De-mystifying Instant Challenge – and providing some hints on how teams can be successful there.

Instant Challenge – finding the easy points

Impress on the kids the importance of reading instructions and evaluating where the points can most easily be scored – BEFORE settling on a approach.

To emphasize that, I started by using a “launching” hands-on type, multi-part instant challenge (where the team had to develop launchers and launched items and then launch them for accuracy). However, I had the creativity of the launchers and launched items as an item scored for creativity and teamwork. The challenge emphasized that this scoring element had nothing to do with how effective the launchers were – so the emphasis was on “out in left field” solutions. However, at least one of the launchers that were scored had to be used to launch projectiles. I also asked the team to present a story as they launched their projectiles for score. I purposely selected fairly “bogus”materials to offer the teams to build their launchers – to encourage teams to focus their energy on things other than the launching aspect.

After the team finished solving the challenge, I spent a bit of time asking the team to talk through the decisions they made, their decision-making process and what they might do differently next time. My goal is for the team to appreciate (and celebrate) the things they did well in solving the challenge, but also to learn those areas where there was room for improvement.

My goal for this challenge was to encourage teams to thoroughly think through were there were easy points and to spend some time on these points. Because, even though there were more points given for creative launchers and creative storyline and the bogus supplies made it virtually impossible to earn launching points, they focused most of their energy on launching instead of the easy points.

Instant Challenge – more tips

It is important for teams to ask questions and make sure the challenge is clear.

Many teams have teams divided into different “roles” for different IC problems. Your team might designate a student that is good at reading and comprehension to read and re-read the challenge and make sure that it is understood. Another might take the lead in hands-on or technical challenges. Another should be a time keeper – this is an important role and must be given to someone who will actually look at his or her watch once time begins. One might be in charge ofbest use of and dispensing materials. And roles might change depending on the type of challenge.

Use IC as a way of brainstorming for ideas for their main challenge.

We teach our team that everyone can find a way to contribute. I think it takes some creativity to involve all 7 team members effectively in any type of problem – but our kids have even been furniture at times!

During IC, one team has a particular member watch over the teamwork aspect of what they are doing. Is everyone being heard? Are decisions getting made? She is good at noticing those things.

We instituted some rules during IC –

  • don’t talk over each other
  • have a beginning, middle and end for each problem
  • Have a terrific ending
  • watch the time

Through these rules and increased practice, they began to recognize their individual strengths and began to dwell as a team. They learned to anticipate each other, to depend on each other and to trust each other. They learned to set goals.

As time went on, the kids realized that they needed to

  • -learn specific skills and to help them manage their time more effectively
  • -make sure they were dealing with every aspect of the problem
  • -be sure all the creative elements they knew were considered
  • -they developed jobs for each person including a problem-reader, problem captain, anda timekeeper.

Their performance became more structured but also more creative. Once they weren’t sweating the structural elements of problem, they could concentrate on including really creative solutions.

Practice, practice, practice. But practice with a purpose – with an eye toward developing specific skills and with specific goals in mind that made the difference for them.

Before I began to manage teams, I hated IC. Year after year, my daughters’ teams would come in first or second in the long-term portion of the competition, but a low Spontaneous score would drop them back to the middle of the pack. If you had asked me about it back then, I would have been in favor of dropping it entirely, or at least making it a separate competition. When I became a team manager, I discovered that IC is a wonderful way to encourage kids to learn new skills. Now I wouldn’t want to give it up.

Some team members are very interested in acting and performing. When they decide to join a DI team, it’s because they want the opportunity to perform before an audience. When you have a team that is made up entirely of kids who just want to perform, it can be very difficult to get them to pay any attention to the technical aspects of their team challenge. One way to encourage such a team to broaden their horizons is to give them some technical IC challenges early in the year.

These IC practice sessions often lead to a discussion of basic construction techniques and engineering principles. When you build a bridge out of marshmallows and toothpicks, is it better to use rectangles or triangles? How should you orient corrugated cardboard to achieve maximum strength? This knowledge can be very helpful to a team later on, when they begin to construct their props and their Technical Elements.

I’ve also had team members who have told me that they HATED to perform, didn’t want to be part of the skit, and just wanted to build things. Some of the same kids later discovered that they actually enjoy verbal improv, once they gave it a try when I had the team practice a performance-type challenge. I remember one kid who became the team’s star performer in all verbal challenges, even though he never did want to perform in front of a crowd.

I believe that the most valuable part of IC is the preparation. Our existing design forces teams to be ready for many different types of challenges. 

Instant Challenge – tips from a successful team member

On the topic of IC training… My team and the other teams from my school are trying to convince our team manager to “write the book” on IC training.  Now most of you are saying, well this is from a team member, how good can it be?  The past 3 years we have never scored below 90 (weighted) at any competition.  That includes 8 appearances at regionals,4 appearances at state (in Texas no less) and 1 worlds team.  Furthermore, the teams that attended the training that she hosted monthly in our region scored in the top 3 in IC even though they were all “newbies.”  At regionals this year, 2 team DaVinci’s in IC on teams with a majority of people who had never done any creative problem solving before.

Some things that I have learned to consider:

  • -IC is worth as much as the team choice elements.
  • -IC is worth 1/2as much as the WHOLE central challenge.
  • -We typically spend 1 hr per week on IC  (secondary team).
  • -If a team thinks a IC is too easy, make it harder (the blindfolded nonverbal communication withitems was pushing it (3 two foot by 2 foot 5×5 grids and we had to place cups with items in the proper square in the proper place using only the sound of the communication items.  There were 12 different items in the cups)
  • -Practice a wide variety of ICs.  Never say “oh they will never get a problem like that at competition.”
  • -Have them analyze the problem after they finish.  What could they have done to get more points.
  • -TEAMWORK- If you don’t have a team that works good together, how can they LOOK like they are working well together?
  • -Everyone has something to contribute to every IC. ( I am willing to defend this point against anyone.)  Rules can be re-read.  Time can be kept.  Even if it is as simple as saying “are we getting the points” every 30 seconds of  think time.
  • -Some ways just get more points than others.
  • -Pay attention to who plays off of each other.  It could be very different from Central Challenge.
  • -Order is important.  (1,2,3,4 and keeping things focused) 

Instant Challenge Help from a Successful IC Team –What Appraisers Want…

It’s hard to tell what appraisers are looking for in a specific challenge, but generally I think they look for kids who are well organized, and creative, and who really like each other enough to work happily and enthusiastically together. Beyond that they look for highly creative solutions and attention to the rules and scoring of the challenge.

