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Team Building Activities for Special Education Students

Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 15 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Feeling like part of a team can be difficult for students with special needs. This lesson offers team building activities designed to be completely inclusive of students of all abilities, including special education students.

Special Ed Students and Team Building

Team building is an important part of group cohesion. Sometimes, students with special needs can have extra difficulty feeling like part of a team. So, we will explore some activities that will help your special education students learn to build their collaboration skills while also enhancing their self-esteem through working as a member of a unit.

The activities are organized by physical activity level. Some accommodation may be required for students with special physical needs. However, the activities are designed to incorporate all students of every skill level.

Physically Active Team Building Activities

These activities are designed to get students moving and solving problems as a group. They are best played with groups of 5 or more. Have students focus on the puzzle and problem-solving aspects of the activities rather than speed of completion. Due to the inclusion of students with differing abilities, try to avoid the appearance of teams racing or competing against each other.

Build a Bridge

Tell your students that a number of people have been stranded on a deserted part of an island after a rope bridge collapsed. The students' job is to work together to find a way to save the people.

Ensure that the area is large enough for all your students to be able to work and move around comfortably. Supply random materials for students to use to solve the puzzle of how to save the people. Some items could be rope, planks of wood, sheets, and baskets.

After breaking students into groups, allow them to use their imagination to save the people. Observe closely to ensure that all students are given the opportunity to assist in each team's resolution attempts.

Maze Building

You will need many large, empty cardboard boxes for this team building activity. Divide the class into two teams. Divide the boxes in half. Ask the teams to build a maze for the other team to navigate. They must build mazes large enough that every student can get through comfortably (instruct them to include wheelchair access if this is applicable to your classroom).

Make sure that everyone has a chance to give suggestions to their team and to place boxes. The teams must work together. After both teams have finished, allow them to try to navigate the other team's maze.

Scavenger Hunt

Allow the class to work as a whole for this activity. On individual cards, list items for team members to find around the classroom or school. Give each student one item to find. Ensure that you match the item to the student's ability level (for example, avoid giving a large, heavy item to a student with low mobility). Try to give the most obscure items to the most capable students. In this way, students who will struggle may finish at the same time as those who do not have the same special needs.

At a signal, the students will hunt for and collect their items. Time them. After they have collected everything, have them discuss how the activity could have gone better, what strategies would have made them faster and how they might improve. Give out a new set of cards (with the same caveats as before) and let them try again. In this way, they feel the team building motivation of competition, but they are always only competing against themselves.

Inactive Team Building Activities

These activities are inactive activities designed to be carried out in a classroom setting without the need for mobility.

Story Round

Creating stories can be a fun activity for students to bond over. For this activity, provide a general theme for a story and then ask students to write one sentence of the story on a slip of paper. Put the students' sentences in a hat. You start the story with an opening thought of any kind and then have the first student pull a sentence out of the hat to continue the story. Continue with each student adding the next sentence drawn from the hat to the story until all the sentences are pulled.

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