A great activity for everyone

Plastic Straw Skyscraper

How to Build a Plastic Straw Skyscraper That Will Amaze Everyone

Plastic Straw Skyscraper
By Jon Zajac

What is Plastic Straw Skyscraper?

As someone who has both participated in and facilitated the Plastic Straw Skyscraper icebreaker, I can attest to its engaging and educational value. This activity challenges participants to construct the tallest and most innovative skyscraper possible using only plastic straws and tape within a set timeframe. By doing so, it fosters creativity, engineering thinking, and teamwork among participants.

The Plastic Straw Skyscraper icebreaker is an excellent tool for educators, corporate trainers, and youth leaders who seek to strengthen their group’s collaboration, problem-solving, and communication skills. Divided into teams, participants work together to plan, design, and build their skyscraper while adhering to specific rules and guidelines. The resulting structures not only showcase each team’s creativity but also serve as a tangible representation of their collective effort and ingenuity.

What sets the Plastic Straw Skyscraper icebreaker apart is its ability to teach valuable STEM concepts through hands-on experimentation. Participants gain firsthand experience with basic engineering principles, such as force distribution, balance, and structural integrity, as they construct their skyscrapers. Furthermore, the activity encourages critical thinking and adaptability by presenting teams with unforeseen challenges and limitations during construction.

In conclusion, the Plastic Straw Skyscraper icebreaker is an enjoyable and interactive way to develop essential skills in teamwork, problem-solving, and creative thinking. By tasking participants with building a straw skyscraper, this activity fosters collaboration, engineering knowledge, and innovation while providing a memorable and engaging experience for all involved.

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Rules for Plastic Straw Skyscraper

  1. The skyscraper must be freestanding; leaning or attaching it to fixed structures, furniture, or the floor is not permitted.
  2. Participants can only use the provided materials to build their skyscraper.
  3. Dimensional creativity is encouraged, but stability and height are the primary goals.
  4. The use of scissors is optional and should be monitored to ensure safety.
  5. Skyscrapers need to be completed within the given time limit, typically 20-30 minutes.

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Materials needed for Plastic Straw Skyscraper

  • Plastic straws: Provide a generous quantity to facilitate creativity and large constructions. Offering straws of different colors and sizes can add complexity and aesthetic value to the structures.
  • Tape: Clear tape is typically recommended for its strength and ease of use. Each team gets the same limited amount to ensure fairness.
  • Scissors (optional): To allow participants to customize the length of their straws.
  • Ruler or measuring tape: For determining the winning skyscraper based on height.
  • Timer or stopwatch: To keep track of the building phase time limit.

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Setting up for Plastic Straw Skyscraper

To set up for the Plastic Straw Skyscraper icebreaker activity, follow these steps:

  1. Select a Suitable Venue: Choose a spacious area with enough room for multiple teams to work comfortably without interference. This could be an open classroom, conference room, or outdoor space.

  2. Divide Participants into Teams: Determine the number of participants and create balanced teams, ideally consisting of 3-6 members each. Assign a team color or name for easy identification during the activity.

  3. Prepare Workstations: Designate separate areas or tables for each team to build their skyscrapers. Ensure that there is enough space between workstations to prevent accidents and allow participants to focus on their constructions.

  4. Distribute Materials: Evenly distribute plastic straws, tape, scissors (if applicable), and measuring tools among the teams. Make sure each team has sufficient materials for creativity and large structures while maintaining fairness in resource allocation.

  5. Set Boundaries: Clearly mark a starting line and finish line if the activity includes a presentation or testing phase. This will help manage expectations and keep participants focused on building their skyscrapers within the designated area.

  6. Communicate Rules and Guidelines: Before starting the activity, thoroughly explain the objectives, rules, time limit, and safety measures to all participants. Encourage questions and discussions to ensure everyone understands the instructions.

By following these setup guidelines, you’ll create a conducive environment for the Plastic Straw Skyscraper icebreaker activity, allowing participants to engage in collaborative problem-solving, creativity, and teamwork while enjoying the hands-on learning experience.

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How to play Plastic Straw Skyscraper

1. Divide participants into teams. Divide the participants into small groups of 3-6 members each to ensure everyone can contribute effectively.

