participants hold up both hands, palms facing upwards at their sides. Palms are approximately shoulder height.
  3. Participants turn their left hand to palm facing down. Next, form a pointer finger with the left hand, pointed down.
  4. Participants place their pointer finger (left hand) on top of the palm of the person standing to the left of them.


When the facilitator says the word “Clutch” the participants attempt to grab the finger balanced on their right palm, while pulling their finger away before the person to his or her left grabs it.


Points are scored by successfully accomplishing both tasks: Grab the finger resting on your palm AND pulling away your finger (your left hand) before it’s grabbed. Both actions completed scores. Completing only one of the tasks earns ZERO points.

I like to play three rounds. The first two rounds are worth one point each. The final round is sometimes worth more so that everyone still has a chance to win. If after the third round there is a tie, then there are co-champions.

Game: Pulse


  1. Participants line up in two even lines. When there is an odd number this game still works well. One team has a greater challenge, or have a person switch sides each round.
  2. Each line faces the other line.
  3. Each line holds hands with people in their own line. There is NO hand holding between participants in one line with those in the other line. Some will make the mistake J
  4. Everyone in both lines close their eyes.
  5. The facilitator stands at one end of the lines holding a pen, marker, or some other token in front—about chest height.


When the facilitator says “Go,” the first person at the opposite end of each line will squeeze the hand of the person next to them. When each person in line feels their hand squeezed, they must then squeeze the hand of the next person. The result is that the “squeeze” pulses down the line. When the persons standing next to the facilitator feels their hand squeezed, they open their eyes and grab the token held up by the facilitator. The first person to successfully do so, scores a point for their team.


This game is played in three rounds. If a team is very slow with squeezing hands down the line in the first round, give them a chance to reflect on the cause. Let them find a solution. Sometimes the facilitator may need to offer coaching so that the next rounds are more competitive. If one team wins the first 2 rounds, the facilitator may end the game or make the third round worth more points.


For more team builder ideas check out Teampedia.