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Cooperation - tug-of-war

To demonstrate how competition can sometimes be unhelpful, and teach the value of cooperation.

by The Revd Trevor Donnelly

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)


To demonstrate how competition can sometimes be unhelpful, and teach the value of cooperation.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a rope for the tug-of-war.
  • Sweets (e.g. Fair Trade chocolate) or some other appropriate small prizes.
  • For the tug-of-war it is advisable to get the assistance of your school’s PE department – some soft mats for the floor and a couple of members of staff on hand to help any children who stumble and avoid them getting rope burns. It might be a good idea to train up some children in tug-of-war safety in advance.


  1. Arrange the front of the space with some prizes at each side and a rope in the middle. Ask the children if they know how to play tug-of-war.

  2. Ask for volunteers (or the children you trained earlier). You can involve individuals or teams, depending on the size of the space. Tell each team that their prize is at their side of the hall, and they can only have the sweets if they can reach them without letting go of the rope.

    NOTE: Be careful not to directly ask them to play 'tug-of-war' - the punchline is that they assumed they had to compete, but you never actually asked them to. Just explain the rules, and then ask for volunteers to hold the rope.
  3. You can play the game a number of times with different sets of volunteers. With the final volunteers, tell them that there is a way of them both getting their prizes without having to try very hard at all. Ask if anyone can guess how?

    The answer is for them both (or both teams) to walk, carrying the rope, to one side of the hall and pick up the prize, then walk together to the other side and pick up the prize there. Walk it through with them.
  4. Tell the parable of the two donkeys:

    Once upon a time, two donkeys were left tied to each other in a stable. One donkey's feeding trough was at one end of the building, and the other's was at the other end. They pulled and pulled at each other, trying to drag the other to their trough, till they collapsed hungry and exhausted to the floor.

    The donkeys were hungry, despite having been given plenty of food, because they refused to cooperate. They could have walked together to one trough and then to the other and both been well fed.
  5. Point out that there is enough food in the world for everyone, but because it is not shared equally, millions of people go hungry.
  6. Explain that competing against each other can be fun; it can be healthy, and can lead us to try harder. However, competing can cause problems, especially if we do not care for and help others. Also, when we cooperate and work together we can often achieve much greater things, more easily. This is true for us, and for our country, and for all the nations of the world.

Time for reflection


Close your eyes and picture the space you are in, and the people all around you…

Now picture our neighbourhood, and all the people of all ages working, playing, going about their lives…

Now picture this country, all the people of many different races, cultures and religions…

all going about their lives…

Finally picture this whole world, and all its peoples…

This world could be a place of sharing, helping and cooperation; if we work together we can make this world a much better place.


Loving God,

help us to work together,

to help each other,

and to love one another.



'God in his love' (Come and Praise, 76)

Publication date: January 2006   (Vol.8 No.1)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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