Ideas for Learners Promoting Literacy, Inquiry, and Meaningful Learning Experiences

Instant Challenges: Short Maker-Space Tasks

Instant Challenges are fabulous for helping advanced students develop team-building skills, critical thinking, creativity, and confidence. Long before schools were creating maker-spaces, Instant Challenges have been part of a problem-solving contest called Destination Imagination, in which teams of students compete to complete an assigned problem in advance, but are also given a short task to solve spontaneously in front of judges in about ten minutes.  Even if you never take a team to compete at Destination Imagination or similar events, you can incorporate this concept in your classroom. 

You can find many more examples of instant challenges through online searches, or purchase a book called Team Challenges (available through  Typically, the challenges come in two categories: performance, or structural.  In structural challenges, students have to construct something, and in performance challenges, the emphasis is on the presentation of the idea.  In either type of challenge, students must create and present work.



One drawback to the instant challenges from the book and others listed online is that they are not environmentally friendly.  Many of them list huge amounts of materials, some of which are expensive. If you plan to do an instant challenge each week, with 3-4 teams, you don't want to constantly be throwing away things, even if the experience is valuable.

I adapted many of the challenges I found to cut down on expense and waste. The following list of materials should get you through most challenges you find and create for students, although you won't need all of these things for every challenge:

Scratch paper, letter size, for folding/building
Aluminum foil
Masking tape
Construction blocks-Legos, dominos, K'nex
Paper Cups
Paper Clips

  Fun Extras
Cotton balls
Tissue paper
Pipe cleaners
Coffee filters
Muffin/Cupcake liners
Rubber bands

Fabric Scraps



A critical concept of instant challenges is that there is no adult assistance or interference during work time. Teams receive written directions. The first couple of times, instructors can read the directions to the whole group and get students to note the point values in the scoring to show them how to prioritize their time and effort.

If students ask questions during work time, adults refer them back to the written directions. If teams are stuck, adults let the teams be stuck rather than offering suggestions. At first, taking a step back can be very hard for adults and for students.

There are only three ways I intervene with students during an instant challenge.
First, I announce when there are three minutes, one minute, and ten seconds remaining. At a competition, students should learn how to manage their own time, but this is a gentle way to keep them on track.

Second, if it is a challenge I am trying for the first time, and a student poses a question I hadn't anticipated that isn't covered in the written directions, I will answer it.

Third, if a team is having a meltdown-level conflict about how to proceed, I will step in to get them on track, but I don't make the decision about how they will complete the challenge.

It is common to have students who only want to use their ideas, and sometimes they prefer to work by themselves. Since instant challenges are about learning to work productively in teams, that is not a time those students can elect to work independently. However, I do usually assign teams so that the number of people and the level of conflict is manageable.

Instant Challenge Examples

Here are two very simple, introductory instant challenge examples.  I have used these activities successfully with students from first grade through eighth grade.

Teachers and parents are welcome to use these free resources for non-commercial use, but please keep the author credit visible, and please link back to this website on digital versions.

Instant Challenge #1

Task:  Build the tallest possible free-standing structure.

“Free-standing” means it can stay up by itself


Time: 5 minutes


Materials:     blocks, Legos, Dominos, snap cubes, and/or index cards

  You may use a ruler while you build, but it cannot be part of the structure.

  You may not use any materials other than those you are given.

  You will not be given any additional materials after your work time starts.



  Height  25 points for structures at least 1 foot (30 cm) tall,

  plus 5 points for each additional inch (every 3 additional cm)


  Teamwork  25 points if all team members participate the whole time, listen to each other,

  communicate politely, and work productively to complete the task on time

(teacher's discretion)

  Creativity  2 points for each vote for most interesting structure

  Each individual person gets one vote, and no one may vote for a structure s/he created



  1) Do not touch any materials until you are told to begin

  2) Adults cannot give help or advice—your team must do it all

  3) An adult will tell you when there are 3 minutes, 1 minute, and 10

  seconds left to work

  4) If your structure is not at least 12 inches tall, it will not be judged

  5) Be sure you read all the directions on this page carefully


Tip: It is a good idea to assign one team member to be the Directions Expert—the person who reads the directions very carefully and goes back to ensure the team has met all the requirements by the time there is one minute left.


Good Luck!


The second Instant Challenge is available in a Google Doc through the link.