As we navigate the various situations that life brings to us, we can learn how to respect others’ differing perspectives, opinions, and experiences. But, it also helps to identify our commonalities and recognize the similarities that enable us to work together towards reaching our goals. The college environment provides a special opportunity to develop these new connections and expand our perspectives on the world around us.

If you’re hoping to help students build and discover points of commonality with their classmates, try the exercise “25 Things We Have in Common,” which appears in Dr. Constance Staley’s FOCUS on College Success, Fourth Edition. By participating in this activity, students have a chance to  stretch their wings and consider new ways of reaching out to others.  They may also find out some surprising things about their classmates!


Conflict is based on differences. Two people each want different things—or two people want the same thing, but only one can have it. But when you think about it, we have many things in common as human beings. Try this experiment: work with three classmates (in a group of four), and when your instructor announces “go,” begin listing things that all four of you have in common. The first group to reach 25 items wins! After the exercise, discuss the kinds of things you listed and how easy or hard it was to create a list of 25 different items. (Staley FOCUS, 350)


In the Instructor’s Resource Manual for FOCUS on College Success, Staley provides the following suggestions for debriefing once the activity is done:

Ask students to discuss their lists. Were they surprised to find some of the things they had in common with each other and some of the differences? Was this activity difficult or easy for some? Use this feedback to jumpstart a conversation about diversity and what it means – that it involves more than the differences we can see. (Staley Instructor’s Resource Manual, 213-214)

As Staley also notes, this exercise is most effective when students are grouped with people with whom they don’t normally work, so assign (or suggest that they choose) groupmates with this in mind.


Note: This exercise is adapted from Staley’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lectern, which offers instructors a variety of ways to stimulate thinking, discussion, and group interaction. The book is available for instructor purchase at



Staley, Constance. 2015. FOCUS on College Success, Fourth Edition. Boston: Cengage Learning.

—– 2015. Instructor’s Resource Manual for FOCUS on College Success, Fourth Edition. Boston: Cengage Learning.


Have you tried this activity in your class? What other activities have worked to build community and understanding in your courses? Share your experiences and suggestions in the comments.