Unlike many TM’s, I love IC. It’s really all I do with my kids because I have a terrific co-TM who does the rest. I’m sure some teams are just naturally great at IC, but mine never was. It was something they learned bit by bit and made into a kind of formula. Once they had a loose structure for how they wanted to do it they could incorporate some of their very creative stuff. But until they did that they just spun their wheels because they never seemed to really get anywhere.

I’m not sure I have the magic formula, but my kids have made pretty dramatic improvements in this area over the past three years (took first at recent Regional competition and second at Global last year). Here are some of the things they have learned over time and that I remind them of every practice:

1. Show evidence of working together effectively. This means several things: Don’t talk over each other. Everybody gets a chance to add their very brief input. Cooperate. Make a collaborative decision but if that isn’t possible assign somebody in advance to make it for you so you don’t waste time, and the appraisers’ good opinion, arguing over the solution.

2. Be organized and show evidence of it. Assign jobs (problem reader, timer, character developer, problem captain) in advance, use them during the competition and make them apparent.

3. Read the challenge, read the challenge, read the challenge. Make it somebody’s job and have them do it more than once. They can remind the team of the parts of the challenge where they will be scored. A low score can simply mean the kids left out some crucial part.

4. Brainstorm –a lot and quickly. Quality comes from quantity in this instance.

5. Add humor, music, poetry, dance — whatever is creative that you do best. Appraisers love it and it makes the whole solution that much more interesting.

6. Practice, practice, practice — lots and lots of improv where they don’t even get appraised, specific challenges that address their strengths and weaknesses, and very formal appraised challenges. Do it all and do it often. Encourage them to use the most creative bits from Improv to their solutions.

7. Develop a “bag of tricks” of situations, scenarios and skills that they can pull up at a moment’s notice.

8. Teach them to relax and to put on their creative thinking caps — then do it with them prior to going into IC. We do all kinds of funny physical stuff to get them relaxed and brainstorming to get their brains moving.

9. Our rule is: Beginning, middle and absolutely BOFFO ending! Every time and on time. If they run out of time the appraisers will never see that great ending so teach them to keep track of the time.

I usually pick only one or two things to work on at each meeting. At subsequent practices they learn to incorporate each piece into their work. I try to keep a list handy, boiled down to a key phrase for each element. 

MORE IC Appraisal Tips

I appraised this year for the first time, so I don’t know how representative my comments are but here goes:

We did have a ‘creative use of materials’ category in our challenge.  I looked for the following:

1) Use of the materials in a way that was unexpected and got the job done.

2) Craftsmanship- does it look sturdy, well constructed, aesthetically pleasing?  Usually, these things end up looking pretty bad, so extra points for ones that look good.

3) Use of all of the materials (even if for decoration, but better if actually functional).

What I really looked for here was something beyond the ‘first thing that pops into your mind’ when you look at the materials and decide what to do with them.  On the challenge I appraised, there was a certain piece of material that every team used in exactly the same way. We appraisers had also used the same material in the same way on our feeble attempt at the IC before the competitions started. After about the third team did that I wondered about it and thought of totally different way to accomplish the desired result (can’t claim to be smarter than the kids, since it took me well over the time limit to come up with it).  Anyway I thought, “if anyone does that, it will be great”.

Well, one kid on one team actually thought of it later on and the other team members shot him down because the solution they were working on was a little easier to visualize (although more difficult to implement).  If they had gone with it, they would have been the only team to use the materials in that way and, assuming they got it to work, they would have gotten a great score.  (They didn’t do bad as it was).

It seems to me that there can be a bit of tension between getting things to work and using materials creatively.  The really good solution uses materials creatively to do something that is simpler and more reliable than what you might otherwise think of. 

Instant Challenge – a Proposed Rubrics for Scoring

I went back through my files and dug this rubric up for those of you trying to figure out how to evaluate instant challenges.  I know it’s not your scores, but perhaps it will help!  If you were to score your own team right after watching them perform, your evaluation might not be that different from what the actual evaluators gave them.


Instant Challenge – tips from a appraiser

Sometimes I’ve seen teams give “themed” responses – everyone on the team will answer using items related to current events, or movies or music, or everyone on the team will use a funny voices, accents or motion. In some ways this theme thing is not necessarily a bad idea – but in order to be effective, everyone on the team must KNOW the topic well enough to improvise using only that topic as a basis…for example, I once had the opportunity to see a team using current events as their “theme”. While the answers, in and of themselves, were not necessarily creative, the overall solution the team came up with did impress the appraisers for the sheer magnitude of current events this team was able to tie in and use – some substantial newspaper/periodical/tv news research had to have occurred. I have also seen this approach back-fire on a team…for example, I saw a team use the “accents” thing and the appraisers were constantly stopping them and asking them to repeat a response because they didn’t understand what was said – the first thing the appraisers said when the team left the room was “what the heck was that all about?”

I have found that in practice it sometimes helps to offer a challenge and require that the kids solve it using a particular theme: for example – We are familiar with the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Your challenge is for your team to reenact that story creatively. Your solution will use “The Old West” as the backdrop for your re-enactment. All of the characters in your solution should be consistent with that time and place in history.

Or simply ask them to create a 4-minute skit based on the following: Cinderella, but she’s a 17-year-old girl today and the ball is really the high school prom. Now do the same thing, but Cinderella is a 17-year-old girl in 1965. And again with Cinderella in 1925.

Basically what all these challenges require is some understanding and appreciation for a period in history and its culture. Often by narrowing the challenge in that way in practice, a team will get the idea that they can use that as a strategy to employ in a real IC at a tournament. With the emphasis on the new challenges more on teamwork, teams must learn many strategies to quickly come up with a solution that requires everyone’s participation. If you have a team where all the kids love and have a good solid knowledge base of science, encourage them to try to utilize that base whenever possible to solve a challenge. When you ask kids to do that, even kids that are not comfortable performing are able to contribute to the solution with information – and that’s what teamwork is really about!


