170+ Group Activities to Build Cooperation, Communication, and Creativity
By Kris Bordessa
Chicago Review Press Incorporated Copyright © 2006 Kris Bordessa
All rights reserved.
Creativity, Cooperation, and Communication
What Are They Good For?
What makes a person creative? Is it the ability to wield a paintbrush, bringing an image to life on canvas? Is it the ability to sculpt clay into a breathtaking likeness of a living being? Is it composing music? Is it a gardener's ability to landscape in colors that flow through the garden like a vivid sunset?
People will readily give Monet, Beethoven, and Van Gogh credit for being creative souls, but likening one's own creativity to that of such revered figures is usually unthinkable. In fact, many people will deny having any creative ability at all. Artistic creativity is what most people think of when they hear the word creative, and the artistic genius of Monet, Beethoven, and Van Gogh is indeed rare. But creativity isn't just about art. What, then, is it about?
Creativity is a thought process that allows for much experimentation. It's a fresh way of looking at old situations. It's a unique perspective. It's the ability to perceive situations or our surroundings in a new and unusual manner. Our world is filled with creative individuals — sometimes where we'd least expect them. When Charles Menches ran out of dishes in which to serve his ice cream at the 1904 World's Fair, he didn't panic: he created the ice cream cone. And when Bette Nesmith Graham, a single mother, went to work as a typist to support her children in 1951, she found she wasn't always accurate. To remedy the situation, she created what she called Mistake Out. Twenty-eight years later she sold her invention — renamed White Out — to the Gillette Corporation for $47.5 million.
Think about other innovations that shape our daily lives. Thomas Edison was thinking outside the box, way before the term was cool, when he lit up our nights. The world we live in would look quite different today without Bill Gates and Henry Ford. And without creativity, we would never have known the Chia Pet, the Swiffer, or the Clapper. Creative people thought of many of the items we take for granted today. They imagined an entirely new invention or expanded on an old one to create a completely new idea.
Creative thinkers of the future will have the opportunity to solve many problems — and there are plenty to go around. The search for a cure to the common cold has been fruitless. The coils on refrigerators get dusty, toilet seats are left up, and diapers still need to be changed. When some creative soul comes along with a solution for these problems, our world will indeed change for the better.
"Why didn't I think of that?" How many times have you said that to yourself upon seeing a new product or clever idea? People just like you dreamed up these innovations, but they had something else going for them: they were creative problem solvers.
Creative thinking isn't only about inventing products, though. Attacking a problem from a different angle and coming up with a solution can also result in successful plans and ideas that will benefit all involved. For years, our nation has struggled with difficult problems that won't be solved until someone thinks of a new solution. The energy crisis comes and goes without ever reaching a suitable conclusion. Our waste continues to overwhelm us, filling up landfills in spite of our recycling efforts. Poverty levels are high, and homelessness is much more common than it should be in our wealthy nation. Just imagine the problems that future generations could overcome if parents and teachers learned to guide children and young adults toward creative thinking skills!
If there's any doubt in your mind about the desirability of a creative mind, consider this: classified ads are rife with employers seeking "creative self-starters" and prospective college students are encouraged to show creativity in their enrollment applications. Kids well versed in the art of creative thinking will have a jump start in life.
Teaching a group of kids to problem solve creatively is a task well worth undertaking. It is also a job that takes patience, tenacity, and some creativity of your own. If you've picked up this book, it is likely that you understand the need for adults to encourage creativity in young people. But how do you go about teaching kids to think creatively?
Creativity can't be taught in the same manner that math, for example, can be taught. There are no facts to memorize, no right or wrong answers. Creativity is difficult to quantify. In a classroom setting, students who correctly answer questions or solve problems are rewarded with high marks. But, in life, once we leave the confines of the school setting, very few of the decisions we make have a single, correct answer. Life offers plenty of options along the way, minus an instruction manual or answer key. As in life, with creative thinking there is seldom a right answer. Creativity is a thought process that can be encouraged through open-ended learning activities, discussions, and challenges. Enter Team Challenges. Each task in this book provides the opportunity to expand the mind and solve problems in multiple ways, all while having fun.
