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Identifying Knowledge in the Community

Submitted by Janice McMillan

This activity explores where we locate knowledge in our community. Participants examine the different kinds of knowledge they have gained. This activity disrupts traditional notions of how we think about knowledge and where it is located.

average rating is 5 out of 5, based on 2 votes, rating(s)
Big tree with branches spreading out and roots going down to the floor

Learning Goals

  • Participants will have a deeper appreciation for the multiplicity of knowledge in a community.

  • Participants will question how knowledge is valued in society and who or what is served by this ranking.


Set Up: Prepare for the Activity

Provide participants with crafting supplies, like different colored paper, tape, and markers for participants to construct their knowledge trees.

Organize participants into small groups (4-6 ppl).

Begin by introducing the learning goals of this activity.

Step One: Discuss Different Aspects of Knowledge (20 min)

As a full group, invite participants to quietly reflect on some of the prompts below. After everyone has had a chance to reflect or write down their thoughts, open up the discussion to the full group:

  • What does the word “knowledge” mean to you? How is it different from intelligence, wisdom, experience? How might this word be expressed in other languages or contexts?

  • Where does knowledge come from? Can one be born with knowledge? How does one cultivate knowledge? Can knowledge be bought? Traded? Owned?

  • Who has knowledge? Who lacks it? Who is the most knowledgeable person you know?

Step Two: Reflect on Sources of Knowledge (10 min)

In small groups, invite participants to work together to create different colored shapes to represent various sources of knowledge:

  • Orange/brown strips of paper = roots (what you learned from your family/socialization)

  • Pink strips of paper = stems (what you learned at school/formal knowledge)

  • Blue strips of paper = branches (what you learned from experience)

  • Green “leaf shaped”/oval paper = leaves (what you learned from nature)

  • Yellow circles = buds (what you hope to learn from this workshop/class/gathering)

  • Ask participants to reflect on what they have learned from these different sources of knowledge and have them record this on the corresponding shapes/colors.

Step Three: Create Collective Knowledge Trees (15 min)

Next, invite them to imagine all the knowledge they have acquired in their lives as a tree. In their small groups, invite them to start building a shared knowledge tree together.

They can start to piece together different parts of the tree while discussing where various types of knowledge belong on the tree. Ask them to consider: Which sources of knowledge or specific things they know form the roots of their collective tree? The trunk? The branches? The leaves? The buds?

Discussants may answer this question differently. Some may consider the age of knowledge. For them, the first things they learned might constitute the roots of the tree. Others might determine that the most important or foundational knowledge should constitute the roots. Participants will discuss and navigate this together as they construct a single, collective knowledge tree.

If required, share these Sample Knowledge Trees for inspiration: Sample Knowledge Trees (craft) and Sample Knowledge Tree (digital).

Once each group is finished, invite them to place or hang their trees for other groups to see.

Step Four: Debrief as a Full Group (15 min)

When all trees are held or placed on the wall, have participants walk around the room to look at the different trees. Invite each group to briefly describe their tree.


  • What was common between the trees? Different? Surprising?

  • How did your group decide where to place different sources or pieces of knowledge on the tree?

  • How do the knowledge trees compare to how society values different types of knowledge?





Civic Collaboration

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average rating is 4 out of 5

Sovi Herring

May 30, 2024 at 6:42:10 PM

This activity is great when a group is comfortable sharing thoughts--but it is modified to be more introspective at first. There are two versions of this, one to recognize "normalized" feelings, the other is labeled "extreme" as the group was practicing navigating high emotion. This first one covers parents, cats, dogs: This one is to recognize more difficult to talk about feelings of fear, disgust, etc.:

average rating is 5 out of 5

Sovi Herring

May 30, 2024 at 6:28:11 PM

This activity was modified for a Business & Professional Communication class. It is best when the groups have gone through the guidelines activity to help facilitate how to communicate and even the 3.4 ambiguity. This is a difficult activity if the class is uncomfortable speaking (and in my case they were very adverse to discussing these in any group). Here is how I set it up (along with a print out of the words). It is modified to fit the business world, but worked well as a concept.

average rating is 5 out of 5

May 28, 2024 at 1:33:05 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

May 28, 2024 at 1:31:01 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 14, 2024 at 1:03:34 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 14, 2024 at 1:02:20 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

February 11, 2024 at 3:55:15 AM

average rating is 5 out of 5

January 4, 2024 at 7:22:22 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

December 12, 2023 at 11:56:40 PM

average rating is 5 out of 5

Lori Britt

October 3, 2023 at 5:00:05 PM

Have done this in the past, but today a group really blew me away. I did this as a Fishbowl with 7 students taking roles. Prior to the converstaion they could seek input from a few other students about what which decision they think the person in their role would support and why. I also asked them to come up with some things that were concerns for them. This 10 minute of prep time helped my role play participants really embody and feel confident in their roles. Great discussion about what deliberation looks like in practice and about how power can impact conversations and how a facilitator can try and minimize these power imbalances. I used the scenario above and assigned these roles (I was not sure my students woul be able to consider roles that would offer different perspectives): • Facilitator (non-voting) • Mayor • High school teacher • 17-year-old high school student • Transportation planner for the region • Local business owner • Economic development office for the region (your community and the surrounding communities served by the train) • 50-year-old who lost his job last year and who has been on unemployment

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