Teamwork Scoring for IC

APPRAISER: I spent a good part of my day judging IC yesterday and out of 10 teams all but one team huddled very, very quietly and whispered and protected their “think time process”. An IC Judging team CANNOT award good Teamwork scores if they can hear and see the process. The Team was awarded the most points was the team we could hear and see the process they went through to arrive at their solution. In my opinion, the 20 points normally allowed for Teamwork should be automatic. LEADERSHIP HAS TO BE OBSERVABLE TO SCORE!!!

RESPONSE 1: From a TM — I disagree quite strongly with this. To be scored highly on teamwork you have to talk loudly so that the IC appraisers can hear your thinking process from afar? This is bad advice to give team members or IC appraisers. IC appraisers should be able to appraise exemplary teamwork from non-verbal behavior, or should move so they can eavesdrop unobtrusively.

RESPONSE 2: From a TM – I’m glad that someone else felt this way, too!  I watched my team at the tournament on Saturday.  They started out with their heads together ata table, nearly whispering.  They were relaxed, worked very well together, and laughed quite a few times during their planning time.  The appraisers said, “You don’t have to whisper”, but didn’t specifically request that they speak up.  They said about two sentences in a louder voice, then back to whispering.  I had to resist the urge to say, “They’re not really this quiet, I swear!”  When I thought about it, though, I realized that the only time they ARE quiet during meetings is during their planning time in IC.  It just seems to be the natural way this team works. We took second in IC, so I’m not complaining.  They did a good job, but I can’t say it was their very best work.  However, I’d hate to think they lost points for their style of teamwork.  If volume is a required element, it should be stated as such.

FROM ANOTHER APPRAISER: was an IC Appraiser at Wisconsin’s State Comp. this past weekend.  We DID have a rubric to follow, as did the Challenge Appraiser’s.  It came in hand… especially for some of the newer IC Appraisers.

As an IC Appraiser… you don’t really go over what score you gave a team, you discuss what you saw or heard in the presentation. That way all appraiser’s are scoring the same elements.  Some IC are very complex giving the Appraisers many things to look at.  It had been suggested by some  IC Challenge Master’s to break the challenge scoring up for different appraiser’s to score, as some of the long term appraiser’s do. I told my IC Appraising team that we would not spilt up who scored what… my reasoning… how fair is that to the teams… the IC appraiser’s scores are averaged. How fair of an average do you receive, especially with only three appraisers.  So, we each scored all items…12 total.  We also took the time to write down what we saw and/or heard so that if there was ever any questions on why one team got points higher for a reply that was similar to another team’s reply we had reason for  justification.  My appraising team also gave out stickies for IC.  Which created a new challenge for the score room… not knowing what to place them on. Oh, well, what is a tournament without any complications from all areas right?

As for a deduction in IC.  There are only a couple of  reasons an IC appraiser would give deductions: 1)  If the team has a challenge that does not allow them to do something. Example:  a non-verbal presentation and  they speak,  touching something they are not allowed to touch, or going outside of a perimeter given.; 2)Unsportsmanlike conduct towards other teams,  their team members, or appraisers. If they talk about their challenge outside of the IC room with anyone other than those who were in the room they are disqualified for the tournament. And they know that at the beginning of each IC because there’s a pledge they have to say.  3) If the TM or non-participating team members give assistance.

How can you really fix something in IC you ask?  Well, you practice…. there are some many different avenues a TM can take to help their team for IC.  This year alone there were many websites with creative ideas for IC’s being shared.  There are also a lot of games….Scattegories, Guesstures, Outburst to name just a few.  My team’s favorite IC have come from a book I have had for a long time… 100 Inside Games. 

FIRST APPRAISER — CLARIFICATION OF HIS POINT: I wanted to make sure I communicated clearly on my first posting. My point was NOT just based on a Teams volume …. My point is that if you look at the rubric for Team-Work it requires that that we are aware of the dynamics of the interpersonal working of the Team … Logic says a Team who, in a reasonable tone, allows the Appraisers to hear and see these dynamics will get the higher scores … Teams who whisper and hide this process will tend to achieve lower scores. You may be able to “interpret” body language and facial expressions to give good scores, but the best scores will go to Teams who clearly demonstrate to the Appraisers that they are brainstorming, tracking time, involved as a Team and working towards a solution.

RESPONSE 3: Just my opinion….. I think teams should not have to speak loudly during the developmental process in the IC.  I agree the appraisers should move closer to the team quietly to observe them or sit quietly at the table if they would like to evaluate the process.  Any observer can tell if a team is not getting along or arguing, even if they are quiet.  I think it is ridiculous to say a team did not show good teamwork simply because they did not speak loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear them – give me a break.  Now we have to retrain our teams to speak loudly not only in their performances, but thinking process!

FROM ANOTHER APPRAISER: I know it is a concern that teams might not be loud but still have great teamwork.  There are many teams that work this way and do great.  And team managers who know this about their team will probably then be confused by the teamwork scores.  The difference between team managers and appraisers, however, is that appraisers don’t know this about the team and the teamwork has to be demonstrated for them to score it.  Many appraisers do get up to get closer, but it has been my experience that when teams huddle it is hard to get close enough to hear them even if you’re less than a couple of feet away.

I don’t think that it is necessary to retrain kids – it is probably harder to retrain adults.  Usually, when training the more quiet teams, all you have to do is to tell them that it is important to speak up -most kids are so eager to do well that it isn’t that big of a problem and they’ll catch on early.

ONE LAST APPRAISER: I’ve been reading closely as the various points have been made about speaking up as compared to whispering during the planning stages of IC.  I agree that it is important for the appraisers to have some idea of how the team works together during its planning.  Insisting that a team speak up, however ,isn’t necessarily the answer.  Having appraised for several years, and served as regional and assistant state challenge master, I do encourage my appraisers to not sit, but rather walk around during the planning and presentation of the solution.  I don’t care if the team is loud or not…..if the appraisers are on their feet and listening, it is usually possible to tell how well the team is working together.  When they look at me, I just smile a friendly smile and keep on listening.  I’ve never appraised a team yet that could get so quiet that I couldn’t hear what was taking place!


