It’s Back to School Time Again: Ideas for Building Community and Social-Emotional Skills

It’s that time of year again. August marks the start of many schools and programs. Once again we will devote our August/September Friday lessons to activities and strategies that will help educators start the year off on the right foot.

Many educators look for some simple group activities to begin the process of community building in their classrooms and groups. Last year in our back to school series Jen Stanchfield author of Tips & Tools: The Art of Experiential Group Facilitation offered up a few strategies for building community and increasing engagement and buy in (see blog archives). Today she shares one of her favorite group building activities: Tin Can Pass.

Tin Can Pass

Jen Stanchfield Team Building Experiential Learning

This problem solving, communication, and group building activity is elegantly simple as far as materials and set up. It uses an easy to find prop- a number 10 tin can- found in the recycle bin of most school or camp kitchens and cafeterias. It is a great introduction to group problem solving that works well will with participants of all ages and can be adapted for small or large group sizes. The social emotional and group building skills practiced in this activity include communication, experimentation, helping others, patience, creative problem solving, goal setting, giving and receiving directions.

• Have the group sit in a circle, (floor, chairs or both, are fine).
• Challenge the group to pass the can around the circle using only their feet (specify that this means below the ankle) without dropping it.
• The activity requires the practice of communication, encouragement and coordination between group members.
• When the group is successful with “level one” (just passing the can) introduce level two by placing a tennis ball or other prop in the can, which often forces the group to change their strategy.
• Level 3: For advanced challenge have group members close their eyes and pass the can (they can open them when they have passed off the can which allows them to verbally guide others in their group).

Pick-A-Postcard Reflection Experiential Tools

Reflection I often follow this activity using Chiji Cards or my Pick-A-Postcard collection. I ask the group to agree on one card that represents what they achieved together in the activity.

Facilitation Notes:
If the can is dropped, have participants decide what to do or suggest that they send it back one person, or restart right there and continue the activity. Sending the can all the way back to where it started if it is dropped might become too frustrating for some groups. It is important to be aware of the necessary balance between challenge and achievable success experiences.

For larger groups you can divide the group in half and have two circles taking on the challenge or to keep everyone together use two cans and send one to the left and one to the right which keeps more group members engaged and adds the challenge of crossing the can.
Jen Stanchfield's Tin Can Pass Picture
Reference: I learned this activity from Karl Rohnke many years ago. My students in Steven’s Point, Wisconsin added the level variations.

For more articles from Jennifer Stanchfield on teaching, group facilitation and reflection visit her Inspired Educator Blog at

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