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Encouraging Cooperation: Card-Tower Group Activity

EducationWorld is pleased to feature this grade 3-6 lesson adapted from School Volunteer Handbook: A Simple Guide for K-6 Teachers and Parents, by Yael Calhoun and Elizabeth Q. Finlinson (Lila Press, 2011).

The lesson plan, shared with the permission of the authors, is a great example of a short activity with simple instructions that appeals to a diverse group of parent interests and teacher needs. The activity is an ideal one for implementation by classroom volunteers.

See other School Volunteer Handbook activities:
A Lesson in Character: Connect With Yourself

Be the Boss: A Lesson Plan On Managing Feelings
Lesson to Celebrate Diversity: The Unity Necklace

In the coming months, be sure to visit EducationWorld for more activities from School Volunteer Handbook. The book (including two CDs, one of all the handouts and one of the GreenTREE Yoga 5-minute classroom yoga breaks) contains more than 50 activities and lessons, retails for $25 (with free shipping) and is available at (visit site for free downloads).

About the authors

Yael Calhoun, MA, MS, RYT, is an author and educator who has taught preschool through college. She also has worked as an environmental planner and has written over a dozen books. Currently, she is a cofounder and the Executive Director of GreenTREE Yoga, a nonprofit committed to bringing the benefits of yoga to diverse populations.

Elizabeth Q. Finlinson, LCSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has worked as a school therapist, volunteer coordinator, and as a private practitioner specializing in children and families. She teaches character education and physical education and is an active school volunteer.



  • Language Arts (communication)
  • Math (measurement, geometry)
  • Science (material strength and structure)



Brief Description

Challenge students to accomplish a group goal (building a tower of cards) by effectively communicating, sharing their ideas, working together and considering other points of view.


Students will:

  • Work cooperatively
  • Accomplish a group goal
  • Consider other points of view
  • Practice verbal and nonverbal communication

Time: 40 minutes

Materials Needed

  • 20 unlined 3 x 5 index cards to be re-used for each group
  • Clock
  • Yardstick or tape measure
  • Chalk or white board
  • Scrap paper and pencil for each student

Lesson Plan


Have fun. You should try this activity at home first to get a sense of the possibilities. For example, try folding the cards in a ‘v’ shape and creating a base.

The Activity

Part 1: Discussion Points (10 minutes)

  1. “Name some groups you are a part of (class, family, team). How does a group get something done?”
  2. “What do you think are helpful ways to work in a group?”
  3. “Write down helpful qualities that you have. Write down one quality you look for in others. Let’s share some thoughts.” (See what students have to say and perhaps mention good ideas: willingness to do some of the work and willingness to listen to other ideas. Always take the opportunity to plant some seeds.)
  4. “Raise your hand if you think you work well in a group.”
  5. “We are going to do something that will allow you to use your creativity and your ability to work with each other to accomplish a building project.”

Part 2: Building a Tower (25 minutes)

Note: You can do this once, allowing the students to talk. Or you can do it first without any talking, and then do it again, this time allowing students to communicate verbally. Do students have other ideas for ways to communicate ideas?

1. Organize groups.

Each group of four students gets a stack of 20 index cards. The challenge is to see how high they can build a structure made out of cards.

2. Rules:

  • Only the cards may be used, no props or scissors.
  • The free-standing structure must stand for at least five seconds.
  • The volunteer and perhaps the teacher could be the roving judges.
  • There will be timed rounds.

3. Get building!

For each round, record the results for each group on the board.

  • Round One: 3 minutes, no talking
  • Round Two: 3 minutes, with talking
  • Round Three: 2 minutes with talking
  • Create your own rounds.

Part 3: Wrap-up (5 minutes)

  1. “What did you like about the way your group worked together?”
  2. “How do you think your group could improve for the next activity?”
  3. “Do you think you could be a better, or more effective, team member?”
  4. “Was it easier when you could talk?”
  5. “What shape was most effective? What structural changes would you make?”
  6. “Would you like to try another activity like this one?”

If time allows, have students write down their answers. There's no need to collect them--this is just a way to keep everyone engaged.

To Exend the Lesson

Toothpicks:  With each group using the same number of toothpicks and glue, have students design a structure for strength. The test is to stack books on the structure the next day and see which one is the strongest.

Human knot:  Ten to 12 people per group form a circle and walk to the center so they are close to each other. They reach their hands to the sky and pair hands with two people. Holding hands, they work together to unravel. They will end up in a circle.

More Ideas:  Many more ideas are in the book Cooperative Games and Sports by Terry Orlick.


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