Presentation Tools

In Performance-Based Instant Challenges teams can usually earn 20 or more points for the Creativity of the Presentation.  Therefore, a Team should understand and be able to use basic Presentation Techniques.  Simple Presentation Techniques will measurably add to the Creativity of the Presentation.

Types of Presentation Tools

  • Characterizations
  • Improv
  • Mime
  • Body Language – Exaggeration
  • Stage Presence
  • Voice Manipulation
  • Story Development
  • Beginning –  Initial Situation
  • Middle –  Conflict/Problem
  • Ending –  Resolution/Solution to the Problem


  • The ability to project an idea, a setting, and/or a character.
  • One of the main methods used in Improvisation (Improv).


  • A scene performed with little or no rehearsal. 
  • Words, exaggerated action, props convey story

A good Improv Team shows:

  • Consistency – Mimed objects have a definite size and shape so the audience will know what the team member is doing.
  • Exaggerated Resistance – The resistance against an object, such as a door, or an action, such as sewing, needs to be exaggerated. Precise, concise, definite, movements are necessary for the audience to know what the team member is doing.
  • Exaggerated Expression and Gestures – Displaying emotions is important in Improv for the audience to know what the team member is feeling. This can only be truly accomplished by exaggerated expressions and gestures.
  • Simple Story Lines – Sometimes Improv teams try to tell and/or show too many details. Keeping the story simple, but very exaggerated, is important.
  • Tell a Story – Just as with prepared scripts, it is important that the Improv story have an initial situation (beginning), a conflict/problem (middle), and a solution to the problem (ending).
  • An Exaggerated Conflict/Problem is very humorous/dramatic/sad – This is what makes Improv so much fun to watch.

A Team Should Practice:

  • Display Emotions — create memorable characterizations

  • Participating in a scene — either acting OR reacting to what is happening on stage.  Focused attention is important.

  • Stage Presence
    Are you believable?
    Are you projecting?
    Are you in character?

  • Voice
    Voice Tone
    Displaying Age
    Displaying Mood
    Can the person be heard?
    Can the person be understood?

  • Making entrances and exits

  • Desertion — This is “helping” a fellow team member get out of a “dialogue dead-end”. 

  • Body Language
    Exaggerated Movement
    Express/Attitude /Emotions
    Acting/Reacting to something

  • Story Development

    • Initial Situation – Beginning
      Did the group give the details of the situation?
    • Conflict – Middle
      Were there complications and suspense?
      Were there obstacles?
    • Conclusion – Resolution of Conflict – Ending
      Was the conflict resolved?
  • Building — All team members should support/contribute to the story line, wherever it goes!

  • Sharing — The good Improv team shares responsibility for the story line, wherever it leads.  There is a natural “give and take” on stage.

  • Mime — Short for Pantomime — Improv without speech.


Developing the skills above can make a major difference to a team, both in Instant Challenge and in their Team Challenge.




CPS Tools For Instant Challenge

SCAMPER is one of the best CPS tools to obtain Creative uses of Props!

  • What Prop can be Substituted for something else?
  • What can you Combine?
  • What can you Adapt?
  • What can you make Bigger, Smaller, Modify in some way?
  • What can you Put to other uses?
  • What parts of a Prop can you Eliminate?
  • What Props can you Reverse or Rearrange?

Taking a Prop apart – VERBALLY – works well also. A good example would be a telephone. What parts could you use separately to solve the Challenge – e.g. the buttons, the cord, the wires inside, the outside case, the holes in the case where the buttons go, etc. Ask for other ideas from the participants.

Sometimes the Team is given only blank sheets of paper, a scissors and markers. They are asked to create their own props. Have the participants discuss what ways they could use those materials.

And – what about Imaginary Props. A Team can be given a list of props, but be asked to just imagine that they are there. They are then asked to use those Imaginary Props and display their uses in their solution. Discuss with the participants what Presentation Skills would be useful in creating a good presentation.

Creation of Props, Costumes, etc.

When a Team gets a “With Props” Presentation-Based IC, they need to allocate their time between idea generation and prop/costume generation. Time Management is important here. Also see the Manipulation of Materials Section above.

Other Theatrical Elements

  • Staging
  • Use of Music
  • Special Effects
  • A Team Member should not have his/her back to the audience
  • Center-Front is an excellent place for action versus the back of the area
  • Entering and Exiting should be done with emphasis
  • If more than one person is involved in the scene – someone should be acting and the rest reacting
  • The person speaking should be moving, the other’s should be still (unless movement is part of the story)
  • A person should start to move, just before he/she starts to speak. That will draw the audience’s eyes to that person.

Cross behind another person instead of crossing in front

Music, Sound, and Special Effects

These are “attention getters.” They help keep the audience interested in what the Team is doing.

A Challenge to DI for!

Use this challenge to illustrate the points covered above

Materials: Have each participant, place a single item of the participant’s choosing in the middle of their table.

Procedure: Instruct the team members: Your team must reconstruct the key facts of the murder using the evidence. Four of the pieces of evidence provide the following information:




ONE ITEM reveals the MOTIVE.

Your team has 5 minutes to reconstruct the crime story.

When the five minutes has elapsed, instruct teams to stop.

Ask them to dramatically present their solution to the mystery to the rest of the group. Any number of team members may take part. Remind them to be brief but entertaining.

Debriefing questions:


  • Consistency – Could you tell what the team was doing?

Exaggerated Resistance – Did they exaggerate their movements?

Story Line – Did they have a beginning, middle, and ending?

Exaggerated Conflict/Problem – Did they display emotions – with exaggeration?

Did they use their props creativity?

Discuss how they came up with their story – within 5 minutes? What process did they go through.


More IC Tips-Job Descriptions

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IC Tips-Keep it Moving

RULE OF THREE. If your team (like one of mine did) tends to keep going on suggesting new and better ideas long after they should have chosen something and started solving or writing the skit; give them a rule of three. That is, for the first decision, listen to 1,2,3 ideas and the fourth person takes one of those 3ideas and adds on to it. (They don’t have to go 1, 2, 3 in order in a circle; it’s whoever had the first three ideas. Then time to chose one, add to it and move on.) It’s fine to have all 7 kids make suggestions if they do quickly and make decisions they live with, but the Rule of Three helps with a team wherein each child loves only his/her own ideas and therefore keeps making suggestions.

