How to Teach Students to Collaborate in Upper Elementary

How to Teach Students to Collaborate in Upper Elementary



I’m not just a teacher, I’m also a camp counselor . So, when my campers were tasked with some difficult activities, I had no choice but to become a student as well. As I helped alongside my campers, I learned something that surprised me: teaching kids to be good collaborators can be harder than teaching them math or grammar.

Teaching kids to work well with others is critical for their future success.

Collaboration is an important part of your job as a teacher. It’s a powerful tool that can help students develop skills they’ll need later in life, and it’s also an essential part of their education.

If you want to teach kids how to work well with others, then you need to make collaboration one of your main priorities in the classroom.

One of the most important things that teachers can do is to set up a classroom environment where students feel empowered to take risks and make mistakes. This means that you should allow students to collaborate on projects, even when they’re working in groups they don’t like or with people they don’t get along wi


Activities to Use to Teach Students How to Collaborate

  • Save Fred 

Have you ever used Save Fred before? This is an AMAZING back to school activity for students to start diving into group work!

 Materials needed: 1 gummy worm per group, 3 paperclips per group, 1 gummy lifesaver per group and 1 cup per group. 

The set up: Fred (the gummy worm), is out to sea, but fell under his boat (the cup) and the life preserver (gummy lifesaver) is on top. AND UH-OH. He can’t swim. I like to use this video: Mission Impossible: Save Fred! to show the students as I’m passing out the supply bags. 

Rules: Students CANNOT touch the Fred, the life preserver or the boat with their hands. They can touch and manipulate the paperclips. I also tell them not to stab Fred or the life preserver. (:  When they figure it out, they CANNOT tell another group! 




  • Index Card Challenge

This is my PERSONAL FAVORITE activity to get the students to collaborate. I love this, because it allows them to share about themselves in a low risk activity.

Materials needed: 20 index cards per group + extra just in case, writing utensils

No setup needed

Rules: Students are trying to build the tallest tower that they can using index cards. WAIT, there’s more… students can ONLY use an index card if they can write something they all have in common. I share some examples like 

  • You’re all in 5th Grade
  • Do you all have a pet?
  • Do you all like pepperoni pizza?

I had two groups in separate classes notice they all had A’s in their name! I love hearing the conversations and learning a little more about my students. And, you can set this for however much time you’d like! I’d suggest around 5-8 minutes.



  • 100 Numbers Task

Several of you have probably heard about this as I’ve been seeing it being swirled ALL OVER social media now, but I’ve been using this the last couple of years and it is a DEFINITE MUST.

Materials needed: 100 numbers sheet for each group

No set up needed

Rules: I’m going to link to the original post about this activity here:

I will say I don’t have my students do 3 rounds. We do 2, but it is still effective. 



  • Community Circles

We have become a restorative circle school and at first I was hesitant, but once I realized the impact, I am NEVER going back to not doing them. 

This is something you can build into your routine and you can make it related to your curriculum or not. 

Materials needed: A talking piece

No set up needed

Rules: Students stand in a circle and may only talk if they have the talking piece. Students may pass if they would not like to share. We often incorporate a mini game as well, but these community circles really allow students to build empathy for others.




  • Classcraft Random Events

A did a deep dive into Classcraft. While not all of the elements are useful to me, the main thing I am going to continue to use is the Classcraft Random Events. You can put your students in groups and Classcraft comes up with random activities that have the students working together. So, if you don’t have an idea for a collaborative activity that day, join Classcraft!


Collaboration is a skill that can be used in so many different ways. You can find it in the work of businesses and governments, but also on playgrounds and fields. It’s something that kids need to learn early on so they can develop good habits for their future lives. The best way to do this is by encouraging them to work together with their peers in a fun environment where everyone feels safe and comfortable—and you as an adult should be taking advantage of every opportunity yourself!


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