Back-to-Back Builder

To work on communication and listening skills while designing and building simple objects. To think about the power of words and how difficult it can be to get their message across to another person without it being lost in translation.

Author: Urban EdVenture Faculty

Print30-60 minutes

Students will learn to carefully craft their words and thoughts to get more accurate information to their partners as they communicate with partners.


Any sort of building materials available in your classroom, such as straws, popsicle sticks, Tinker Toys, Legos, colored pencils, and clay.

Alternatively, students can use simulated “materials” in the form of geometric shapes (four lines, two circles, etc.) that can be used to draw the construction.

The most important thing is that the Architect and the Builder need to have matching building sets so they have the same materials from which to choose.

For 5th grade, we use Popsicle sticks, colored straws and a few colored pencils.

For older grades you could use materials that would allow for building three-dimensional shapes.

  1. Divide the class into pairs. A group of three is also fine – you can have students each rotate through the Architect role and have two different Builders during each round.

  2. Have the pairs sit back-to-back (we do this on the floor) so that they cannot see each other's work.

  3. Explain that one person will start as the Architect and get 2 minutes to build a design that they will have to describe to the Builder. The other member will be the Builder and they will then get two minutes to try and replicate the Architect’s design as the Architect describes it to them. 

  4. There will be three rounds (if time allows) with the students in each pair alternating roles in each round. The rounds go as follows:

    • Round 1: The Architect speaks and the Builder is silent
    • Round 2: The Architect speaks and the Builder is allowed to ask yes/no questions
    • Round 3: The Architect and the Builder are allowed to speak freely to one another
  5. Hand out building materials and begin the activity.

  6. Collect building materials. Reflect on the experience of being Architect and Builder. What did they learn about effective communication? 


Debrief as a group or have students quietly reflect on the experience through writing about the following questions:

  • Which role was the most difficult for you? Why?
  • Which round was most successful for your group? Why?
  • What were the specific methods you used to accomplish your task?
  • How does this activity relate to working with a community partner?