Sent straight to your inbox


Sign up to receive 10 ready-to-use ELA resources your students will love! 


5 Back to School Team Building Activities to Use in Middle School ELA

The new school year is approaching and with it a whole new group of students.  So much of our year, it seems, is spent building up connections and getting used to the unique dynamic of one particular group. But then each year, we have to start over from scratch. To soften the blow of starting over, I’ve come up with these ideas for back-to-school team building activities to use in middle school ELA.


What do you think you could make out of a stack of cardboard, a roll of duct tape, two plastic cups, a plastic bag, and some string?

This first team-building activity idea is to get your students to do just that: they will invent and advertise a product of their own creation using only those items described above. Challenges like this that push students to think divergently are great for team building.  They provoke students to think of a variety of solutions, instead of just one, helping them to develop a skill set that will be of particular use to them in the ELA classroom.

Objects for the maker challenge, one of the back to school middle school ELA team building activities

Here’s how it works…

  • Provide students the list of items above. I like using this hand-drawn introductory video to introduce the project.
  • Get students to brainstorm the possible inventions, either via a list or with an idea web.
  • Have students analyze and refine their ideas. They may want to mash together similar ideas, for example.
  • Then, get students to decide on one product and create a product outline (i.e. how does it work? How will they make it?)
  • Here’s the really fun part: get students to make this a reality by actually making the product!
  • Teach students about persuasive techniques, (like ethos, pathos, and logos) and get them to sell the product with a blog, sales pitch, or a video clip.


On the surface, the prompt will seem like a challenge: first, they will think, “how many things can you invent with just these items?” But trust me, you and your students will be surprised at just how creative they can be with this.

maker challenge ela



Ok, so this team-building activity idea comes with one small caveat: you have to turn into a zombie. Well, not literally. That’s just your part in the premise: the teacher has become a zombie and the students need to turn them back into a human. And of course, the one copy your school library has of Beginners Guide to Zombies is missing the page that explains just how to do that…Classic.

This escape room activity is a great way to activate your students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills while working together as a team and building a classroom community. You’ll have them solving puzzles and riddles from the remaining pages of this imaginary zombie book, from which their answers will reveal the encryption and—through that—the key ingredients needed to rescue you, their new teacher! Let’s hope they can, otherwise, it’ll be a very strange school year.

Teacher zombie escape room activity for middle school ELA

Here’s how I like to implement this activity in the classroom:


I let students visit the first five stations in whatever order they choose, but tell them that everyone must complete the sixth station last. This is because the last station is where they will discover zombie encryption code from which they can make their zombie-to-human mixture. I personally don’t just stop the activity when one group has discovered the answer. I keep it going and determine the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc. place. I’ve found that a little healthy competition to be a great way to really break the ice with my new classes.

zombie escape room



Picture this. It’s 1978. You’re a construction worker in downtown San Francisco (stay with me), and you’re part of a team that just discovered a ship buried 20 feet below ground. How in the world did this get here? you wonder. How was it never discovered until now? Who owned the ship?

When I first heard about this idea from John Spencer, I thought hey, what a great back-to-school team-building activity for the ELA classroom. I knew this prompt would make for a great inference activity. At the time, I didn’t know that it’s actually a true story! How cool is that? Maybe you know about this already, but hey I didn’t, and it made me like this activity even more. This is how it works:

  1. Students (in groups) watch a video and read the backstory that explains the limited details of this ship.
  2. Then, they use the inference sheet to work together to infer information about the mystery.
  3. Finally, they develop their theories by writing their inferred explanation of the mysteries surrounding the ship.
  4. Once they have all shared, we share the real back story of how the ship ended up there!


To make the most out of this inference activity, I like to help students organize the way they structure their responses and theories so that we can easily share and compare answers as a class.

inference mystery



I don’t know about you, but my classrooms are often filled with student-athletes. It seems sports are less an interest than an obsession for many of my students. In this activity, you can engage these students in an effective team-building exercise. With the sports mash-up challenge, students get to develop a new sport that combines elements from other different sports. This idea of mashing up sports together isn’t a stretch: some sports already do just that. Think of water, polo, for example, which mixes swimming, soccer, and polo. Or ultimate frisbee which is really a combination of frisbee, soccer, and football.

I find that the sports mash-up challenges make for great back-to-school team-building activities to use in middle school ELA. One way of looking at the classroom, after all, is as one big team, and this sports-related activity will help your students see the similarities between their teammates and their classmates.

Sports Mash Up Team Builder

Here’s how you can make sure your team gets off to a good start this season…

  • I like to start by showing a PowerPoint presentation and a hand-drawn video to explain the activity.
  • Then, I have students brainstorm the sports they already know and get them to research some more that they don’t.
  • I tell my students to then combine certain elements of these different sports to create a new, original one!
  • The next step is giving each student a planning sheet that they can use to organize and develop their ideas.
  • Then, I have students draft the instructions for their new sport before exchanging drafts with a classmate for peer editing.
  • Using the feedback they received, the students will then write out their final version of their sport.


If you want, you can let your students include drawings of what the sport will look like being played. And if you’re up for it, you may even be able to try out a few of the sports as a class! I know if I were a student, this would be a pretty memorable day in English class…Maybe you can have the students vote on which sports invention are their three favorites, for example. This will help you decide which ones to play. It also turns the activity itself into a kind of competition.



Curiosity is one of the keys to learning. If we can help our students retain their sense of curiosity while giving them the tools to explore what makes them curious, I think we’ve in many ways succeeded. This last team-building activity gives students the opportunity to do a deep dive into something that they’re curious about and share with others. Maybe one student has always wondered why shadows get longer, for example, while another wonders what the history of video games is. With the wonder day activity, students will get to learn all about something they might not otherwise learn in school. I like to use Wonder Day as a chance for students to collectively act on their curiosity and share what they learn with others.

Wonder day activity resources for team building

This team-building activity also serves as a great opportunity for you to teach students effective research practices at the beginning of the year. Here’s how I use this activity in the classroom:

  • I get students to reflect on what it is they wonder and would like to learn about.
  • Then, I get them to create research questions connected to the topic. (I always encourage students to make their research questions specific, connected to the topic, and answerable with facts.)
  • After the questions are well-developed, I get them started on the research. This is where I teach the students about what makes for a trustworthy source.
  • I conclude the activity by having them present their findings through some source of media: a podcast, a blog, or a video with their classmates.


Is there anything you’ve wondered lately? Maybe you’d like to take part in Wonder Day yourself!


Shop this post by clicking here


I hope you found this back to school team building activity list useful! If you liked these back-to-school team-building activities for middle school ELA, you might also be interested in checking out 5 Outside the Box Creative Writing Assignments for ELA.

share this post


sent straight to your inbox!

10 days of ELA TEACHER