This resource is designed to help a group of learners—whether in a classroom, a workshop, or a community gathering—get to know each other. It also sets the stage for further discussion and sharing.

  1. Members of the group will introduce themselves and be introduced to other participants.
  2. The group will visually represent elements of each person’s history and identity. Participants will explore how those elements, even if previously unrecognized, can be sources of strength and encouragement for others.
  1. Drawing paper
  2. Markers or colored pencils
  3. Bowls or baskets (optional but enriching!)
  1. Assemble the group in a circle or a shape as close to a circle as the room allows.
  2. As participants are arriving, have some music playing the background. We often use instrumental versions of African American spirituals. Jazz is also a good choice. Try to find music with a somewhat slower, more contemplative feel to help people calm themselves and relax as they come into the room.
  3. Welcome the group and introduce yourself, providing a brief overview of what you hope to accomplish. Explain that as a way to begin the process, you would like to have each member of the group introduce themselves to everyone else by answering several questions.
  4. As each person takes her turn, ask her to share the following information with the group:
    1. Full Name
    2. Where you spent your childhood
    3. Add another question that is relevant for your setting: For example, if the participants are all teachers you might ask “Why did you decide to become a teacher?” If the participants are high school students you might ask: “What was the best thing a friend of yours ever did for you?” Or, for a more heterogeneous group of people a question related to the general theme of the gathering might be appropriate — such as “What brought you here and why is it important to you to be here?”
    4. Tell us your grandmother’s name, where she spent her childhood and a brief bit of information about her; whatever you know and/or care to share.
  5. As the group finishes, ask them what it added to the introductions to include a reference to one’s family history. Explore the various reactions and comfort levels in doing so. Close the discussion by checking to see if anyone can repeat any of the grandmothers’ names.
  6. Ask the participants to form small groups of 3 or 4 and provide each group with enough paper and markers or pencils. Explain that this next activity will build on the first, allowing them to share important parts of their personal history that they feel comfortable sharing but which might not be readily apparent.
  7. Ask each participant to think for a moment about the four following topics:
    1. A time when you found hope amidst despair
    2. A cultural or spiritual resource you’ve drawn upon during difficult times (e.g. a song, or a story, or a saying)
    3. A characteristic or experience in your family’s history that strongly influences your own life
    4. A fear or concern you have that still remains
  8. These categories can of course be modified to suit your needs. Next, ask each participant to create a symbol for each of their responses and draw it on the paper provided. (If you have bowls or baskets available, they can put these symbols into them, and if not, they can draw the items on the paper within a large circle symbolizing a bowl.) The goal is to think through things that are important in their lives and to share them with a small group. Make sure everyone gets an opportunity to do so, and then reconvene the larger group.
  9. Ask if anyone would care to share the contents of his or her bowl with the larger group, or to summarize how the discussions went in the smaller groups. Probe to discover the kinds of elements that tend to make up our identity, and the influences that shape them. Questions might also include:
    1. What common themes did you hear?
    2. What surprised you?
    3. What are some of the resources that people have to share with each other?
    4. What kinds of experiences have we had in our own histories that have lead us to help others?
  10. Also explore what helped or hindered the process of sharing them—and what aspects of the group made it so.
  11. Once all participants have shared their responses, explain that this exercise is a small example of a process that will unfold over time—people reflecting on their own lives and the lives of others to figure out how we can better use our experiences and our common strengths to heal and transform the world around us.