Fostering creativity among children and young adults is something that should be a priority for every parent, teacher, and group leader. Kids will grow into creative adults only if we provide opportunities for exploring a variety of possibilities and allow them to express their ideas in a setting free of judgment, ridicule, or comparison. Creative thinking is a skill that can be encouraged in every person on earth. And well it should be. Creative thinkers are able to freely express unique ideas, solve problems, and act in a resourceful manner, all of which are assets to society.
Remember back in grade school, when report cards happily proclaimed, "Works well with others"? Getting along with our peers was an important part of our day. As adults, we no longer depend on such a proclamation; however, our interactions with others do earn us a reputation that often precedes us. The adult version of "works well with others" is a glowing recommendation from a friend or coworker. People who are easy to get along with, dependable, and considerate of others' ideas will naturally gain the respect of the people they deal with.
Teaching kids to work together as a group maximizes their understanding of teamwork, creates a feeling of belonging and trust, and encourages creative problem solving. Students have the opportunity to learn as part of a group when they work together toward a common goal. Working as a team, they learn that each participant has strengths and weaknesses. Recognizing each person's limitations and abilities, as well as their own, encourages participants to depend upon and trust one another.
Regardless of your team's makeup, eliminating dissention among groups is a key element of these challenges. Without creativity, cooperation, and communication, problems can seem bigger than they really are. Differences of opinion are to be expected, but by utilizing the communication aspect of team challenges, teammates will learn to calmly and respectfully share their ideas and move toward actually solving the problem at hand.
Of course, this isn't always as simple as it sounds. Two confident team members can butt heads if they both think their solution is the only correct solution. With regular engagement in team challenges, participants will learn to see that each task presents a number of different possibilities for a solution. There is no such thing as a correct answer, since the problems presented can be solved any number of ways.
Just as that vocal, natural-born leader can wreak havoc on team tranquility, an overly quiet child can hinder the team's success as well; if ideas are not verbalized, the team will not have the opportunity to try them. Cooperation requires participation by everyone on the team and consideration of all viewpoints. In working together toward a common goal, groups may toss out some unusual possibilities for solving a task. Team members must be prepared to acknowledge all ideas as potential solutions, even those that might be considered a bit wacky.
A group of middle school boys I recently worked with was searching for a way to make an invention move across the floor. After much discussion and many unsuccessful attempts, the boys came up with the idea of modifying an electric can opener to pull their invention across the floor. It worked. With a little thought and creativity, every suggestion has the potential to become a great solution.
Teamwork encourages participants to work on conflict resolution skills as well. There is bound to be some disagreement about the best way to solve some of the tasks presented here. Participants will learn to work quickly through differences of opinion and to accept that all of the members of the team have valid suggestions.
Have you ever heard the phrase "There's no I in team"? In order to complete the tasks in this book, teams must collaborate to come up with a solution that is agreeable to the entire group. Teammates will need to learn to trust one another's fairness and to explain their opinions clearly and concisely; within the time limits imposed on each task, there is little room for arguing about the best solution. Students will quickly learn that spending three minutes of their valuable time debating the merits of each idea is ultimately going to interfere with the completion of their task. This is not to say that there won't be differences of opinion initially. Just as with anything else in life, learning to work cooperatively takes practice.
In short order, the group will realize that every member of the team is a valuable part of the final solution and that competition against one's own teammates is counterproductive. Without the efforts of the entire group, the team is working with a handicap. In order for teams to excel, all members must collaborate on an innovative idea to solve the problem creatively.
The fast-paced nature of the tasks in this book requires a bit of risk taking. There isn't time to debate the very best course of action before jumping in to solve the problem. Rather, teams must get immediately to work, problem solve along the way, and incorporate past learning experiences in order to come up with the best possible solution — quickly.
Smoke signals. War drums. Cave paintings. Runes. Hieroglyphs. Sign language. Newspapers. The Pony Express. Telegraph. Telegrams. Telephone. The postal service. Federal Express. Fax. E-mail. Cell phones. Instant messaging. Chat rooms.
The methods we use to communicate may have changed over the years, but the basic principles remain the same. We talk, others listen, and vice-versa. In modern-day life, we have countless avenues for conveying our needs, desires, or dreams. We communicate with other people every day. From our good morning nod to ordering lunch; from greeting the bus driver to waving hello; from asking for directions to saying good night, communication is an inevitable part of our day. Honing our communication skills can help us avoid conflicts, improve relationships, and increase understanding between groups of people. In spite of the ever-increasing means of communication, there is no guarantee that these methods are effective. In these days of modern technology, it is still a human obligation to communicate clearly.
