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Building Community Differently

Mon Jan 16, 2023 at 07:30 AM

While many people are tired and still recovering from nearly three years of volatility, I recognize in myself and others the way we light up when we really feel connected to one another. We particularly appreciate our communities--whether they be our families, small groups of friends, organizations, offices, or groups united in purpose and larger goals. They remind us of why we do what we do.

In 2020 I passed along a range of community-building activities by Equity Unbound and OneHE that provide fresh ways to get people talking and think outside the box. They were customized for online purposes to keep people connected during COVID, but I still use them to think differently about how to get the most out of time together, whether they are classes or meetings. Here are a few different kinds of activities I have facilitated and how the groups responded to these activities.

Warm-Ups and Introductions

The simple prompts offered in “Tea Party” have been useful in the opening minutes leading up to a class or meeting, particularly in a Zoom chat. Even having people answer these questions for themselves can help focus individual and collective purpose for being together at that specific time. 

  • I am joining this session/taking this class because …
  • Lately, my priority has been...
  • A big opportunity I see for us is…

For new groups that will be working together over a semester or longer, try new ways for everyone to learn about one another, such as through Story of Your Name Introductions and Share an Object From Home. Both activities focus on one specific element of one’s experience and identity as a way to share a larger story of one’s self, which reminds us of the complex, unique people that comprise the class or other group. 

Creativity and Idea-Generation

In the moments when few are talking and ideas have stalled, prompt the group to frame the situation differently. 15% solutions is one of my favorites, which invites us to “discover and focus on what each person has the freedom and resources to do now” make something 15% better. The activity brings big problems into an actionable scale. You can supply what the problem or opportunity is at it relates to your class content or committee work.

Quick drawing activities can prompt us to process a problem or idea differently. Especially during the winter months when we may feel less energized, such activities can help us process ideas differently. 

While not drawing focused per se, Spiral Journal starts with a focused drawing and then short writing. Everyone divides a piece of paper into four quadrants, draws a slow, mindful spiral at the center, and responds to a different prompt for each quadrant. See slides used for Spiral Journal

More drawing-focused, Tiny Demons/Drawing Monsters prompts us to identify four fears or anxieties, draw four “monsters,” and attach each to one of your fears/anxieties. Then, alter the drawings to reframe your perception of and approach to them. 

When I did these activities with women in higher ed group they described both how it helped them process anxieties they had been holding onto and they immediately sensed their students would benefit in the same way. (See Drawing and Doodling for Learning and Community-Building: Gather Session.)


There is a growing desire to do things differently and reimagine learning and work that is more generative and purpose-driven. We may struggle to implement new routines, and using activities like this can be a small but powerful start. Equity Unbound and OneHE’s community building activities library includes many more activities you can browse, each with video demonstrations of how they work, step-by-step planning directions, and starter materials as needed. 

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip.

Written by Christina Moore, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Oakland University. Photo by Robert Katzki on Unsplash. Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC.

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