Marshmallow Challenge

This is one of my favorite activities when teaching English. It allows all participants to  contribute regardless their English level and it’s simply fun! It has an additional learning benefit: a deep reflection on a teamwork.  So how do I proceed?

I explain the rules first, distrubte the kit, then allow the teams to build the tower and after that we usually discuss what happened during the activity. We summarise, identify lessons learnt and highlight importance of a teamwork.  Some students are surprised, some take time to accept the challange, some straight away start building but by the end all of them seem to enjoy. It allows creativity in the class and encourages peer learning. It’s great to observe the dynamics in the groups.

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  • Build the Tallest Freestanding Structure: The winning team is the one that has the tallest structure measured from the table top surface to the top of the marshmallow. That means the structure cannot be suspended from a higher structure, like a chair, ceiling or chandelier.
  • The Entire Marshmallow must be on top: The entire marshmallow needs to be on the top of the structure. Cutting or eating part of the marshmallow disqualifies the team.
  • Use as Much or as Little of the KitThe team can use as many or as few of the 20 spaghetti sticks, as much or as little of the string or tape. The team cannot use the paper bag as part of their structure.
  • Break up the Spaghetti, String or Tape: Teams are free to break the spaghetti, cut up the tape and string to create new structures.
  • The Challenge Lasts 18 minutesTeams cannot hold on to the structure when the time runs out. Those touching or supporting the structure at the end of the exercise will be disqualified.


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The key lessons of the Marshmallow Challenge:

  • Kids do Better than Business Students: On virtually every measure of innovation, kindergarteners create taller and more interesting structures.
  • Prototyping MattersThe reason kids do better than business school students is kids spend more time playing and prototyping. They naturally start with the marshmallow and stick in the sticks. The Business School students spend a vast amount of time planning, then executing on the plan, with almost no time to fix the design once they put the marshmallow on top.
  • The Marshmallow is a Metaphor for the Hidden Assumptions of a ProjectThe assumption in the Marshmallow Challenge is that marshmallows are light and fluffy and easily supported by the spaghetti sticks. When you actually try to build the structure, the marshmallows don’t seem so light. The lesson in the marshmallow challenge is that we need to identify the assumptions in our project – the real customer needs, the cost of the product, the duration of the service – and test them early and often. That’s the mechanism that leads to effective innovation.



Exams – IELTS, TOEIC, BEC Higher…

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