Planning For It

When You Might Use This Practice

  • Any time during the school year, but especially at the beginning of the year to help students discover or start on the path to finding their purpose
  • To help students develop content for college entrance essays. Visit for more information.


Time Required

  • 30-45 minutes




Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Sort a list of values in order of importance
  • Reflect on how the most important values impact their lives and their future plans


Additional Supports


SEL Competencies

  • Self-Awareness
  • Responsible Decision-Making

How To Do It

Reflection Before the Practice

Take a moment to identify the three most important values to you listed on the handout. Why are these values so important to you? How do they influence your daily life and your long-term plans?


Before you Begin

  • This practice can be used on its own, but is meant to be the fourth in a series of practices that help students discover or begin their search for purpose.
  • Students can also do the entire series of practices online for free at Have them click on “Toolkit” and then register for an account. When they finish the practices, they will receive a digital record of their written answers for each exercise in addition to instructions on how to take these answers and turn them into a college entrance essay.

The Activity

  • If using this practice on its own, review the definition of purpose with students using the instructions from the first four bullets under “Setting Up the Activity” in Discovering Your Strengths and Talents.
  • Tell students:
    • Your personal values are core to your purpose in life. The things you believe in and value deeply are likely to shape the aims that give your life purpose. With that in mind, take a few minutes to complete the handout that asks you to sort a list of values by how important each is to you.
    • Give each student a handout and have them complete it on their own.
    • Once students have finished, have them write answers to the following questions about the items that they placed a “1” next to (these questions are also listed at the bottom of the handout):
    • Why are these particular values so important to you? What do they say about the kind of person you are?
    • How do they influence your daily life?
    • How do they relate to your long-term plans? Do they influence the way you hope to leave your mark? If so, how? If not, why not?
  • Give students the opportunity to share either their writing or their thoughts about this process with each other or with the whole class, if they feel comfortable doing so.



Ask students to reflect on whether this exercise confirmed their sense of purpose or, if they aren’t sure of their purpose, did it give them any clues or insight into what their purpose might be?



The Purpose Challenge Toolkit was created by Dr. Kendall Cotton-Bronk in partnership with the Greater Good Science Center and Prosocial. For more information, visit

Reflection After the Practice

How did students respond to this practice? Did they find it helpful in helping them decide what their purpose might be?

The Research Behind It

Evidence That It Works

A longitudinal study of almost 12,000 people born in 1970 in the UK found that values that adolescents believed would be important to them as adults predicted adult behavior and roles.

For example, valuing family in the future predicted marriage and children, but not full-time work, possibly due to the demands of childrearing. Civic values predicted adult civic behaviors, but did not predict having children. The authors speculated that this group may have decided to delay having children or perhaps chose not to do so in order to dedicate more time to greater civic causes.


Why Does It Matter?

Giving students the opportunity to identify what matters most to them can help them envision their lives as adults. This, in turn, can help them discover a sense of purpose and to set goals for achieving their greatest dreams.

“Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.”
–Mahatma Gandhi
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