2. Designate working areas for each team. Assign a specific area or table for every team to build their skyscraper, ensuring ample space for construction.

3. Distribute materials equally among teams. Provide each team with an adequate supply of plastic straws, equal lengths of tape, and—if applicable—a pair of scissors.

4. Explain the rules and objectives. Clearly communicate the goals, rules, and time limit of the activity to all participants before starting.

5. Set a clear starting line and finish line. Define the boundaries for the construction area and the presentation/testing phase if applicable.

6. Begin the building phase. Start the timer, allowing teams to plan and construct their skyscrapers while encouraging creative structural ideas.

7. Stop construction after the time limit expires. Measure each skyscraper from its base to its highest point once the allotted time has passed.

8. (Optional) Conduct presentations. Allow teams to present their skyscraper, explaining design choices and encountered challenges.

9. Announce the winning team. Reveal the tallest stable skyscraper based on measured heights.

10. Facilitate a debrief session. Engage participants in a reflection on what they learned about teamwork, structure stability, and creative problem-solving.

11. Introduce challenges for added difficulty (optional). Enhance the activity by incorporating earthquake simulations or wind tests using additional materials.

12. Vary materials for exploration (optional). Explore different construction techniques by introducing other building materials like paper clips or string.

13. Add constraints for creative solutions (optional). Prompt innovative designs by imposing height minimums, shape requirements, or other limitations.

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Benefits of Plastic Straw Skyscraper

  • Improves Team Communication: By working together in small groups, participants learn to collaborate effectively, share ideas, and delegate tasks. This experience fosters a stronger team dynamic and enhances overall communication skills.
  • Develops Basic Engineering Principles: Through the process of designing and building a straw skyscraper, participants gain insights into fundamental engineering concepts such as force distribution, balance, and structural integrity.
  • Boosts Problem-Solving Abilities: The activity encourages participants to think critically and creatively when confronted with challenges or limitations. By finding innovative solutions, they improve their problem-solving skills and resilience.
  • Enhances Creativity and Innovation: With the freedom to design unique structures, participants are motivated to explore various creative approaches. This process helps them develop an appreciation for innovation and the value of thinking outside the box.
  • Promotes STEM Education: The Plastic Straw Skyscraper icebreaker is an engaging way to introduce STEM concepts to students or young learners. It provides a hands-on learning experience that can spark interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.
  • Cultivates Patience and Persistence: Building a tall and stable skyscraper requires time, effort, and determination. Participants learn to be patient throughout the construction process and persist even when facing setbacks or difficulties.
  • Encourages Adaptability: Introducing challenges or limitations during the activity forces teams to adapt their strategies and designs. This experience helps participants become more flexible and open to change in real-life situations.
  • Fosters Healthy Competition: The competitive nature of the activity motivates participants to strive for excellence and push their boundaries. By focusing on healthy competition, they learn to handle success and defeat gracefully while maintaining a positive attitude.

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Skills built with Plastic Straw Skyscraper

  • Teamwork: By collaborating in teams, participants learn to distribute tasks, communicate effectively, and leverage each other’s strengths to achieve a common goal. This experience helps them develop essential team-building skills that can be applied in various professional and personal settings.

  • Engineering Thinking: The activity exposes players to basic engineering principles such as force distribution, balance, and structural integrity. Through trial and error, they learn to analyze problems, design solutions, and test their ideas, fostering a problem-solving mindset.

  • Creativity and Innovation: With limited resources, participants are encouraged to think outside the box and develop original design concepts. By exploring various approaches, they hone their creative thinking skills, which can benefit them in numerous areas of life, including academic pursuits and career development.

  • Problem-Solving Abilities: The challenge of constructing a stable skyscraper within specific constraints pushes participants to identify issues, evaluate alternatives, and implement effective solutions. This process strengthens their critical thinking skills and resilience in overcoming obstacles, both of which are vital for success in various aspects of life.

  • Spatial Awareness: Manipulating and arranging straws in three-dimensional space enhances participants’ spatial awareness and understanding of geometric relationships. These skills can be beneficial in fields such as architecture, design, or engineering, where visualizing and planning structures is crucial.

  • Patience and Persistence: Working on a challenging project with a deadline teaches participants the importance of patience and persistence. They learn that setbacks are part of the process and that continuous effort leads to improvement and success. This lesson can be applied in many areas, from schoolwork to long-term goals.

