Brief Description: By completing building towers silently in groups, students will gain an appreciation for verbal communication.

Grades: All

Time: 1  hour

Keywords: towers, communication, teamwork

Lesson Objectives

  • Students will better understand the importance of communication for engineers.
  • Students will reflect on how they communicate with their classmates and to the teachers.


  • Paper
  • Plastic bottles
  • Cardboard
  • Cups
  • Tape
  • Other found materials


  1. Discuss communication and its importance with the class. What is communication? How do humans communicate? How do animals communicate? What about robots? Who do engineers need to communicate with when they’re working on a project? Who do you communicate with when you’re working on a project?
  2. Divide the class up into teams of 6-10 people and let them choose their team name. The teams are competing to build the tallest tower. But, the team must build the top and bottom half separately. One half of each group will build the top, and one half of each group will build the bottom of the tower. Divide the teams up again into two groups of 3-5 people and assign one group to build the top, and the other to build the bottom.
    1. Those working on the top half are allowed to talk, but cannot draw or write.
    2. Those working on the bottom of the tower are not allowed to talk, but are allowed to write and draw.
  3. Divide the groups so that the tops are on one half of the classroom and the bottoms are on the other half. Each group should individually plan their half of the tower, using only the communication type they are allowed.
  4. After 10 minutes of planning, have each group chose one representative to go talk to the other half of their group. Their communication handicaps are still in place. Allow these pairs to discuss for 5 minutes and try to successfully communicate their ideas to the other group so they are on the same page for what their tower as a whole should look like.
    1. Make sure they communicate size, materials used, and any other important information.
  5. After the representatives meet, they return to their original group and try to communicate the plans of the other half (the top/bottom group).
  6. Allow students to build for 20 minutes, maintaining their communication handicap.
  7. After the 20 minutes of separate building, the top and bottom halves of the group can reunite (but maintain their handicaps) and connect the two halves of their tower.
  8. Once each team has connected their tower, measure them and see which tower is the tallest.
  9. Debrief with the students. What was challenging about this activity? Why?  Why is communication so important for engineering?

Extensions and Modifications

  • Use different handicaps or sized groups
    • In pairs, have students build the tallest possible tower using 4 sheets of paper. One partner is allowed to talk, but not build. The other is allowed to build, but not talk. If time allots, have partners switch roles. Which role was easier? Which was harder or more frustrating?  

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