ASA logo
Educational Inequality through Marshmallow Towers
A close-up photograph of mini marshmallows in pastel colors
Cover Page
Requires Subscription DOCX


K-12 education
achievement gap
property taxes

How to Cite

Groggel, Anne, and Elizabeth Rodriguez. 2020. “Educational Inequality through Marshmallow Towers”. TRAILS: Teaching Resources and Innovations Library for Sociology, July. Washington DC: American Sociological Association.


This ungraded in-class activity is designed to illustrate inequalities in the school system. The class will break into small groups of 3-4 students and will compete to make the tallest tower out of marshmallows and toothpicks. Each group received a bag of resources with varying numbers of marshmallows (mini and giant) and toothpicks (broken or whole)....

Download this resource to see full details. Download this resource to see full details.


Subject Area(s):
Resource Type(s):
Class Activity
Class Level(s):
Any Level
Class Size(s):

Usage Notes

Materials: Three bags of marshmallows (one bag of mini marshmallows) and a box of toothpicks.
This activity was used in an introductory sociology 100-level course with 30 students. For larger classes you could make sure that groups with limited resources actually had more members so that under resourced groups were also overcrowded and then draw...

Download this resource to see full details. Download this resource to see full details.

Learning Goals and Assessments

Learning Goal(s):

  1. Students will experientially visualize disparities in school funding through a hands-on activity.
  2. Through an in-class mock competition of building marshmallow towers students will discuss the link between educational attainment or success as measures of meritocracy.
  3. Through an in-class discussion, students will have a better understanding of achievement gaps by income and race, and how public school funding can constrain or enable educational attainment and success.

Goal Assessment(s):

  1. Students will stand up to observe the constructed towers of the other groups, so they are more aware of disparities in resources. After a winner is declared, students vote on whether they thought the competition was fair by raising their hands.
  2. This goal is assessed through each "tower building" small group discussing whether they believed the game was fair, what was their group’s chance of winning, was the competition a good marker of group members’ abilities, and how they could make it fair.
  3. This goal is assessed through a whole-class discussion of what they think the marshmallows and toothpicks represented and differences in resources, facilities, and class offerings between schools with a little or a lot of funding.

When using resources from TRAILS, please include a clear and legible citation.

Cover Page
Requires Subscription DOCX

Our website uses cookies to improve your browsing experience, to increase the speed and security for the site, to provide analytics about our site and visitors, and for marketing. By proceeding to the site, you are expressing your consent to the use of cookies. To find out more about how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy .