The participants are split into four groups and are instructed to build paper towers. They get different amounts of newspapers. One group serves as volunteers for two of the other groups, the participants of the fourth group remain on their own.

Aims and objectives

  • to practise team work skills
  • to experience problem solving situations within a team work context
  • to raise awareness of the benefits of a cooperation with volunteers
  • to think about what volunteering means
  • to explore and feel the positive and negative sides of volunteering

Material needed

  • 50 sheets of newspaper (or more)
  • 4 big adhesive tapes
  • 1 small adhesive tape
  • 4 scissors (one smaller than the others)


  • Arrange in the room 3 working stations with tables and chairs for all participants.
  • Ask for a few participants to be “volunteers” and separate them from the rest of the group (2-6 depending of the total number of participants).
  • Split the rest of the participants into 3 teams of “builders”.
  • Distribute the materials on the working tables as follows:

– Team 1: 15 sheets of newspaper,1 big adhesive tape, 1 scissors

– Team 2: 15 sheets of newspaper,1 big adhesive tape, 1 scissors

– Team 3: 8 sheets of newspaper,1 small adhesive tape, 1 small scissors

  • Team 4 are the volunteers. Send them outside of the room and instruct them separately. Ask them to split into two groups. One group gets 12 sheets of newspaper; the other gets one big adhesive tape. Tell them that you will come back later with further instructions.

Step by step description

Give the instructions for the three tower building groups as follows:

  1. Build a tower with newspaper, tape and scissors.
  2. The tower must be 1.47m tall.
  3. The tower must be strong and stable.
  4. The tower must be free-standing, not attached to anything.
  5. Building time: 20 minutes

The three tower building groups start their task.

Go to the group of the volunteers and explain that after 5 minutes the first half of this group with the additional newspaper will join the group with fewer resources, the other half with the tape will be given specific instructions (see below) on how to build a strong and stable tower. They join one of the other two groups. The third building group remains without volunteers.

After 20 minutes the towers are tested and the participants come together for debriefing.

Instruction for the ‘Expert Volunteer’ tower builders:

A strong and stable tower can be built with tubes: Role single or double sheets of the newspaper or magazines and stick them together with the tape. When you have a large number of them you build a construction similar to the Eiffel Tower. Show them a picture of the tower.

Reflection with the students / questions for debriefing

The group sits in a circle for a debriefing session. Possible questions:

  • What was it like to be a volunteer?
  • What was it like to receive the volunteers?
  • What was it like to have someone arrive with specific plans and instructions?
  • How did you feel about the changing group dynamics?
  • What was it like for the third group not to get any extra help?

The line of questioning is designed to try and compare the simulation with real life. It might happen that the groups receiving the volunteers at first do not know what to do with them and the volunteers themselves feel like “spare parts” until through negotiation they are able to find their place within the groups.

The different aspects should be explored and developed by questioning specific individuals. This has the added value of ensuring that the young people have a chance to speak about their experience in the game and their understanding of volunteering in real life.

Suggestions for adaptations and variations

The sheets of newspaper could be replaced by other sorts of paper, but keep an eye on the dimensions and that you have enough material.

If the participants find different solutions to build a tower that stands without help and has the appropriate height, this should also be assessed as being well done.

If you use the method within a context where you have “real volunteers”, it would be a very good opportunity for them and for the beneficiaries to get to know each other.

This method could be used successfully as introductory activity for different topics: volunteering, team building, project management, human resources management, community action etc. The debriefing part should be adapted according to the context, to become a bridge to the next step of training

Suggestion for a follow-up activity: Method „Volunteers and volunteering

Reference / original source of the method

The activity was facilitated by Nik Paddison during his workshop „Why Me? Why Not?“ at the aces Academy 2011 in Prague.

Further tips and resources

Not having the same amount of materials and not getting any extra help, combined with the challenge of obtaining a specific result, all of these are potential sources of frustration for the participants. The role of the facilitator is to approach the activity with care. You need to focus the debriefing mostly on the role of the volunteers and/or on the importance of having access to information and resources when goals are established.