River of Life: Art Project
- Identify key events that have shaped their unique identity and perspective
- Use symbols to depict these events in a “River of Life” art project
- Understand and appreciate classmates’ diverse experiences and perspectives
Research shows that adolescents benefit from writing exercises that help them gain new insights about life events and stressors, and that these exercises help them foster greater self-understanding, increased clarity about their goals and values, and changed perspectives on important relationships. When given an opportunity to share their stories with others, students also feel empowered in knowing they were heard by others, and this exchange helps develop their identity, personal growth, well-being, and sense of purpose. Thus, this activity fosters students’ self-awareness as they reflect on life events that have shaped their personal journey, and collaboration and inclusivity as they seek out and listen to their peers’ stories to gain a deeper understanding of their lived experiences and perspectives.
To learn more about these skills, and how they promote students’ healthy growth and the development of empathy, please check out our Empathy Framework.
- Art materials (e.g., fabric, paper, pens, markers, and paint)
- Introduce the activity to students by explaining: "Imagine your life as a flowing river, moving through the landscape. Some parts of a river may rush by quickly with twists and waterfalls, while other areas may slow down, peacefully trickling through rocks. Just like a river, our lives consist of various experiences that shape us and help us grow. These experiences can range from joyful moments to challenging situations, all of which contribute to our personal journey."
- Encourage students to reflect on important life events by asking the following questions:
• What are some events that have shaped your unique identity and perspective?
• What happened during these events? Who else was involved? What emotions did you experience?
• How would you characterize these events? (e.g., as transitions, significant relationships, obstacles or setbacks, important milestones, achievements, new understandings, etc.)
• Why are these events important or memorable to you?
• Can you think of any local, national, or global events that have also shaped your “river”?
- Ask students to create their own "River of Life" by drawing a river and adding various symbols to represent key events and experiences. For example:
• An obstacle or conflict could be depicted as a boulder obstructing the flow of the water.
• A significant friendship or relationship might be represented by a tree with deep roots growing alongside the river.
• A waterfall can symbolize a moment of great joy or a major accomplishment.
• Community events or experiences can be depicted as elements of the landscape through which their river flows, such as buildings, bridges, or landmarks.
Then, prompt students to select an event that had a particularly significant impact on them, and write about how it shaped their personal growth, values, beliefs, or goals.
- Afterwards, organize a gallery walk or small group discussions so students can share their artwork with their peers. Encourage them to explain the symbols they chose and the significance of the events that they represent.
- Lead a class discussion by asking the following questions:
• What were some similarities you noticed between your "rivers"? How do these similarities reflect shared experiences among our class?
• What were some differences you observed between your "rivers"? How do these differences highlight the unique experiences of each individual?
• Did any symbols or events from someone’s artwork surprise you or spark your curiosity?
• How did hearing about others’ experiences deepen your understanding of their lives and perspectives? Did this experience help you feel more connected to them?
If students in both classes have individual devices (e.g., mobile phone, tablet, laptop, etc.)...
Use a platform such as Google Meet, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams which allows you to screen-share during a video call.
One educator should set up the Kahoot! game and share the code with students in both classes by following this tutorial about using Kahoot! in a remote learning environment, and share their screen so everyone can follow along.
If students in either class don’t have individual devices...
Follow the same instructions above, with one educator starting the game and sharing their screen so both classes can follow along.
Instead of students joining the game to answer the questions, they can hold up their fingers, call out their answer, or use a paper template to indicate their response.