In conclusion, playing the Plastic Straw Skyscraper icebreaker builds a wide range of skills that are valuable for personal growth and professional development. By engaging in this hands-on learning experience, participants enhance their teamwork, engineering thinking, creativity, problem-solving abilities, spatial awareness, patience, and persistence.

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Why I like Plastic Straw Skyscraper

I appreciate the Plastic Straw Skyscraper icebreaker for its ability to engage participants in a stimulating and collaborative challenge that promotes creativity, teamwork, and problem-solving skills. This activity is an excellent way to introduce engineering principles in a fun and interactive manner, allowing individuals to learn through hands-on experience.

The simplicity of materials, such as plastic straws and tape, makes the activity accessible and enjoyable for various age groups and settings. The unstructured nature of the task encourages participants to think critically and innovatively while working together, enhancing their communication and collaboration skills.

One aspect I particularly enjoy about this icebreaker is its versatility. Organizers can easily customize the activity by introducing additional challenges, varying materials, or imposing limitations to prompt creative solutions. These adjustments ensure that the Plastic Straw Skyscraper icebreaker remains engaging and relevant for diverse audiences.

Moreover, the activity’s focus on structural stability and height provides a valuable learning experience in understanding basic engineering concepts like force distribution, balance, and integrity. Participants can apply these principles in various fields of study and professional endeavors, making the Plastic Straw Skyscraper icebreaker not only entertaining but also educational and practical.

Overall, I find the Plastic Straw Skyscraper icebreaker to be an enjoyable and effective way to promote teamwork, creativity, and problem-solving skills while providing a hands-on learning experience in STEM concepts.

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Tips for making Plastic Straw Skyscraper more inclusive

  • Tip: Provide Adjustable Building Materials Make sure to offer straws in various sizes and colors, as well as tape with different levels of stickiness. This way, participants with diverse abilities can easily manipulate the materials to fit their needs.
  • Tip: Offer Visual Aids Clear visual aids, such as diagrams or illustrations, can help non-verbal and visually oriented individuals understand the rules and objectives of the activity more effectively.
  • Tip: Encourage Verbal Communication For those who struggle with non-verbal communication, fostering an environment where team members are encouraged to express their ideas verbally can lead to a more inclusive experience.
  • Tip: Allow Extra Time If possible, provide additional time for teams that may need it due to accessibility needs or language barriers. This helps ensure everyone has an opportunity to contribute and feel successful in the activity.
  • Tip: Use Accessible Language When explaining rules and guidelines, use clear and simple language to make sure all participants can understand and follow along. Avoid jargon or complex phrasing that may exclude some individuals.
  • Tip: Promote Cultural Sensitivity Be mindful of cultural differences and encourage teams to respect and value diverse ideas and perspectives. This promotes inclusivity and helps create a positive learning environment for all participants.

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Reflection questions for Plastic Straw Skyscraper

  1. What strategies did you use to ensure your skyscraper was stable and able to support its own weight? This question encourages participants to reflect on their application of basic engineering principles, such as force distribution and balance.
  2. How did your team collaborate during the building process? What challenges did you face in terms of communication or decision-making? By exploring team dynamics, participants can identify areas for improvement in future collaborative efforts.
  3. If given more time or resources, how would you modify your design to create an even taller or more innovative structure? This question prompts participants to consider the impact of additional constraints on their creative problem-solving process.
  4. What did you learn about teamwork and creativity from this activity? How can these insights be applied in other contexts, such as school or work? By connecting the Plastic Straw Skyscraper experience to broader concepts, participants can recognize the value of collaboration and creative thinking in various aspects of their lives.
  5. How did you feel about the challenges or limitations imposed during the activity? Did they hinder or enhance your creativity? Why? This question encourages participants to reflect on the role of constraints in fostering innovation and problem-solving abilities.

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About the author

Jon Zajac

Jon Zajac

Founder & Chief Icebreaker

I started Icebreaker Spot because I truly believe that strong connections are the foundation of successful teams. I wanted to create a platform that would make it easy for people to find and share icebreakers and team building activities, empowering them to build trust, foster collaboration, and ultimately, achieve greatness together.

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