ACT THE PART. After the first couple practices, I run almost all my ICs as though it is REALLY competition. In other words, the clock is really ticking, & I introduce them like a team is introduced, & I talk to them as I imagine an appraiser (of course, a kind, gentle, welcoming appraiser) would talk to them. I answer questions that I think an appraiser would answer and I direct them to the written paper if I think the correct answer is “what does the challenge say? if it doesn’t say you can’t, then you can.”

CODE WORDS aka Getting Stuck. My teams have always come up with special words for a couple uses. One is that each team member has a special word phrase to use if they are absolutely stuck for ideas. [I think they wrote down some silly words and then randomly pulled them out to create each kid’s phrase.] I can recall “stinky yellow toe-jam” and “alien purple tomatoes.” When a kid got stuck, REALLY stuck for an answer, he would say “stinky yellow toe-jam” or some part of his special phrase, so the team could go on. It rarely got used in competition, but it was a secret weapon for kids to know they would always have at least one answer, no matter what. Sort of a silly safety net. [hint: you have to ask them to say it once every meeting, or they will forget it! At some point, say “code word?” and the first kid to say his special phrase gets an M&M or whatever.]

Part two==Team code word: this is a catch-all phrase to politely remind team members when they are getting off track in an IC. It can mean they are off the focus of the challenge, or they are stuck in a rut, or they are starting to argue. When a team member cheerfully offers this phrase, it is a code word for “Okay, let’s move on, we are wasting time.” The team I helped at Globals chose “Got Milk?” as their catch phrase. That’s a hoot in itself. So when they are in the thinking/planning stage and two girls are getting testy with not giving in to each other’s ideas, a third girl pops in with “got milk?” and it’s a mental clue that they have lost focus in solving the challenge.

REPETITION. Another tip folks keep reminding me is that it is OKAY to do the same IC practices again – whether they were a little shaky and need improvement, or whether they are wonderful and can’t imagine doing that one better. Tell them to do it again, but must be different than the last time they did it.

EVALUATION. After each practice, create a non-threatening evaluation and creative criticism session. Say, “you made me laugh when…” and “I liked it when…” and “could you think of anything else you might have done?” “what was your favorite part of the solution?” and “how would you do the challenge if you didn’t have [item]?” … ask probing questions and give lots of strokes. Encourage them to prompt &encourage each other and if they get on a good idea right then, ask them to do the IC again with the good idea in mind.

VARIETY. When you practice ICs, try to alternate types, such as performance, hands-on, verbal, hybrid, so they are ready with anything. AND ,you CAN participate in these – it’s NOT interference. Feedback on ICs isn’t interference either, so have some fun. If they need a little shake-up, participate and be as silly and creative as you want your team to be and see where it goes. I often participate in the pass-around warm-ups (passing around an item, such as a cup, a pipe cleaner, a washcloth, a banana, a sponge, a shoe… whatever) and using it in an impromptu manner. Since you know what the item is, you have a head start at wacky answers, so give yourself a little think time and be especially clever to impress the tykes.

SKIT-DEVELOPMENT. One thing I have done that has really helped our kids work well under pressure is to have them practice, totally apart from any formal IC problem, creating a beginning, a middle and an end of a story/skit. I have lots of cards with odd phrases, character traits, items, a short scenario, etc.. on them. I break the kids up into two groups of three each, give each group a few cares with different elements on them and have them go off for just a few minutes and then report back with a short skit incorporating all the items. The skit must include a beginning, a middle and an end (as my kids say a “Boffo!!” ending).

These short skits have become the building blocks of their IC performances. They learn how to work together in small groups, working quickly and incorporating a variety of elements.

IMPROV. I would also recommend doing a lot of improvisational games. They learn to think quickly (or what to do if they aren’t particularly fast thinkers), to create interesting characters, and how to move their bodies around in interesting and humorous ways. There are many online sites that have

improv games on them — we’ve gotten almost all our ideas for improv from those sites.

Crafting an Instant Challenge Game Plan: Analysis of the Challenge

1. Determining the Focus of the Challenge This should ALWAYS be Step 1.

What is the Challenge?

What is the Team really supposed to be doing?

2. Analysis of Scoring Areas, including Rubrics

Where are the points?

They should not spend time on areas where there are no points.

3. Analysis of Materials provided

A Team should first look at the Materials, BEFORE starting to work with them.

What Materials were they given?

How might we use SCAMPER to best utilize the Materials?

Can they be altered or not?

4. Time Management

A Team Member should always be assigned to “Time”

A Team should use x  minute(s) for idea generation and x minutes for building and/or performing

5. Teamwork

There are many excellent suggestions on Teamwork in the Roadmap

Teamwork is always worth a minimum of 20 points – 20%of the total score.

Teams need practice at developing:

Trust in each other


Acceptance of ideas of others


Exemplary team dynamics

Respect for each others ideas

The Performance-Based IC Ideas Check List

This is a listing of the various CPS tools a Team can potentially use to solve an Instant Challenge .

What Type of Performance-Based IC is it?

What is the Focus of the Challenge – What are they asking the Team to do?

What CPS Tools can potentially be used?

Brainstorming (a given)



What Presentation Tools can potentially be used:

Characterizations: Improv, Mime, Body Language, Stage Presence, Voice Alteration

Story Line Development (Environment)

Theatrical Elements: Staging, Music, Special Effects

Another CPS Tool – Properties of Materials


  • Items with rigidity, strength, length
  • Items that attach things together – e.g. adhesives, sticky substances, tooth picks


  • Items that can contain, confine, control round and/or light-weight items

Redefinition of Physical Items

Most items have more than one function.

If you are trying to get a box off a high shelf, you might use a pen or a ruler to Extend your arm. This is just one example of using an item for a use other than originally intended.

The biggest factor in Task-Based IC is the ability to forget an item’s usual function and look at it instead as an Extender, a Connector, or a Controller. What alternate use or function can it perform???

Properties of Materials

Pick items off the Properties of Materials listing on the next page and do a small demo.

