This is Part 2 in a series on Instant Challenge for Team Managers.
In Part 1, I wrote about how to conduct an effective Instant Challenge practice session.

Instant Challenge Types

There are two main types of Instant Challenges:

  1. Performance-Based Instant Challenges require the team to create a performance. The team might be asked to use imaginary props, or they might have real props that must be integrated into their performance. The team will usually be scored on the creativity of their performance, on their teamwork, and on the quality of their presentation.
  2. Task-Based Instant Challenges require the team to work together to accomplish a task using the materials supplied with the IC. They could be asked to construct a tower, build a vehicle, or transport objects from one place to another. The team will usually be scored on how successful they are at accomplishing the assigned task, on the creativity of their solution, and on their teamwork.

There are also Hybrid Instant Challenges, which combine both types of Instant Challenges by requiring the team to accomplish a task and also create a performance.

Performance-Based Instant Challenges

There won’t be enough time available to develop a polished script during a performance-based IC. This means that performances in these Instant Challenges are largely improvised.

The best way to help your team with these Instant Challenges is to work on their improv skills. It would be very easy to write an entire book on improv, and many authors have done exactly that. In this article, I’ll just mention a few things that you might want to keep in mind.

Improv Games

Improv training usually takes the form of improv games. These are short exercises that the actors typically perform while standing in a circle facing one another.

For example, in the popular “What are you doing?” game, the first player steps up and begins to mime an activity. Player 2 will ask, “What are you doing?” Player 1 must give an answer that has nothing to do with the activity that they’re miming. If player 1 has been pretending to eat lunch, he or she might say, “I’m walking my dinosaur.” Player 2 must then begin to mime the activity named by player 1. Repeat this for each player in turn.

If you search the Internet for “improv games,” you’ll find entire sites that are devoted to this topic. Kids usually love improv games! I’ve often used this as a reward for getting everything cleaned up before the parents arrive to pick the kids up.

Don’t Just Stand There!

Improv games are traditionally performed with the actors standing in a circle. I’ve found that teams that do this every time may get into some bad habits:

  1. The kids might forget that they’re performing for an audience, and face one another with their backs to the audience.
  2. They may not speak loudly enough to be heard outside their circle.
  3. They tend to remain standing in their original positions as they deliver lines. The team will look like they’re performing in a radio play, with everyone standing behind their microphones.

Mix it up! Separate the team into two groups, and have each group take turns performing for the others. To encourage the performers to speak up, ask the audience sit on the far side of the room.

You might tell the performers that when they speak to other actors, they should imagine that they want to make sure that someone in the audience overhears what they’re saying. In order to do this, they’ll need to speak loudly enough to be heard across the room.

At the same time, they should imagine themselves painting a picture for the audience with their bodies. In order to do this, they’ll need to move around as they perform.

Improv comes naturally for some performers, while others find it more difficult. However, even the actors who can’t easily come up with lines have an important role to play. The performance will be much more effective if they can simply react to what the others are saying. Ask the team to practice showing fear, surprise, anger, embarrassment, or celebration through body language alone.

Faster, Faster, Faster!

Good improv is fast, fast, fast! It’s much more important to deliver the next line quickly than it is to choose your words carefully. Don’t stop to think!

There are many improv games in which a player loses their turn as soon as they get stuck. These are a good way to teach the team to perform more quickly.

Remind the team that saying something silly really isn’t a problem in improv. Audiences usually enjoy seeing a few mistakes, as long as the performers don’t appear to be upset about them. If the performers can give the impression that they thought a mistake was funny, it will often get a big laugh from the audience!


It’s important to always accept what another player has brought into the performance. Refusing to accept the situation that’s been set up is called blocking. It prevents the story from developing properly, and turns it into a battle between the performers.

For example, let’s suppose that player 1 asks player 2, “Want to go out for ice cream?” If player 2 were to answer, “I hate ice cream,” that would be blocking. It tends to keeps the story from going anywhere.

The principle should instead be, “Yes, and…” Every actor must accept whatever the other player has offered, and do their best to build upon it by adding new details.

In the previous example, player 2 might answer, “Great! I’d been hoping you’d say that, because I love ice cream! But do we have to bring Suzy?” This adds an interesting new twist to the story. Who is Suzy, and what does player 2 have against her?

Task-Based Instant Challenges

In task-based Instant Challenges, the keys to success are:

  1. Good time management, and delegation of tasks to different team members.
  2. Creative use of materials.

The teams that do the best at these Instant Challenges are acutely aware of time. They work very quickly, and always seem to know when time is running short. They also find ways to divide the work between them, so everyone can help get the solution ready before time is up.

To help your team become more time-conscious, you could ask them to develop a timeline. Immediately after a task-based IC, ask the team to list each of the steps they went through to create a solution. Don’t forget to include anything that the kids wish they had done, such as testing their solution.

Now ask the team how much time they feel should have spent on each step. Can they think of ways to split the work into separate tasks that could be done at the same time? If so, modify the timeline to reflect this.

Now you can repeat the IC. Tell the team that they will need to ask you for the time periodically, and make sure that everything happens when it should according to their own timeline. The results are likely to be very different!

In a task-based IC, the team will be given materials to use. These often fall into the following categories:

  1. Extenders. These are structural materials that can be used to make something longer, higher, or stronger. Examples might be soda straws, cardboard, paper and pencils.
  2. Connectors. These are used to hold the extenders together. Examples would be tape, self-adhesive labels, marshmallows, string, and paper clips.
  3. Controllers. These materials are used to contain, control, or transport other materials. Examples would be envelopes, spoons, or cups.

Many materials can fall into multiple categories. For example, soda straws can be used in all three ways. Straws are long and stiff, so their use as an extender is obvious. However, you can also flatten a straw and cut it into thin strips, and it becomes a connector that you can tie in a knot.  Suck on one end of the straw, and it’s a vacuum pickup that can be used to lift light items such as Ping-Pong balls.

After an IC, ask your team to try to think of many different ways to use the provided materials. There is no need to limit this to the three categories that I’ve listed above. They’re a very useful starting point, but there are other ways to use materials that don’t fit cleanly into one of these categories.

For example, you can use aluminum foil to create a sculpture. Paper bags can used to construct puppets. Spoons are often used as a controller, but they can also become a musical instrument. Pipe cleaners make good connectors, but they could also be made into a fake mustache.

Finding Instant Challenges

Team Managers often ask us where they can find good Instant Challenges:

  1. Destination Imagination’s Instant Challenge Practice Set and the Roadmap for Team Managers include many Instant Challenges.
  2. NH-DI will publish new Instant Challenges in the Team Manager Corner at our website.
  3. There are dozens of additional online sources, which you will find immediately if you enter the phrase “Instant Challenge” into any Internet search engine.

When you select Instant Challenges, try to think about what you’d like your team to learn. Some are especially well suited to testing teamwork and time management. Others provide good ways for your team to work on their performance skills.


I hope this article will be helpful to you. Let us know if you have any questions, or you would like to find additional resources.

Don’t forget to register your team for NH-DI’s Instant Combustion and Improv Workshop in January! The kids who come to this event always have a great time. This workshop will include both an improv workshop, and Instant Challenge practice conducted by our IC Challenge Masters.

Good luck, and may all of your teams discover that they can work miracles in 7 minutes or less!