True communication involves listening, comprehension, and the ability to convey an idea clearly. While we all have some basic communication skills, this doesn't necessarily mean that we are good at it. Sure, we talk to one another; however, if our ideas aren't articulated clearly, there is potential for miscommunication.
Speaking is only one half of successful communication. Listening — and comprehending the words we hear — completes the communication cycle. In order to make certain we hear pertinent information, it is crucial to listen as people speak. Adults in the midst of an exciting conversation have a tendency to get caught up in the moment. How many times have you participated in a conversation that felt more like a competition to finish a thought than a calm exchange of ideas? Instead of focusing on what to say next, we need to learn to turn off the dictation in our heads and simply listen. While the average person speaks at about 130 words per minute, our thinking speed is about 500 words per minute, meaning that our brains are often jumping ahead of the conversation.
The language skills of humans improve over time: babies evolve from crying for attention to grunting and pointing and finally to individual words. Stringing together words to form sentences is the culmination of long months of listening and practice. But as we gain the ability to communicate verbally, should we stop learning how to improve our communication skills?
Clear communication is crucial in every aspect of our lives, from relationships to careers. Effective communication allows us to confidently express our opinions, understand another point of view, and give accurate instructions.
The only way to learn to communicate more clearly is to practice. Team challenges provide the opportunity to practice communication skills in a nonthreatening setting and to assess within minutes what worked and what didn't. As teammates regularly work through each task, they will begin to see how effective communication skills can aid in successfully tackling problems.
Working within a group to solve a problem or come up with alternative ideas enhances the creative process, encourages cooperation, and fosters clear communication. The life skills learned through team challenges will benefit children and young adults, now and in the future. The divergent thinking skills learned through team challenges are invaluable for students. Creativity, cooperation, and communication are assets that will help our children thrive not only in a competitive work environment, but also in their daily lives.
Get It Together
Gather Your Group and Prepare for Some Fun
Team Challenges requires a willingness to step beyond the regular realm of learning activities and into the world of creative problem solving. The activities in this book encourage participants to explore the possibilities for solving challenging problems. Exactly what is the best way to build a tower out of newspaper and tape? Or the best way to portray a movie character with only a paper bag for a prop? Adults and the kids they work with will appreciate that, with this type of task, there isn't one correct way to solve the problem. The opportunity to solve these problems in countless ways makes these activities fun for all involved.
With the regular use of team challenges, your group will learn to use creative problem-solving skills, work together, and overcome communication difficulties in order to solve some interesting dilemmas. Kids will also learn successful building methods, increase divergent thinking skills, and gain insight into the skillful use of some unusual materials. There is an amazing amount of flexibility in each task, but some general guidelines will help you facilitate a successful experience for your entire group or classroom.
Who Can Use [Team Challenges?
The short answer is anyone. Regardless of age or ability, team challenges are a fun way to expose kids to the concept that together, we're better.
Whether you are a team leader of an organized group that will ultimately participate in a competition, a leader of a youth organization, or a teacher trying to encourage cooperation among your students, the tasks within the covers of this book will provide ideas for jump-starting creativity and fostering cooperation among your group.
Assembling a Team
So, what exactly is a team? For this book, I've used the term to indicate any small group of people that wants to learn to think creatively, work together toward a common goal, and have fun. Most of the tasks in this book work best with groups of three to eight, though many of them will work with larger groups as well.
If you are conducting team challenges in a classroom setting and dividing students into several smaller groups, I would recommend maintaining the same groups for a number of sessions. Participants will find that coming up with a creative solution is easier as they begin to recognize and rely on their teammates' strengths.
Teams working toward a long-term goal, such as those with DestiNation Imagination or Odyssey of the Mind, will work together for an extended amount of time, sometimes coming together year after year. After a while, as these groups begin to anticipate one another's moves and to understand the different strengths and personalities of each team member, they will find that the solution to each task comes more easily. One team member, for instance, may be especially suited to guiding the team through a difficult building task, but may find improvisational tasks to be more of a challenge. Learning to recognize each team member's strengths will allow teams to come up with the best solution possible, based on all of the team members' ideas. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Team Challenges by Kris Bordessa. Copyright © 2006 Kris Bordessa. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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