Extenders/Connector Combinations

Two clear straws stuck together, one inside the other will cover distances of >12″

A straw stuck into a gum drop, a piece of clay and/or a marshmallow will stand erect to build a tower.

Place toothpicks in clay (or a large gum drop) and then place a straw over the toothpicks. This makes for a much more rigid extender and/or support (the toothpicks are acting as “rebar”, just like when they build the pillars on a bridge).

Place spaghetti inside a straw. This will also make a much more rigid extender and/or support. This is similar to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco – it not only has rigid supports but also has large cables stabilizing it. Inside the large cable are many, many smaller cables. When like items are “bound” together they provide a much more rigid item.


Paper is one of the most versatile items in Instant Challenge.

If you would like to Extend paper, just cut/tear it back and forth and it becomes many times its own original length. If you cut/tear it round and round, vesus back and forth, it will not only be longer but will not tear as readily as it does not have straight lines to tear along.


Columns are one of the strongest supports in the world.

A Demo to prove this –


  • Have one table fold a crisp piece of paper into four parts – long ways.
  • Have a second table fold a crisp piece of paper into three parts – long ways.
  • Have a third table roll their piece of paper into a column.
  • Have each table carefully seal the raw long-ways edges together to keep the shape of the item.
  • lace a box of large paper clips on top of the square, the triangle, and then the column.
  • Then place a 1# box of nails on top of each one of them one at a time.
  • The square will collapse first, and then the triangle, and then the column.
  • It will take approximately 4# of nails to collapse the column.
  • If you have time, take an envelope and secure it into a column with either 3 toothpicks or labels.
  • This column will hold approximately 7# of nails (or use books for weights instead).

Envelopes/Index Cards/Etc.

  • Envelopes are also very versatile – They can Extend by tearing them open, serve as a Connector with the adhesive, and serve as a Controller by placing a round and/or light-weight object inside it.
  • Index cards make excellent extenders and controllers (as sides of a building). If you tear them in half and wrap them around straws, they act like the outside wrappings of a cable.
  • Wire hangers can betaken apart and used in many ways.

Putting it all together Mini Challenge

  • Your Challenge is to place ping pong balls through a 8″ hanging hoop, 5 feet away, using only the materials provided. Your body cannot cross the line.
  • Materials given: A yard stick, a 3’dowel, 12 labels,24″ string, 5 sheets of paper, 1 envelope, and 2 rubber bands.
  • Let’s use the Ideas Check Lists to see if we can solve the Challenge.
  • Is the Challenge Performance-Based or Task-Based? = Task-Based
  • It is a To Move type of Challenge = You have to move the ping pong balls across a space
  • Now ask yourself – WHAT IS THE CHALLENGE?
  • It is to EXTEND across a space and place the balls through the hoop.
  • Look at your materials- What do you have to EXTEND across the space?
  • Extenders include a yardstick and a dowel.
  • You now have items capable of extending across the space but they need to be CONNECTED.
  • Look at your materials- What do you have to CONNECT the two EXTENDERS together?
  • Connectors include the string and the labels. Choose one, but be aware you will also have to connect something else to the end of the yard stick/dowel extender in order to CONTROL the balls.
  • Look at your materials- What do you have to CONTROL the balls with so you can get them into the hoop?
  • You have paper and you have an envelope to CONTAIN/CONTROL the balls.
  • What do you have left to do to accomplish the task?
  • Decide which CONTROLLER you would like to use, the envelope or the paper
  • Decide how you want to CONNECT the CONTROLLER to the EXTENDER.
  • Various CONTROLLERS to could be made:
  • Make a pocket out of the envelope and attach it to the EXTENDER.
  • Make a column out of apiece of paper, CONNECT it together, and then CONNECT it to the EXTENDER.
  • Take a look at what you did –
  • You stopped looking at the yard stick, the dowel, the envelope, the paper, the labels, etc. for their original definition and you refined those definitions into basic functions.


Properties of Materials


Alternative Uses of Materials & Functions of Materials

SCAMPER Sub-Components – Substitute, Adapt, Put to Other Uses
Yard sticks Rulers Dowels
Paper Paper Clips Paper Plates
Index Cards Straws Spaghetti
Pipe Cleaners Styrofoam Cups Pencils
Envelopes Paper Tubes Etc.
Mailing Labels Clay Rubber Bands
Paper Clips Gum Drops Pipe Cleaners
Envelope Glue Tape Marshmallows
Tooth Picks String Pasta
Paper Tubes Yarn Etc.
Controllers/Holders/Transporting Items
Envelopes Cups Toothpicks
Lunch Bags Tubes Balloons
Paper Aluminum Foil Straws
Paper Plates Spoons Cotton Balls
Clay Etc.
Designed and Written by Rosemary Bognar


Task-Based Instant Challenges


  • Task-Based: A task-based Challenge requires the team to use materials to communicate or to build, move, change or protect objects. Teams may be scored on how well they work together to design the solution and the creativity of their final project. Team members may also receive points for accomplishing a task. Team members may or may not be allowed to talk during this type of Challenge.

Task-Based Instant Challenges primary emphasis is on completing Tasks.

Types of Task-Based Instant Challenges

To Communicate

    • To communicate a task from one person to another, without speaking

You need to again ask yourself – What is your Challenge?

It is to communicate “something”.

If the Team builds a Communication System to help them, they will be able to communicate whatever they need.

A Team should practice communicating different types of “somethings”

    • Colors
    • Locations
    • Sizes
    • Which person is to do something

They can make up little mini Challenges asking them to communicate different sets of information.


To Build

    • To Build Challenges usually build up (and possibly hold weight), out, and as long as possible.

To Build Challenges respond well to both SCAMPER and Properties of Materials CPS Tools.

    • A team should try different mini Challenges
    • Build a tower as tall as possible
    • Build a bridge across a 12″ span
    • Build an object as long as possible

The Team can do each one several times, just by picking out different Extenders, Connectors, and Controllers

To Move 

    • To Move Challenges involve “moving something” from one place to another.

It could be a ball, a piece of paper, anything.

To Move Challenges respond well to both SCAMPER and Properties of Materials CPS Tools.


To Protect

    • To Protect Challenges involve protecting something – an egg, a ping pong ball, a structure, etc.

