Building Our House

Building Our House 

Type of Initiative: Processing, Conflict Resolution

Published in:   Setting the Conflict Compass, by Michelle Cummings with Mike Anderson

Source: unknown (this exercise was first shared with Mike Anderson in the late 1990s at Bradford Woods) 

Purpose: In the classroom, this activity allows students to share a bit about themselves in a thoughtful and controlled manner.  The students choose their level of disclosure and draw or write on puzzle pieces as much or as little as they wish about the questions asked.  Visually, a wall of “houses” creates conversation between students.  These opportunities allow students to share more about themselves with others.    

Props Needed:  A blank universal puzzle called The Community Puzzle™.  You will need one puzzle piece for each participant.   Each puzzle piece is 4” x 4”.  If you give each student four puzzle pieces, it increases their work/drawing area to 16” x 16”.

The Community Puzzle™ consists of large, blank universal puzzle pieces that go together in any order. Each person decorates their own puzzle piece in their own style. Puzzle pieces are interchangeable and fit together in any order. You may add more pieces for larger projects or groups.   The standard Community Puzzle has 24 center pieces and 24 border pieces for a total of 48 pieces per puzzle. Center pieces measure 4" x 4". Border pieces are 2" x 4".

Group Size:   1–40 


  • Begin by distributing one piece of the Community Puzzle to each member of the group.  The particular number of puzzle pieces does not matter as long as each participant receives at least one.
  • Ask each participant to draw the skeleton of a house with:
    1. A foundation (the stronger the foundation the stronger the house)
    2. A chimney with smoke billowing out of it
    3. Windows (perhaps lots of windows)
    4. A door (maybe you feel like having a house with double doors)
    5. Next to the house, draw a big tree with roots and branches.

Make it YOUR house!!!

1.   In the foundation, write your strengths.  More than one is preferred; we all have many strengths.  Your strengths may not be apparent to others. This is your chance to share and validate them.

  1. Along the sidewalls of the house, write the names of two of the strongest influences in your life: people that give or have given you support in your life.  These influences may be people that you have interacted with or a situation you have been involved with.
  2. On the roof, write something that you are proud of. Are you proud of a personal accomplishment, like completing a marathon, or are you proud of the way you handled a family crisis?
  3. In the windows, write what you are comfortable letting others “see.”  What characteristics or traits do you have that you are willing to share with others.
  4. In the door, write a habit or personal quality that you would like to work on or improve (THIS IS NOT A PHYSICAL QUALITY).  Do you have a short fuse?  Are you to relaxed and do not react when you should?
  5. In the chimney, write what you do to release pent up tension or to relax. How do you blow off steam?  Do you go for a run?  Do you read?  Do you travel?
  6. In the roots of the tree, write what keeps you “growing” or gives you life—is it work, family, or hobbies?  Be specific.
  7. In the branches of the tree, write what you see for your future. Where do you want to be ten years from now?  Think of your future in terms of a “Keynote Address.” What would you like the audience to know about your accomplishments?

Variation:  Have the group create one large house together.  Each person can contribute to the creation of the house design and share their personal contributions.  The first step is for the team to assemble the blank puzzle.  Have one person sketch the skeleton of the house and the rest of the group can decorate the house. 

Variation: Give each participant a large piece of poster paper, newsprint, or butcher paper. Deliver the same activity without using the puzzle.  After each round, ask for volunteers to share a few of their insights.

Debriefing Topics:

  • Take time to read each person’s puzzle. Can you find similarities? Can you find differences?
  • What is unique about your house?
  • Do you see places where you can be an influence in another’s life? Will you take that chance?
  • What are some habits or personal qualities that you would like to improve?
  • What are some ways you blow off steam?
  • What are some of the things you listed that you are proud of?

Purchase from the Training Wheels store: Setting the Conflict Compass, Community Puzzle

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