Grades 3-5
Grades 6-8

Sharing Our Stories

Invite students to create a “river of life” art project which highlights events that have shaped their identity, values, and strengths.

Activity Partner
Total time estimate:
60+ minutes
Activity Objectives
  • Students will create a “river of life” art project depicting important life events that have shaped their identity, values, or strengths
  • Then, students will explore others’ projects to understand their lived experiences, and gain an appreciation for their similarities and differences
  • Paper, pencils, crayons, markers, paint, and other art materials

This activity supports the development of the following social-emotional skills: relationship skills, self-awareness, and social awareness.


Introduce the “river of life” activity to students. You might describe it like this: “Imagine a river flowing through the land. What does it look like? In some places, the river is fast-moving, with lots of quick bends and waterfalls. In other places it slows down, trickling through rocks. Just like a river, our life is made up of different events, and we adapt and learn from each event as we continue moving forward. These events can be joyful, challenging, or anything in-between.”

Guide students through a discussion about experiences which have had a significant impact on them. You might ask: 

  • Who are you? What are some key events in your life?
  • What happened during these events? Who else was involved?
  • How did these events make you feel?
  • How would you characterize them? (E.g., an obstacle that you overcame, a loss that hurt you, a significant friendship or relationship, a new understanding or change in perspective, etc.)
  • Why are these events important or memorable? How did they change you? Did they influence your identity, values, or strengths? 
  • What are some local, national, or global events that have also shaped you?

Then, prompt students to use these guiding questions to draw a “river of life.” They should start by drawing a river, and then add symbols to illustrate key events in their life. For example:

  • A conflict or obstacle might be a boulder in their river’s path
  • An important friendship could be a tree that is grounded in the water
  • A waterfall might symbolize a particularly joyful moment, like a major accomplishment
  • Community events might make up the landscape through which their river runs

Facilitate a live virtual exchange with your Empatico partner class, or use a tool like Flipgrid or Wakelet, and invite students to present their art projects to each other.

They might share stories about key events that they included in their river, and ask questions to learn more about their peers’ experiences. Encourage students to practice curiosity and cultural humility as they seek to understand others’ identity.


Guide students through a post-activity reflection by asking the following questions: 

  • How do you feel when you look at your “river of life”? Are there any parts of your project that stand out to you?
  • What makes your “river of life” unique? What strengths do you have because of these different events?
  • How have these events—the joyful ones, the challenging ones, and all those in-between—shaped your identity?
  • What events are you looking forward to in the future?
  • What did you discover about your classmates from their art projects? Did you notice any similarities or differences?
Did you finish this activity? We'd love your input.