Supply each person in your group with one or more sheets of paper.
Instruct them to design and fold their most ‘competitive’ paper-plane.
Allow 5 to 10 minutes of planning and testing time.
Once constructed, ask everyone to stand behind a line and let their plan fly.
Conduct one or more of the following competitions:
– Longest (distance) flight;
– Highest flight; and
– Longest (timed) flight.
If time and energy permits, conduct several rounds for each competition.
How To Play Narrative
This ain’t sixth grade anymore. This is serious – who can build and fly the best paper-plane? Let’s find out.
You could probably work this out for yourself, but at its most basic level, there are three steps – assemble your group, distribute a sheet of paper to each person, and then let your group at it.
If your group is particularly young and/or inexperienced, you may choose to, first, present a quick class in Paper-Plane Construction 101. Even for adults, this can be a useful and practical preamble to the serious competition which follows.
Paper-plane construction has to be one of those skills that comes with the genes because only some people profess to have a certain aeronautical expertise when it comes to paper. Yet, you’ll be amazed at the results, not to mention the variety of designs and their flight patterns.
Allow five to ten minutes for planning, making and testing. Then, once constructed, herald the start of the competition.
Stand everyone along a line, or with their backs to the wall, and let ‘em fly. One at a time works best because then everyone can share in the joy (or despair) of their colleagues’ flights.
There are at least three popular competitions:
Longest/furthest flight (in terms of distance);
Highest flight (hard to measure sometimes); and
Longest flight aloft (in terms of time.)
It’s often useful to conduct several rounds for each competition. It’s up to you whether you accept the results of the final round or the best result from all rounds.
Oh, by the way, let me give you something to aim for. Ken Blackburn is named in the Guinness Book of Records as having recorded the world’s longest time aloft for a paper-plane, at a whopping 27.6 seconds. Was this guy on the moon or what?
Practical Leadership Tips
So as to avoid unnecessary arguments, it’s worthwhile asking every pilot to mark their plane with something to identify it from all other aircraft, lest more than one person claims the record-holding plane.
For purely environmental purposes, try to re-use sheets of paper that have already been used, but are now discarded, eg discarded photocopy paper. A sheet of paper flies just as handsomely (or not) whether it has print on it or not.
In terms of furthest flight, yes, it is OK to stretch one’s arms past the line behind which are one’s feet. Anything else is just too difficult to officiate.
You could integrate Paper Plane Contest as part of a well-designed SEL program to promote and maintain healthy and supportive relationships, not to mention, engage in a fun group experience.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
There is no specific health & wellness perspective to this activity other than promoting the benefits to one’s wellbeing of enjoying a good dose of friendly competition.
In a small way, you could argue that the focus and effort required to successfully build a paper plane that flies a long way may speak to the benefits of being resilient and adaptable, but these would be considered minor attributes of this fun game.
If you can think of more explicit ways in which Paper Plane Contest could be purposefully integrated into a health and wellness program, please leave a comment at the base of this page.
Best-Looking Contest: Invite each individual/group to decorate their plane, and perhaps conduct a competition for the ‘best-dressed’ plane.
Fit For Purpose: Separate your group into small teams of four to six people, and instruct them to build their best paper-plane (one only) to enter into one or more contests. They may have a different design for each level of competition.
Sharing Expertise: Adding to above, prior to announcing the start of a contest, ask each group to nominate who in their team is the most accomplished paper-plane designer. Then ask these ‘experts’ to swap into another team, and teach this new team what they know. Great way to share the love around. This scenario can also reward you with some wonderful processing points; for example, “How did your group feel to lose its ‘expert?’ Was it easy for your team to learn from someone else?” etc.
Mystery Paper-Plane Contest: Take a look at Mystery Aeroplane, an intriguing team-building exercise which offers the challenge of folding a sheet of paper exactly the same as a particular prototype.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Almost everyone has folded a paper-plane and tried to shoot it across the room. At least once, if not a hundred times. Then, you have all the experience necessary to enter this next series of competitions…
Do you know the world’s record for the longest flight aloft of a paper-plane? What would you guess – five seconds, ten seconds, maybe fifteen? When you consider your own experience, these all seem a very long time for a paper-plane to remain aloft. Can you believe the record is more than 27 seconds? Let’s see how close we can get to this today…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after playing this fun game:
What did you observe during the design, testing and competition phases?
Did your results get better or worse as the competition progressed? Why?
Do you feel that other people/groups copied your idea? How did this make you feel?
How did it feel to lose your paper-plane ‘expert’ to another group?
Was it easy for your group to accept the ‘expertise’ of a member of another team?
The inspiration for Paper-Plane Contest, and many more fun, large group games, was sourced from the following publication: