This lesson covers... the second best brainstorming exercise I’ve ever found, useful for identifying both your core values and your aspirations.
By the end you should... have all the material you need to write a great personal statement.
Time 4 minutes
College Essay Essentials paperback: pages 8-12     |     ebook: pages 6-11
I believe this exercise works best when it immediately follows the Essence Objects exercise, with no break in between. This keeps students in their creative, meditative brainstorming mode. How to do this? Easy:

Towards the end of the Essence Objects exercise, let students know that they have just two minutes remaining, then, when it’s time, let them know there is one minute remaining. A minute or so later say, “Let this come to an end for now and turn the page to the Values Exercise. I want you to pick your Top 10 values and you have just two minutes. Go for it.”

(See video below for more on how I lead this.)

If you elect to lead this exercise on your own, I’d recommend keeping it short and counting them down: “Two minutes left… about a minute more...” I also like to check in on them: “Anyone need more time?” etc. but in the interest of keeping things moving, I don’t always wait for everyone to be done, since it’s more important for me to keep the larger group engaged and let the slower students catch up. You may prefer to do things differently, but this is what I’ve found works best for me.

For this part, students will need the Values Exercise handout found in the packet or at the link below.



Exercise: Select the 10 values you connect with most. Of those 10, choose 5. Then your top 3. Then #1.

o community
o inspiration  
o money
o intellectual status
o financial gain
o laughter
o serenity
o physical challenge
o responsibility
o competition
o career
o fame
o working with others
o freedom
o security
o strength
o self-control
o hunger
o personal development
o trust
o faith
o involvement
o adventure
o vulnerability
o adaptability
o friendship
o excellence
o job tranquility
o power
o passion
o cooperation
o affection
o wisdom

o self expression
o stability
o art
o autonomy
o risk
o balance
o self-discipline
o courage
o family
o empathy
o working alone
o humility
o efficiency
o intensity
o health and fitness
o meaningful work
o my country
o music
o truth
o resourcefulness
o respect
o bravery
o communication
o change and variety
o compassion
o nature
o expertise
o order
o privacy
o close relationships
o religion
o knowledge
o growth

o challenges
o commitment
o leadership
o helping others
o influence
o wit
o success
o patience
o listening
o diversity
o love
o fast-paced work
o nutrition
o competence
o practicality
o creativity
o excitement
o collaboration
o social change
o beauty
o ecological awareness
o quality relationships
o travel
o decisiveness
o curiosity
o spirituality
o loyalty
o honesty
o independence
o supervising others
o recognition
o accountability
o democracy

A Few More Words About These Two Brainstorming Exercises
There are, of course, many other ways to brainstorm content for a personal statement, and I’m not opposed to using them. I tend to choose these two exercises over others, however, because they have proven to be both effective and popular (in other words, students like them), and because they are pretty open-ended. In other words, after completing these exercises students may have more questions than answers--and that’s a good thing at this point. We’ve tilled the soil and, as we move into discussion of structure in the next part of the workshop, students’ minds will be subconsciously working on potential topics, and students will often arrive at a topic even though we are not discussing topics directly.

I don’t like to spend a long time brainstorming in a workshop setting; I like to keep things moving. Sometimes in a several-day workshop I will stretch these two exercises out a bit (say by 10 minutes or so), but generally I won’t devote more than 45 minutes to brainstorming, even in a multi-day workshop.

I’m sometimes asked, “How do the Essence Objects and Values Exercise connect to topic--how do you use them?”

The short answer is that they serve to create a menu of topics students may choose from. Another metaphor I like is that each of these creates a mirror, reflecting back to the student what’s important to them. If references to robotics, for example, appear five or six times, that may be some indication that robots are on the brain, and may serve as a good topic.

The longer answer may be found in the step-by-step description of how to write the different types of essays coming up in the next lessons. So let’s get to them.