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Save Fred Activity

Engage students on the first day of school with this fun Saving Fred STEM activity which encourages students to practice teamwork while saving a gummy worm named “Fred.”

save fred activity supplies: gummy candy, plastic cup, paperclips

I tried this Save Fred activity with my chemistry students during the first week of school. I had almost all of these students for Algebra 1, so I needed to find a few new beginning of school activities that they had not seen before.

While this activity is often used in science classes to teach students about the steps in the scientific method, I believe that it can be used across subjects and grade levels at the beginning of the school year to teach students important lessons involving problem solving and critical thinking while working in small groups toward a common goal. 

Over the years, the “Can You Save Fred?” activity has become a classic stem challenge at the middle school level. It’s a classic activity for a reason; I highly recommend that you add it to your lesson plans for the first week of school. If the school year has already begun, it’s never too late to fit in this cooperative activity since the student takeaways are priceless! 

Supplies Needed for Saving Fred STEM Activity

For this activity, you will likely need to purchase clear plastic cups, gummy life savers or another type ring like candy such as a peach ring, gummy worms, and a box of paperclips. The paperclips will likely get destroyed each time, so they cannot be reused throughout the school day.

Each group of students will need the following materials.

  • Plastic cup – Ideally Translucent
  • Gummy Worm
  • Gummy Life Saver
  • One Paperclip for Each Person in the Group (A Group of Four will Receive Four Paperclips

Group Sizes

I suggest placing students in groups of 2-3 people for this activity. Since this is an excellent cooperative learning activity, you want the groups to have enough people to practice cooperating with one another, but you don’t want so many people that a few people in the group take over and do the entire activity by themselves. 

If you have your desks arranged in groups of 4, this would also be a suitable group size. But I think if your desk are arranged in groups of more than 4 students, that I would break each table group down into two smaller groups. 

Setting up the Save Fred Activity 

I used trays from Dollar Tree to set up each group’s Fred. This let me set things up before class.

You will need to place the gummy lifesaver (Fred’s life jacket) under the clear cup (turned upside down) with the gummy worm on top. The cup represents Fred’s boat in this super-fun stem activity. 

Save Fred Activity for First Week of School

Then, I just had to pass out paper clips so that each group got one paperclip per student.

Save Fred Activity for First Week of School

The Story of Fred

I found a story online to use to introduce the activity to students.

Poor Fred! He was sailing along on a boat (your plastic cup) when a strong wind blew it upside-down. Fred (your candy worm) ended up on top of the upside-down boat. Unfortunately for Fred, his life vest (your candy life preserver) is still trapped under the boat.

Your job is to place the life preserver firmly around Fred’s body, but you must obey three rules:

1. Fred may not fall into the “sea” (onto the table) more than one time; if he does, Fred “drowns.”

2. You may not injure him in any way.

3. You may use only the four paper clips to move Fred, the boat, and the life preserver. You may not touch anything except the paper clips.

I put the story into my SmartNotebook file. It’s nothing fancy, but I’ve received quite a few requests for the file, so I have uploaded it at the bottom of this post.

Save Fred Activity for First Week of School

Printable Save Fred Activity

I found a document online that outlines the entire Save Fred activity. The activity is attributed to Stacy Fox from the NSTA ListServ.

Activity Reflection

This is a fabulous activity for the beginning of the year because it encourages students to communicate, share ideas, experiment, and ultimately learn better how to work together to achieve a goal. I used this activity with high school chemistry students, but I have seen many elementary teachers using it online as a beginning of year activity. I could even see myself using this with my physical science or high school math classes. 

Save Fred Activity for First Week of School

There was a ton of laughter and discussion as groups worked out how to save Fred without piercing him with a paperclip or letting him “drown.” Once groups come up with a valid plan, the actual saving of Fred doesn’t take all that long.

I used the flowchart assignment assignment in this PDF to give groups a chance to reflect on the experience. They had to write and draw a flowchart describing how they saved Fred. I figured this was a great lead-in to writing descriptions for future lab reports in chemistry.

Overall, it was a great activity! I recommend it if you are looking for a team-building activity for the first week of school.

Free Download of Save Fred Smart Notebook File

Save Fred Smart Notebook File (ZIP Folder) (1917 downloads )

Jo Giardino

Wednesday 28th of June 2023

This looks like so much fun for a first day activity. Would you mind sharing the SmartBoard version?

Thank you so much!!

Sarah Carter

Thursday 29th of June 2023

I just added the smart notebook file to the bottom of the blog post!

Holly Olmscheid

Sunday 3rd of October 2021

I'd love to do this when we have shortened classes for Homecoming! Would you email me the Smart Board! Please and thank you!

Sarah Carter

Tuesday 5th of October 2021

Sent it your way!


Wednesday 22nd of September 2021

Do you mind sharing your slides with me as well? Thank you!

Sarah Carter

Tuesday 5th of October 2021

Just sent them your way!


Thursday 9th of September 2021

What story from storyline online did you use to introduce this activity?

Sarah Carter

Thursday 9th of September 2021

I'm not sure what you are referring to. Sorry!

Anna Yakubovich

Thursday 2nd of September 2021

Would you mind emailing it to me as well? It looks amazing!

Sarah Carter

Thursday 2nd of September 2021

Email sent!

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