To Protect Challenges respond well to both SCAMPER and Properties of Materials CPS Tools.


To Change

    • To Change Challenges involve changing something into something else, using given materials.

To Protect Challenges respond well to both SCAMPER and Properties of Materials CPS Tools.


Combinations of the Above

    • Many Task-Based IC’s are combinations of the above.

However, the same principles of SCAMPER and Properties of Materials would apply.

What can the Team Substitute, Adapt, or Put to Other Uses?

What does the Team have in Materials that can Extend, Connect and Control?

The most important task is to determine What is Your Challenge??

After that, what Materials do you have to accomplish that Challenge??


Crafting a Game Plan: Analysis of the Task-based Challenge 

  1. Determining the Focus of the Challenge This should ALWAYS be Step 1.
    • What is the Challenge?
    • What is the Team really supposed to be doing?
  2. Analysis of Scoring Areas, including Rubrics
    • Where are the points?
    • They should not spend time on areas where there are no points.
  3. Analysis of Materials provided
    • A Team should first look at the Materials, BEFORE starting to work with them.
    • What Materials were they given?
    • How might we use SCAMPER to best utilize the Materials?
    • Can they be altered or not?
  4. Time Management
    • A Team Member should always be assigned to “Time”
    • A Team should use x minute(s) for idea generation and x minutes for building and/or performing
  5. Teamwork
    • Teamwork is always worth a minimum of 20 points – 20% of the total score.
    • Teams need practice at developing:
      • Trust in each other
      • Sharing
      • Acceptance of ideas of others
      • Cooperation
      • Exemplary team dynamics
      • Respect for each other’s ideas



The Task-Based Ideas Check List 

This is a listing of the various CPS tools a Team can potentially use to solve an Instant Challenge.

  • What Type of Task-Based IC is it?
  • What is the Focus of the Challenge – What are they asking the Team to do?
  • What CPS Tools can potentially be used?
    • Brainstorming (a given)
    • Properties of Materials
  • What Presentation Tools can potentially be used (some Task-Based IC’s have a Presentation element):
    • Characterizations: Improv, Mime, Body Language, Stage Presence, Voice Alteration
    • Story Line Development (Environment)
    • Theatrical Elements: Staging, Music, Special Effects


Instant Challenge & Improv Reminders

  • Speak loudly and clearly
  • Listen to instructions carefully. Ask questions if the instructions are not clear.
  • Know where the points are and direct your solution to gaining points.
  • Listen to your teammates when doing Improv. Relax and go with the flow!
  • Don’t make unnecessary long speeches. Give everyone a chance to add to the solution.
  • Practice giving everyone a part. Making up a skit where team members play scenery sometimes demonstrates teamwork better than using props or only strong performers.
  • Practice talking yourself out of a jam when your mind goes blank.
  • Practice saving a teammate who cannot think of a line or reaction.
  • Practice using exaggerated movements and expressions.
  • Make up your own improv games that include different criteria for scoring. Have the team members practice judging.
  • Never argue with an official or argue with a teammate in front of an official…teamwork is a scored skill!



(Or what they don’t tell you in the Rulebook)

  1. Always try to do Instant Challenge practice AFTER you have been fed. Also, when you compete, don’t forget to eat something with a little sugar; I always used grapes that I washed and put in a zip lock bag for my teams. By the way, remember to use the bathroom; you can’t think creatively when they are thinking of something else!
  2. Read along with the Appraisers (silently). After you start, have someone who is the team’s ‘Reader’ to go over it again; maybe read it as the team starts to brainstorm their solution.
  3. The Reader is also the person who is looking to make sure that the team doesn’t go off track and is doing what the Challenge is asking for them to do.
  4. See that word ‘presentation?’ When you see that, you know that your team needs to put on a short performance/skit as part of their solution. The more integrated it is, the higher the point value. Improv, Improv, IMPROV!
  5. Check out where the points are coming from; how many different costumes will be scored? You might see humor getting scored in various Challenges; what does that mean to your team? You are being scored by adults (usually), so what does humor mean to them?
  6. Remember, if it is not nice to say at the family dinner table with Grandma sitting there, the Appraisers won’t like it either. No ‘bathroom’ humor!
  7. Play with all the kinds of things that are used to create solutions in our Instant Challenges. Keep a list (with sketches) of how many things your team can do with a straw, tape, an envelope, labels, string, yarn, paper plates, paper clips, toothpicks, paper; you get the idea. We always toss in extra stuff, but the favorites are usually there.
  8. Take things apart; what else can you do with them? Learn how to use ANYTHING that has adhesive (sticky) properties, or can hold other things together.
  9. Talk about what the word ‘teamwork’ means to your team. How can you demonstrate teamwork? We teach the Appraisers that each team will have their own style of teamwork. Discover your style. How will you express your style so the Appraisers can take note of it? Teamwork is nearly ALWAYS scored.
  10. You should try to do Instant Challenge practice at every team meeting. I know that by the time your first competition comes around, your Team Manager feels brain dead with coming up with one more Challenge No problem! You should be repeating Challenges that you have done. Here’s my rule: You can do ANYTHING, but you can’t create your solution that is anything at all like what you did the first time. It must be a totally different solution to the same Challenge. What will happen is that by doing this, it will force your team to that next level of creativity that is WOW!


Instant Challenge Websites and Resources

For practice instant challenges, check: IC’s available for purchase on CD from Down Under from Texas, I think
[original link is dead, but most of the content can be found at Wayback Machine]

Kits from Colorado Affiliate

These have been offered in the past. Check and see if they are doing it again this year! I’m so glad you mentioned those Extremely Creative Colorado kits! But better not wait til December to order one – I bet they’ll be sold out by then! Over the past couple of days I’ve received my 2002 Instant Challenge Kit AND their new book,” Cream of the Crop” (over 50 I.C.s), and I’m looking forward to receiving the new Improv Bingo game from the Colorado Divas. Here’s the contact info: Colorado Extreme Creativity Kit – Connie Ackerman ([email protected]) Improv Bingo – Debi Tipton ([email protected])

Team Problems With Building ICs

IC Building Problems

Okay – we’ve got a GREAT team of kids who are incredibly creative and just FILLED with energy and ideas. They are also very independent-minded and all are opinionated and strong-willed. We’ve worked hard to develop work-together skills and they’ve done REALLY great on working on the team challenge and they are also absolutely wonderful on performance-based instant challenges.

