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Group Activity: Pyramid Cups

Icebreaker, communication, problem solving, team work, frustration tolerance

Middle/high school students due to the reliance on well-developed motor skills. Younger students may find the activity too difficult and therefore excessively frustrating.

Students will construct a pyramid from Styrofoam cups using only the rubber band and string apparatus


  • – 5 pieces of 3ft long string per group of 5 students
  • – 1 rubber band per group of 5 students
  • – 10 – 15 Styrofoam cups per group of 5 students (I would have extra cups handy in the event your students get    ambitious and want to build even higher).

Set up:

Construct the rubber band apparatus by tying the ends of 5 pieces of 3ft long string to a rubber band. Excess string from the knots should be cut off and knots should be evenly spaced on the rubber band.

school social work pyramid cups group activity

school social work group activity pyramid cups

Divide your group up into equal groups of 3-5. As the teams surround the tables, place 6 cups on the table, upside down, as well as your pre-assembled rubber band with 5 strings tied evenly to it. Have group members each choose 1 string to be in charge of (if there is an extra, a person will have to be in charge of 2). Have the students all pull on the strings to demonstrate how the rubber band will open. Instruct the group members to grab the cups with the open rubber band and stack the cups into a pyramid.  Add additional cups when the group completes the task of making a pyramid with 6 cups.

Rules: If the cups fall on the ground- only then can a member use their hands to pick it up and move it onto the table. Cups should otherwise never be used by the participants’ hands and should only be touched by the string/rubber band.


Therapeutic rationale:
While this activity is more structured and directive than traditional play therapy, the process employs a number of therapeutic powers of play identified by Buser (2007), such as overcoming resistance, communication, competence, attachment formation, and relationship enhancement. I have typically used this activity as an icebreaker for a process group as it develops group cohesion. As a result of completing the activity, the group has worked together to complete a common goal and has come away with a feeling of accomplishment (I have often had group members ask me to take a picture of the pyramid). Observing the process provides valuable information to the clinician, such as leadership/passivity orientations, communication styles, frustration tolerance, and problem solving skills of the group members.

I have also used this activity to target the development of communication and problem solving skills. In these situations, I will process the activity afterwards with discussion questions focused on the targeted skills. Depending on the skill level of the students, I will often create variations in the rules to stress certain skills (i.e. having the students complete the task without talking or assigning a particularly passive student to lead the other members).


Buser, J. K. (2007). Chapter 14, Play therapy. In C. L. Thompson, & D.A. Henderson (Eds.), Counseling children, 7thed. (pp. 414-446). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

About The Author

Scott Carchedi

Scott Carchedi is the founder and co-editor of SSWN. Scott provides technology support and consultative services to school social work associations across the US. Scott is also a practicing school social worker in the western suburbs of Chicago, serving grades 9-12.

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