BUT — and its a big BUT — they fall apart on structure-based instant challenges. They just have too many ideas and they can’t seem to work it out and they get cranky and mad at each other. Every time they start one, somebody will VERY quickly and often loudly – jump in with an idea, before they’ve even had a chance to look over the materials or have any group conversation about it – it is obvious that they’re racing each other to be the first to give their ideas, hoping that the others will just go along.

There are lots of dynamics here – these kids are close friends who spend a lot of time with each other. But they are having a LOT of hard feelings – increasingly – over who gets to really do the designing and building of structures when they do these instant challenges. They snap at each other and they get loud to try to get heard and they get upset and storm off. It is bad.

My asst team manager and I have offered LOTS of ideas for how to get organized to do the decision-making. And we’ve talked about killer statements. That backfired a little, accusing each other of making killer statements was itself a cause of turmoil.

We have four boys and three girls. The girls tend to get mad, yell, cry, and stomp off. The boys tend to take over and assume that they have the better ideas and ought to be doing the building (at least that’s how the girls see it).

A BIG part of the problem is simply that the structure instant challenges don’t seem designed for that many people to do them at once – I think adults would have a hard time ALL getting involved in some of them. I mean – there are just too many cooks and some end up just sort of sitting around, feeling useless. My kids don’t handle that well at all.

The time constraint is really the problem. When we first started these, we tried to get them used to it by giving them lots of time, and they used to do fine — they’d brainstorm and everybody would give input and they’d talk about the different ideas and narrow it down and then decide – sometimes by a vote – which idea to use. That would use up about 15 minutes – and they NEVER would have that much time in a real Instant Challenge situation. And then they’d STILL have problems deciding who was going to really BUILD stuff – I mean who would be the hands-on people – you can’t have 14 hands all sticking a toothpick into a marshmallow .

Somebody please describe to me how a team would do this – with all seven members really happily participating. For example, we tried to do one where they had to move an egg from point A to point B across a 3 foot gap. They had string, paperclips, a balloon, and some other things. Maybe if I can envision this better, I can help them more.


Hang in there! First of all, teams generally ‘behave’ better in a Tournament situation then around a kitchen table 🙂

Seriously, one idea you may wish to try is having the kids take on specific roles during IC time and using practices to perfect these roles. Ex. if one child is a time keeper, s/he would practice reminding team mates, gently, of the time remaining, rather then barking at them. Roles we have used over the years include main builders (1 or 2), specs man or woman (makes sure all items are covered), time keeper, story director(s) and peacemaker (with my HS kids we call this the Ghandi position). With the different strength that each team member adds, different leaders emerge in performance or task based ICs. The kids know their roles before arriving at Tournament and then adapt once they hear the challenge. This has worked for us because it shifts the focus from individuals to working for the good of the team.

Another reply

I do the same as Leslie, each child knows what his job will be with different types of instant challenges. The day of the competition they know that what matters is how the team performs and that team work is an essential part of it. They have to leave their ego’s behind for that day.

I don’t know how far your kids get at home but if there is constantly a couple of kids who no one listens to give the same challenge to your kids giving them the choice to solve it on their own, or to break into groups. At the end of the time you can go around and they can explain their ideas and see whose really would have scored highest. You can also discuss with them how if they took one part and combined it with someone else’s it would be even better. This might help them realize that the other members also have something to contribute, it also helps the one who feels like he never gets a chance see what the results would be if it was done his way. And it eliminates the person who hogs all the supplies. Often I will even do the challenge to show them what I would do while they are watching and tell them I am doing this like so an so and this part is like yours etc.

Another reply

We also have a difficult time with building problems for many of the same reasons you listed. My kids have been together for 5 years and still have trouble with it. Last year they surprised me at Global Finals where they had a building problem and actually did very well – 9th out of 64. One of the things they decided last year was that their problem was often “too many hands” so when they find it getting crowded, someone will say “too many hands” and usually a few back off. We have also worked with assigning each member a specific job. There are a few who are builders, a leader, a timekeeper, a point monitor (someone who knows where the most points are), and a materials person to make sure they use as much as possible. During our practices, they take turns doing the different jobs and close to competition times, we discuss who was good at what. We discussed what made a good leader, and a good solution. They very wisely chose our best organizer to lead them and that helped a lot. Let them draw jobs out of a hat for a while so that everyone has a chance at every job. It doesn’t always work well, but it makes them more aware of what is required to be successful as a team.

Getting Your Team Ready for Task Based Instant Challenges

Task Based Challenges are the toughest to get a Team ready for during practice. Personally, I like the idea of teaching a Team to deal with Task based IC’s by assigning roles. From several years of Appraising IC’s at all levels here are some common mistakes:

  1. Lack of Time Management – No one watches the time, no planning resulting in a poor showing
  2. Not Reading and Understanding what the IC requires to:
    • Score points – Teams need to learn to pick out what in a task based IC scores points and focus on that area … don’t get drug off on tangents
    • Solve the Challenge – They jump on a phrase or sentence and run off on a tangent that makes it difficult to solve the IC or miss the point all together
  3. Lack of understanding of how to use the materials or thinking that ALL the materials must be used to solve the IC …. Teams need a basic understanding of how basic materials can be used. Too many teams look at a material table like they have never seen one before.
  4. Understanding how to “present” a solution when the IC requires the Team to “present” to the Appraisers. A presentation can be more than “telling” the Appraisers about their solution … this is an area of creative freedom that can score points
  5. Hiding their planning – Appraisers can’t judge team-work when the Team does it’s planning like they are in a library


OK, OK how does this relate to getting 7 Kids involved in working a task based IC.

Assign roles and responsibilities. All the kids can’t be all things at all times (7 kids with a tooth pick and a marshmallow), but some can be responsible for time, reading/understanding, a couple material experts, a “ham” that is responsible for planning the presentation …. All seven make up a team. Some may be more active than others, but each is a necessary parts of the whole.

Coaching and planning in this way teaches life skills that adults deal with every day.

Coaching is not simple …. fact is it’s simply frustrating …..



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